Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
December, 2010
Regional Report

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Include evergreens as you plan and plant for four seasons of beauty in your garden.

Have A Colorful Winter

Christmas lights are coming down and now we're faced with unremitting grayness. Okay, there'll be some sunny days, which, of course, are at least now getting longer, but whether you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or not, January and February can seem long and bleak. Fortunately, any one who gardens has a number of ways to brighten these winter days.

Brighten Your Indoor Garden
Being surrounded by houseplants certainly helps the gardening spirit. Having green plants in your home helps to purify the air and increase the humidity, plus houseplants give you something to tend when you can't be outside in the garden. Whenever the temperatures are above freezing, take the opportunity to visit garden centers or other places that sell houseplants. Choose a day with warmer temperatures so that the tropical plants you'll be buying won't be injured by freezing temperatures. Be sure to check out plants that are blooming, such as phaleanopsis orchids or African violets. Spend some time on-line learning about how to grow these successfully. Both are easy to grow as long as you meet a few simple growing requirements. Or try some other colorful houseplants. Be adventurous and try some plants youve never grown before.

Let Yourself Be Inspired
There'll be plenty of opportunities to be outdoors in only a few months. This is the time of year to let your gardening imagination take flight. Visit your library and check out some gardening books. Or buy some gardening magazines. Spend time at on-line gardening sites. Pour over the pages of gardening catalogs. Hopefully, you've taken some photos of your garden. Use these to help you see where you might want some additions or changes. Even without photos, I'll bet you know which areas of your garden that you'd like to improve. Make a scrapbook of garden design and plant ideas, including sketches of various areas in your garden. With time spent planning this winter, you simplify your shopping as soon as plants become available at garden centers this spring, plus spend your money more wisely.

Plan for Four Seasons
When you're making plans for ways to improve your garden, be sure to think about how the garden appears at all four seasons. Most gardens tend to be pretty spectacular in spring, what with all the many possibilities of spring-blooming trees, shrubs and bulbs.

Then summer brings annual and perennial flowers. But what does your garden look like once the daylilies are done blooming in July? Is there a big gap between then and the mums and asters of autumn? Should you include more long-blooming annuals, like petunias, marigolds and impatiens, planted among your perennials? These may be commonplace flowers, but, oh, how vibrant they make a summer-into-fall garden. I also like to include shrubs and trees that bloom from mid-summer into fall, like summersweet, rose-of-Sharon, crape myrtle, vitex, hydrangeas and long-blooming shrub roses.

Fall provides us with colored leaves, from the intense to muted shades of yellow, reds and purples. Think maples, sumacs, dogwoods, fothergilla, itea, oak leaf hydraneas and sweet gum. Patrinia, ironweed and Joe-pye weed are some of the perennials to include with those mums and asters. Meanwhile, the ornamental grasses are coming into their own, to add texture to the garden from autumn through winter. If you haven't tried some of the new varieties of switch grass, Panicum virgatum, then definitely put them on your list. This native species has been expanded by hybridizers to create plants of varying sizes, shapes and colors.

Finally, there's winter. Yes, you could just go inside and pull the blinds, waiting to come out until spring, but even if you're not outside gardening, you are still looking at your yard through the windows , as well as when you leave and enter your home. Don't just use a row of evergreens marching across the front of the house, intersperse them among the flower beds so that there's more than mulch to look at when the herbaceous plants are dormant. Use both needled evergreens and broad-leaved ones. My favorite shrub that inspires me to survive winter is the native winterberry, Ilex verticillata, with its bright red mass of berries. Although the species grows to 10 feet tall, the dwarf cultivar 'Red Sprite' reaches a much more manageable 3 to 5 feet. Try contrasting winterberries with the red or yellow stems of bloodtwig or Tatarian dogwood. Want some flowers, too, next winter? Plant Christmas and Lenten roses or other hellebores this spring and, next fall, plant at least a handful of snowdrop bulbs. Every year, when they begin pushing through the frozen ground in January with their green-tipped white bells, I am filled with wonder.

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