The Mountain Gardener: Warm wishes from the Mountain Gardener
by Jan Nelson
Dec 29, 2011 | 689 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jan Nelson's cat Jasmine in the kitchen amidst holiday poinsettias. Courtesy of Jan Nelson
Jan Nelson's cat Jasmine in the kitchen amidst holiday poinsettias. Courtesy of Jan Nelson
Whether you celebrated Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, this time of year is special to each of us in our own way. We really do greet friends and neighbors with a bigger smile and a warm holiday wish when we see them on the street, at a community event or even in a store.

It means a lot to me when a reader says how much they learn from my column. If you've enjoyed even one of them, I'm a success.

Isn't there a saying to the affect that a person is a success if they get up in the morning and do what they want to do? I'm blessed to be able to do just that — give gardening advice with the occasional pearl of wisdom thrown in and create gardens.

I look out my window and see the chickadees working the plants for aphid eggs. I cleared a path of downed branches for the deer twins to pass behind my fence on their regular route. My resident raccoon family is happy finding worms along the driveway. And my cat, Jasmine, has grown a luxuriously thick, black winter coat.

There's not much else I need to do in the garden right now. Roses don't get pruned back until the end of January. Dormant spraying of fruit trees can be done in January and again in February. There'll be lots of time in late winter to prune deciduous trees. So I’ll sit back and enjoy the holidays.

While you're out and about, you might see a shrub blooming with large flowers in red, pink or white. Chances are it's a Camellia sasanqua.

This species of camellia is native to the evergreen forests of southern mainland Japan and many of the neighboring islands, as far south as Okinawa. Cultivars began appearing in Japan during the late 1600s, but it was Dutch traders who imported some specimens into Europe in 1869. The leaves can be steeped for tea, while oil produced from the seeds is used for lighting, lubrication, cooking and cosmetics. According to Wikipedia, “Tea oil has a higher caloric content than any other edible oil available naturally in Japan.” It’s amazing that all this comes from an incredibly beautiful shrub planted for partial shade.

Another plant that I forget about until it starts blooming is the Christmas cactus. Each year, I'm amazed at how many blooms I get from these tough, neglected plants.

If you have a Christmas cactus that is dropping buds, though, you should look for a few conditions that might be contributing to this problem.

Temperature change is a major factor —moving your plant from a warm location to a cooler one, or vice versa. Ripening fruit nearby will give off ethylene gas and also cause the flower buds to drop. Watering with cold water or a cold draft from the front door might also be the culprit. Keep plants away from furnace vents and fireplaces, too.

Christmas cacti are easy to grow in bright light and average home temperatures. I have two that bloom their heads off, and I have to confess, my care for them is nowhere near what I advise you to do. These plants are forgiving, though, and live for a very long time, sometimes being handed down within families.

Most importantly, I want to wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season from The Mountain Gardener.

Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, is happy to answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at, or visit to view past columns and pictures.
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