Malibu Garden Column: December in the Malibu Garden

Above, a Simpson Silver Sequoia as a Christmas tree can become part of the landscape as it will reach 80 to 100 feet in the right coastal setting. 

The fragrance of freshly cut evergreen boughs enhances the holiday spirit. Bringing in the cuttings and making arrangements for holiday tables and mantels can really personalize the home for the season. Also, the selection of a Christmas tree can make a real decorative statement. For a lasting landscaping statement, try selecting a grey-green variety of sequoia or coast redwood. Plan to plant the living sequoia in a large backyard and for it to reach its potential height of about 100 feet.

Holiday decorating in Malibu can include many creative ideas, everything from dried, fallen palm fronds to succulents and winter blooms. The pyracanthus berries are bright additions to the winter colors. I’d be curious to know how many Malibu gardeners are still getting roses in December. And, of course, there are winter blooming Japanese anemones, early narcissus bulbs and the winter flowering euryops.

The Christmas Cactus. This plant grows in nature attached to trees much like the epiphytic orchids. Generally easy to maintain, give the plant liquid plant food, good drainage and a sandy loam soil. Keep them in shade with some indirect light. During the cold November nights, 12-14 hours of darkness will ensure the December bloom for the Schlumbergera, or Christmas cactus.

“Wintering Over” Fuchsias. Cold weather is no friend of the tender fuchsia. The fuchsia bloom on new wood, so after they have been protected for the winter, when new growth appears in February, cut back the old branches. All year they should be watered regularly, though less is needed in winter. Potting soil should provide good drainage and contain organic matter. Feed lightly every two to three weeks. If they are kept indoors or sheltered from the winter cold, the same fuchsias will perform their beautiful displays each year. After each bloom, removing the seedpods will encourage more blooms. The showiest fuchsias are the hybrids.

The species fuchsias, those grown in the ground, have heartier shrub-like branches. These generally have smaller flowers but they are heartier plants. Along the Pacific Coast with its cool, foggy climate and warm summers, fuchsia hybrids like “orange queen” grow beautifully. They are attractive intermingled in the garden with ferns, begonias and impatiens.

Fruit Trees. A Christmas gift for every fruit tree owner, the concise manual: “How to Prune Fruit Trees” by R. Sanford Martin. My last copy of this book was the 20th edition. It was first published in 1944. Sketches and descriptions of each type of fruit tree are very informative. January is usually the time to prune and spray fruit trees for maximum spring and production.

Caring for the Winter Garden. During winter, when the growth slows, is traditionally a good time to sharpen tools and to prepare beds for next year. It’s also a good time to be sure irrigation systems are working properly and to minimize water use in anticipation of winter rains. Cutting back dead material from summer growth is important, but be sure to compost cuttings for the future. Winter is a good season to step back and appreciate the shapes and the design of the garden.

Peggy Harris of P.M. Harris Landscape Design can be contacted at or 805.986.6965.