Winter Days in the Garden

Friday, December 23rd, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Clean up the yard and compost dead plants. Replace them with pansies and primroses for winter bloom.
    • Feed the birds this winter and enjoy the pleasure of their company. Bird feeders come in many styles and make wonderful gifts.
    • Clean up rose bushes by removing spent flowers and raking up old leaves, but wait until February for heavy pruning.
    • Don’t overwater your houseplants in the winter. Empty saucers after watering.
    • Stop peach leaf curl by spraying now with copper to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your trees next spring.

Winter Days in the Garden

We may not welcome winter with its short days and grey weather, but the plants in our gardens do. During the winter, most plants go dormant, take a rest from the continual production of new growth and store up food for the spring growth spurt.

Tulip, daffodil and crocus bulbs, which spent the summer resting, are busy putting out a whole new set of roots to anchor and feed themselves and preparing to bloom once again. Trees that have lost their leaves take their break now and brace themselves for the winter storms.

Evergreen trees and shrubs are still using water, especially when it’s windy. And their roots are still growing, even if the branches are not. Evergreens in containers need to be kept moist all through the winter. When the temperatures drop below freezing, they desiccate or dehydrate through their leaves and, if the soil is frozen, they can’t pull up water to replace what they’re losing. Keeping them moist at all times will help them withstand cold spells.

But winter is also a time for seeing the garden with new eyes, and for letting some of the more subtle plants shine. There are several winter-flowering scented shrubs that grow well here. Sarcococca is an evergreen shrub with shiny dark green leaves that blooms in mid-winter with tiny white flowers that give off a wonderful fragrance. Growing to 5 feet tall, they are attractive up against the house where you can situate them near an entryway so you can enjoy their sweet scent.

Daphnes of all kinds are deliciously fragrant. They need good drainage, but will take almost any exposure. Daphne odora ‘Marginata’ has attractive green leaves with white margins, and it looks pretty year-round. Blooming in February, it is a delight you won’t want to miss.

Camellias give us a lot of winter color, especially the winter-blooming Camellia sasanqua. Their single flowers are borne in great profusion for several weeks through the winter in colors from dark red through shades of pink to pure white. The flowers really stand out against the shiny dark green leaves of the plants.

Don’t overlook hollies for winter interest. Their beautiful leaves are attractive year-round and their bright red berries which adorn the plants also make wonderful indoor decorations. There are many different types of holly from low, round bushes to tall, full shrubs. Variegated leaves on some varieties are an added attraction.

The hardy, evergreen perennial Helleborus, known as Christmas rose, blooms through the winter months with nodding, cup-shaped flowers in white, pink or rosy-purple. Plant it in the shady, woodland garden.

Contrasting colors of foliage, even among the evergreens, add a lot of interest to the winter landscape. There are beautiful blue conifers, such as blue spruce or the exotic Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, which are outstanding against a green background. Needled plants contrast nicely with broad-leafed evergreens, and a golden shrub like gold-edged Euonymus is beautiful in the winter sun.

There is always something wonderful and beautiful happening in the garden, even in wintertime.

Camellias for Fall Flowers

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • King Alfred daffodils, those big, showy, golden, trumpet-flowered daffodils, can be planted now from bulbs for glorious spring flowers.
    • Transplant shrubs that need to be moved this month. It’s also a good time to transplant natives.
    • Broadcast wildflower seeds and annual ryegrass on hillsides to stop erosion and give you lots of flowers next spring.
    • Compost falling leaves to make excellent garden mulch by next season.
    • Cut asparagus down to about two inches above the ground once all of the foliage has died. Mulch asparagus beds with three inches of well-rotted manure.

Camellias for Fall Flowers

Camellias are well-known for their large, perfect-looking flowers that bloom in the springtime. These are Camellia japonica and are indeed magnificent shrubs. But they have a lesser known cousin, Camellia sasanqua which is a fine shrub with stunning fall and winter color displays. They vary from tall, bushy shrubs to low, spreading ones making a wonderful hedge plant, a superior container plant, or even an effective ground cover.

The flowers are smaller and less showy than the common camellia, but they make up for it with a profusion of bloom. By planting both types of camellias, you get a very long season of bloom, extending from November through May.

Camellia sasanquas are generally rather open and informal. Some varieties have a loose, open habit and pliable stems with a graceful form. They can easily be espaliered on a fence or trellis for a dramatic effect. Many varieties grow only 2-5 feet tall and wide, while others, like the December-blooming ‘Yuletide,’ are quite compact and upright.

The flowers of sasanquas are about 2-3 inches across and may be single, semidouble, or double, usually with a central burst of bright yellow stamens. They cover themselves with blossoms that just keep coming for weeks. Their delicate rounded and often frilled petals range from pale shell pink, rich rose, and vibrant white, to fiery red. Individual flowers last but a short time, but as they fall they are replaced by many more. Many have sweetly-scented flowers as a bonus. They stand out through the winter against glossy, dark green foliage.

Camellia sasanqua can be planted in sun or shade, but avoid intense heat and reflected light. It makes a fine container plant, and some varieties can be used as ground cover shrubs.

All camellias need careful planting. Most failures occur from planting too deep. Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and 1 inch shallower. Mix in one part compost to every 3 parts of native soil, and fill in around the root ball. After planting, the root ball will stick up 1 inch. Fill in around the sides of the root ball with the soil mixture, making a watering basin, but do not put soil on top of the root ball. Add mulch to cover the root ball and surrounding soil. This method insures that the plant will have good drainage, and the roots will be able to breathe.

Their cultural needs are similar to rhododendrons and azaleas as they prefer a rich organic and acidic soil and filtered shade. But Camellia sasanquas will also will take considerable sun if kept moist through the summer.

Look for beautiful, fall-blooming camellias now. They make a nice addition to the winter landscape.