Thursday, December 15, 2011

Deer Country: What’s Blooming Mid-December?

Heather, the perfect winter flower for Deer Country

Yes, it’s mid-December, we’ve had multiple killing frosts, so our gardens must be dormant—right?
Wrong!  When I walk around our gardens doing winter chores—mostly cleanup and preparation for the next growing year—I see lots of flowers here and a few there.

The “lots of flowers here” is our heather shrub (Erica spp.), after six years about two feet high and five feet across.  Deer don’t browse this tough shrub, which is why it’s in our front yard and unprotected by wire cage or a deer-repellent spray.  The heather started blooming in mid-November and will bloom through the winter and into May.  How nice to pause and admire delicate pink flowers while I’m shoveling snow.

Moss phlox in its cage
Just a few feet from the heather are two kinds of pink blooms—several on moss phlox (Phlox subulata) protected by the wire tent I described in an earlier posting—and a lone dianthus (Dianthus spp.) blossom.  Across the sidewalk, a red Knockout rose (Rosa arbustiva ‘Double Knock Out’) sways gently in the December breeze above its wire cage.  How many more hard frosts can these three survive?

Just around the corner of the garage, a forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)—probably encouraged by the extra warm fall—sports 10 or so flowers.  A week ago there were more than 20 flowers, so frosty nights are taking a toll.

And about midway between the forsythia and the heather, a weed, common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), snubs frosty temperatures with green leaves and yellow flowers.  My “weed book,” Weeds of the Northeast (by Uva, Neal, & DiTomaso), warns that groundsel “contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that cause liver damage in horses and cattle.  Small herbivores, such as sheep, rabbits, and goats are resistant to the toxic effect….”

And humans?  I’m not about to experiment, and perhaps there’s a reason the bambits haven’t sampled the groundsel.   

In addition to groundsel’s toxicity, there’s another reason I must trash this flowering weed.  The weed book notes that “open flowers can develop fully mature seed after plants have been killed by cultivation or herbicides.” Whoa!  Groundsel certainly rates a plastic bag in this gardener’s trash can.

Knockout rose
As days become short, shorter, and shortest in December, I tend to stay indoors more and overlook what’s happening in our garden.  But when I go outside and take a minute to look around, I usually can find some flourishing plant—perhaps even a bloom—to add a positive note to a frigid day.



No comments:

Post a Comment