Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2009
Regional Report

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The cinnamon-colored bark of this crape myrtle adds interest as well as structural beauty to the winter landscape.

Winter Interest

I realize that here in the Lower South we don't really have a winter, at least not by northern standards. But things get pretty bleak around here for a couple of months each winter season. While far from the cabin fever experienced by our northern neighbors we do get stir crazy and rather tired of looking at a frost- and freeze-zapped landscape.

Alas the winter season has its own beauty and there is much we can do to enhance it. Take a moment to appreciate its unique charm and consider these enhancements to bring interest to your winter landscape.

Evergreens are the first feature. We have somewhat fewer options than some other parts of the country but there are many types of evergreen shrubs and trees that will provide a little color in the sea of tawny brown that is winter. Consider too the varying shades available from dark green to silver/gray and mix these generously about the landscape.

If evergreen foliage isn't enough, and it isn't, Camellia sasanqua starts its show in late fall to early winter and Camellia japonica picks up the show in winter on through early spring. The deciduous magnolias, including star magnolia and saucer magnolia, provide a spectacular late winter to spring show on their bare branches.

Berrying shrubs are another prime component of a winter landscape. Examples include many types of hollies, beautyberry, and even the standard nandina which has now fallen from grace due to its tendency to invade wildspaces outside our landscapes.

The dwarf nandinas, which are not so invasive like their large berried relative, turn beautiful burgundy when the weather turns cool with hues from orange to purple depending on cultivar.

Ornamental grasses with tall seed heads are quite dazzling on a frosty winter morning as the ice crystals in their seed heads glisten in the early morning sun.

Bark provides winter interest too. While most trees are rather unimpressive, a few are quite interesting. Crape myrtles have smooth exfoliating bark that if properly trained, rather than annually butchered, can create some outstanding architectural forms in the winter landscape. Some varieties such as the white blooming 'Natchez' go beyond the tan color with deep cinnamon- to rust-colored patches in the bark.

I'm particularly fond of the bark on Chinese elm. These trees develop a rather smooth bark that looks almost muscular with a flaky surface that is orange and silvery tan.

Of course winter has its flowers too. Here in our usually mild climate we grow pansies and violas all winter but with a little extra care here and there we can also coax alyssum, dianthus, and cyclamen through. Add some foliage color with ornamental cabbage and kale, and the soft gray leaves of dusty miller and you are coloring the landscape quite nicely.

As I am writing this the first of the spring bulbs in our area, the paperwhites, are already starting to bloom. These are followed in succession by daffodils and a host of other bulbs to announce that spring is soon to come.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention birds. These feathered ornaments add interest to even the bleakest of winter days. Provide some feeders with appropriate types of seed for the various species and they will come.

With spring planting season around the corner, look past the gorgeous spring and summer flowers and include some plants for winter interest in your planting plans this year.

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