In December

Thankfully, leaves of the Korean Sweetheart tree (Euscaphis japonica, below) have turned, not to copper or purple but to brown. A year ago, the foliage did not drop until late in December, signaling a lack of dormancy with some winter injury as a result, so today brown is better than green. I expected the young Sweetheart tree to increase significantly in size this year, but dead wood in early spring reduced its height, and today it is hardly taller than a year ago. Next year I expect better.

Green leaves on the Korean Sweetheart tree in early December a year ago were a sign of some disfunction that resulted in a few dead branches by spring.
With hellebore flower buds swollen and showing color, it will not be surprising to see flowers opening before the new year.

Otherwise, the garden progresses into winter as expected with typical variability. A year ago, several hellebores flowered early in December. First flowers of hellebores (above) are rarely seen until early January in this garden, occasionally with a few blooms by late December if temperatures have been mild. Of course, I don’t understand the formula of cold and mild temperatures that brings early or late flowering, but very early blooms encourage speculation.

I am quite surprised that a ‘Summer Ice’ daphne (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’, above) displays scattered flowers, much later in autumn than I’ve seen. This daphne was planted earlier in the year in a sunnier spot than other daphnes, so I suspect this has extended its flowering. In a very mild winter it’s not unusual to see flower buds swelling, but the earliest I’ve seen flowers is mid-March, and in autumn there have been no flowers past mid-November.

I occasionally comment that ‘Autumn Amethyst’ Encore azalea (above) will often show a few scattered flowers in December, long after other azaleas have finished for the season. Certainly, the scattered blooms encouraged by recent mild temperatures will fade quickly in the eighteen degree night forecast for this week, but today I was surprised to see handfuls of flowers after seeing none in recent weeks.

After several nights with temperatures dropping into the low twenties (Fahrenheit) abundant flowers of camellias (above) were damaged. But, milder daytime temperatures encouraged half opened buds so there are both browned and white (or pink) flowers on all the autumn flowering varieties. This cycle will continue through December, and two deeply shaded camellias rarely flower until late December or early in the new year when blooms are quickly damaged by freezes.

A few late flowering common witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana, above) continue to flower as others are well past flowering. Vernal and hybrid witch hazels will not flower until the second week of January, so at least a short period between flowering of one and the other is expected. The autumn flowering mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, below) have not reached peak bloom yet, so I expect these will continue to flower into the new year. A year ago, flowers did not fade until late in January when late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonias (Mahonia bealei) overlapped for a week.

‘Winter Sun’ and other late autumn flowering mahonias often continue blooming into the new year. Flowers are rarely damaged by freezing temperatures, even cold nearing zero.

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