Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
January, 2012
Regional Report

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This year, camellias are well ahead of their normal bloom schedule.

Mild Winter Makes Way for Early Blooms

Many gardeners dread winter, but I'm not one of them. I truly enjoy chilly temperatures and long nights, and even a stretch of gray days every once in a while. Today, however, is sunny and bright. And though the day began cold, the forecast predicts a pleasant afternoon that reaches near the 60 degree mark.

It sounds like a great day to get out with the dogs or to run errands, doesn't it? But I can't say I'm surprised by another warm day. Overall, the Middle South is experiencing a mild winter. In my neck of the woods, January has been cold on occasion, but November and December were decidedly warmer than normal.

In the garden, mild weather has brought on early blooms. The 'Peggy Clark' Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) began opening its pink buds the week before Christmas, more than 8 weeks ahead of last year's schedule. Those early flowers were lost to a handful of 20 degree nights a few weeks later, but now a second wave of bloom is attracting honey bees to the garden on sunny afternoons.

Other ornamental plants share a similar story. The camellias (C. japonica) began to flower even before the fall-blooming sasanquas had finished their show in mid-December. Recently, the early bloomers have been joined by mid and late-season types, some which don't usually flower until March.

Several mature hollyleaf tea olives (Osmanthus heterophyllus) are flowering, as is the 'Wisley Supreme' witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), which was planted just a few months ago. Even a collection of winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), still confined by their one-gallon pots, are gracing the garden with the perfume of their sweet-smelling white flowers.

The biggest surprise, however, is the yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Cloaked in bright-colored buds and a sprinkle of trumpet-like flowers, it already proclaims the arrival of spring.

As you would guess, bulbs are also up and raring to go. The foliage of snow drops (Galanthus) and daffodils (Narcissus) emerged first, followed by the grass-like blades spring star flower (Ipheion uniflorum) and the thick leaves of Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica).

What does this mean for the gardener? Only time can tell, but I'm willing to make an educated guess or two.

First and foremost, we should keep a close eye on plants so we can adjust our maintenance schedule if need be. For example, I normally cut back my lirope in late February or early March. If new foliage emerges early, however, I'll need to move up my timetable too. The same goes for pruning and clearing debris.

It may also mean a greater chance of frost damage, as well as a loss of spring blooms, especially if there's a deep freeze after weeks of warm weather. So, stay alert as the season progresses and be ready to protect choice plants that could suffer severe injury from a steep temperature drop. If cover is needed, avoid using plastic, as it can trap moisture that can damage the plant. Ideally, shelter should be provided by polypropylene plant covers, but in a pinch use burlap, newspapers or even bed sheets.

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