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.

Low-maintenance Perennials

Friday, September 16th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Trim foliage on grape vines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and ripen the grapes.
    • If your bearded iris blooms were sparse this year or the plants are more than four years old, now is the time to divide and replant them. Mix some bone meal into the soil, and plant the rhizomes just beneath the soil surface.
    • Lilac bushes will bloom better next spring if you cut back on the watering now.
    • Keep apples picked up from under the trees to help control the spread of coddling moths which make wormy apples.
    • Cover newly planted vegetable starts to protect them from birds. Spray cabbage and broccoli plants with BT to control cabbage worms which make holes in the leaves.

Low-maintenance Perennials

Perennials give us some of the best flowers in the garden. These hardy plants come back year after year getting bigger and better each time. Most perennials take a lot of dead-heading to keep them looking nice throughout their blooming time, but there are a few that are easier to care for. Cut them down when they are done flowering and that’s all the maintenance they need.

Sedum Autumn Joy is a well-known favorite that attracts butterflies. The leaves grow close to the ground, then once a year it sends up shoots topped with soft pink flowers, similar to yarrow. As the days get shorter, the flowers turn a rich rusty red.

Moonbeam Coreopsis produces star-like blossoms of pale yellow with finely textured foliage that is good-looking all season. It blooms from July through October and spreads 18-24” wide.

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, grows into a large clump with 3’ tall golden, black-centered, daisy flowers bloom from August to October.  Seed heads are attractive to birds in the fall and winter.

Stella D’oro Daylily has bright, golden-yellow flowers that bloom throughout the summer above fresh green leaves. It is compact, growing only 16 inches tall, and is good for containers and flower borders.

Purple Dome New England Aster is a compact aster with dark green foliage and profuse bloom of dark purple daisy flowers which can entirely cover the plant in September and October. 

Santa Barbara Daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus, is a low-growing perennial that is covered with little white daisy flowers all summer long. It is tolerate drought once established, and can be used as a border plant or to hang over a wall.

Peonies are easy to grow and give you magnificent flowers in May-June. They come in pink, white and red and live for many years, growing into a larger clump with more flowers each year.

For shady areas, Hostas can’t be beat. With their beautiful foliage in different combinations of blue, green, white and yellow, they will fill the shady bed with their colorful leaves. Hostas also bloom in the summer with spikes of lavender to white, lily-like flowers, which can be quite showy.

Heucheras, or Coral Bells, are one of the most diverse and colorful shade perennials.  Plant them as a groundcover, or intersperse some between other plants. Their round leaves come in many colors from bright green to purples to near black, and they send up delicate spikes of white or coral flowers in the summer.

Helleborus is an iron clad deer-proof plant that tolerates dry shade once established. It blooms very early, in late winter with cup-like, greenish-white flowers. Some varieties have pinkish flowers, but their broad leaves are good-looking all year.

Dicentra, or Bleeding Heart, is one of the easiest perennials to grow in the shade. The pretty little pink flowers in the spring resemble pink and white hearts, and when they are done, the plant turns yellow and dies back. Clean up dead foliage and forget about them until next year.

Fall is a good time to plant perennials. They will get established over the winter and bloom beautifully for you next year.