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Alyssum in December in Pennsylvania

Do you think about flowers in December? If you live in Pennsylvania or the northern United States, probably not. Though there are definitely fall flowers, temperatures typically are too cold in December for outdoor flowers. Woody type plants like trees, shrubs, and bushes are the exception.

I have an aversion to flowers. I have asthma, and pollen stuffs me up, but one day in 1997, Mom, Dave and I were at An Apple a Day, which was a store outside Biglerville that sold flowers, fruits, and some crafts. Mom was looking for flowers to plant outside. She found some alyssum. I thought it had a nice name, but couldn’t imagine how there could be a nice flower. Well, I was wrong. I discovered that alyssum is the one flower I do like.

Eventually, I started to plant alyssum each year. I initially planted it in the front of the house. The following year, during the same period of time, we discovered small alyssum plants growing through the cracks in our brick walkway. I was able to recognize them due to their long skinny leaves with parallel veins, and this was before it blossomed. Later, the location I planted it at, was moved to the patio at the side of the house. It also thrives well there.

Getting alyssum started requires work. The first trick involves buying it in time before it is sold out in the stores which isn’t always the easiest. It seems to be sold early in the season, though plants tend to be better served when planted a little later in May. Throughout late spring and summer it needs to be watered regularly. Alyssum shouldn’t be watered every day. Every other day is better. This plant is a hearty plant, and can last well through October under normal conditions.

I have a number of interesting stories involving alyssum. In 1999 we adopted two kittens from a cousin. My brother and I each chose the name for one of them. I named the female, Alyssum, after the flower while Dave named the other kitten Flash. It’s funny, but Alyssum did seem to be really attached to me. She’d follow me around like a dog, and gaze into my eyes. She was different than any other cat I have known. Veterinarians often mispronounced her name—I guess they don’t know about the flowers she was named for.

Silk flowers come in many types and colors including odd colors, such as green. Despite this, silk alyssum didn’t seem probable because it would seem that it would be hard to manufacture due to the size of the flowers being so small. During my family’s trip to the western United States in 2003, I found silk alyssum in a store in Texas! The plant was a life-like replica even down to the leaves. Because of its size, it was sold as an entire silk alyssum plant instead of individual blossoms with maybe a few leaves attached. I have some in both white and purple sitting in a basket by my bed.

Flowers and Alaska may not seem to go together, but some flowers actually do quite well there. The Alaskan growing season may be short, but plants certainly thrive during it. Between the sun shining many hours a day, and numerous days of rain, plants easily get their requirements met. My family was visiting Alaska on a trip in 2016. While I was there, I discovered some white alyssum growing. Similarly, to all other flowering plants in Alaska, the alyssum was spectacular due to the conditions I mentioned.

It is possible to have alyssum in Pennsylvania in the month of December! I have grown it both indoors as well as outdoors. While I was at Hiram G. Andrews Center in 2000, I replanted some alyssum from outside into a long metal flower box, and put it on my window sill in my dorm room. With watering it regularly and having it exposed to sunlight, I had it until Christmas Vacation. If I would have taken it home with me, I probably could have had it for longer.

The year 2021, may very well mean different things for different people, especially since the pandemic is still going on. For me, besides turning forty, two other notable things happened this year; they are both related to plants.

In the spring, I finally got my own pine tree. I had wanted a pine tree for a long time. For reference, though I’ve had a flower aversion for a long time, I have always loved trees. Pine trees have always been special. I remember looking at the pine we had towards the edge of our property on Shippensburg Road, as well as the pine trees in the forest next to our yard. Cute, little pine trees were also in the forest. Anyway, with getting the pine tree, the agreement was that I would take care of it. It required several containers full of water every other day until it got established. This meant watering it every other day for the rest of the spring and most of the summer. At that point it was finally established, and the rain simply took care of it. Besides watering the tree, I would touch its soft needles, and look at it from my bedroom window. Every morning one of the first things I do is open my blinds, and look at my tree. I even look at the cones the tree produced.

Why do I mention this tree? I have two plants that I am taking care of. I have taken care of both plants up to this point. Now it is December. Though it’s technically fall, it certainly freezes many nights. Piney (the name of my pine tree) doesn’t need anything right now. Pine trees (in fact conifers in general) don’t need anything done during the winter. They are perfectly fine. The only thing I did was purchase Christmas lights to put on my tree.

The alyssum is another story. It is also doing well, but it requires frequent monitoring to keep it that way. Every night I check the predicted temperature on the internet to see if it will go below freezing or not. If the temperature would be around thirty-two degrees (zero degrees Celsius) then I would get out my intervention. I place a sheet over the alyssum during these nights to protect them from the freezing weather. I have four bricks that I place on the sheet, one per corner to hold it down. The sheet is an old bed sheet of mine. In the morning when I get up, I also check the weather to see when it will climb above freezing. Once it is safely above freezing, I go outside, and take the sheet off so that my alyssum can get sun light, and any rain that nature may offer. Obviously, this intervention has worked. At this time my alyssum is the only annual or perennial plant still alive, and thriving in the yard! We had many sub-freezing days to this point. I will see an occasional weed growing, but they are known to be hardy. If they depended on humans to take care of them, I don’t think they’d do so well!

Alyssum in December

One other thing to note, all of our woody plants (shrubs, bushes, trees), and our grass is also doing well, as those plants are designed to withstand the elements.

So yes, it is possible to have flowers thriving outside in December in Pennsylvania. What it takes is diligence to keep them protected from the harsh weather.

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