Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
September, 2004
Regional Report

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Plant shrubs with berries to attract mockingbirds, bluebirds, cardinals, and even wild turkeys to your yard.

Planning Your Winter Garden

The pleasure you get from your gardens doesn't have to end with the first fall frost. Landscape designers use terms like backbone or simply bones to describe features that persist year-round, forming a backdrop for dramatic summer displays, then taking center stage as autumn fades into winter. As you plan your fall garden purchases, take into consideration your landscape's bones!

When choosing plants, consider how they can contribute to your winter garden. Here are some categories to help guide your selections.

Evergreens. Perhaps the most obvious choice for adding winter interest to the garden is to include some evergreen trees and shrubs. In addition to pines, hollies, and rhododendrons, consider evergreens with unusual foliage or form. Look for varieties with gold or blue foliage, as well as plants with dramatic shapes. Check the mature height and preferred growing conditions of plants to be sure they match your particular growing conditions and spacing limitations -- there may be both huge and dwarf varieties of the same plant. For example, Japanese holly (Ilex crenata 'Hoogendorn') grows 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, while I. crenata 'Convexa' grows 9 feet tall with a spread of 12 or more feet.

Berries. Look for trees and shrubs whose fruits persist into winter; you'll not only add visual interest, you also may encourage birds and other wildlife to visit your yard. Pyracantha, holly, viburnum, possumhaw, and dogwood are a few fruit-bearing plants to consider. Plant a few beautyberry shrubs (Callicarpa americana) and you may find yourself enjoying visits from mockingbirds, bluebirds, cardinals, and even wild turkeys.

Attractive bark. The striking bark on many deciduous trees and shrubs goes unnoticed in summer, but it can be a focal point in the winter garden. River birch (Betula nigra), Chinese fringe-flower (Loropetalum chinense), paperbark cherry (Prunus serrula), and crape myrtle all boast attractive bark, and the luminous bark of redosier (Cornus sericea) and yellow-twig (Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea') dogwoods glows with surprisingly intense color.

Interesting branch structure. As deciduous trees and shrubs drop their leaves, they reveal their branch structures. Plants with a columnar shape and strong vertical branches draw the eye upward, while those with more horizonal branching invite a more sweeping, panoramic view. Consider pagoda dogwood for its elegant, tiered branches, corkscrew willow for its fascinating twisted shoots, and weeping varieties of trees and shrubs that lend a certain grace and gentleness as the delicate branches sway in the breeze.

Flowers. Extend the flowering season by choosing late-blooming perennials, such as asters; and early spring bloomers, such as flowering quince and snowdrops. Include some plants with interesting seed heads, such as black-eyed Susans and ornamental grasses.

The hardscapes of your garden -- which might include a fence, stone wall, trellis, or even an attractive garden shed -- also can add to winter appeal. Water features add another layer of interest. Consider some carefully placed outdoor lighting to highlight those plants worth featuring in winter.

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