Maintaining and Expanding Gardens in the Winter
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When winter rolls around, trees have lost their leaves, grasses have turned brown and our ground has hardened. Most people think it is a time when gardening comes to a halt until spring returns. Luckily, that is not the case for us who live in the Southeast. There are many things we can do and plant during the winter months. Now, there are many opportunities to begin landscape maintenance, planting and harvesting cool season crops. The cool season (fall and winter) begins after the first frost in fall and ends after the last frost in winter.
Winter Vegetable Gardening
In the Southeast, we are able to grow crops year-round, depending on what crops you choose. By February, gardeners will be able to set cool season seeds out. These seeds include carrots, garden peas, snow peas, spinach, radish, mustard and turnips.
While cool season seeds can be sown directly into the garden, gardeners can also use time in mid-February to seed warm season vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, indoors. These examples can be started earlier since they are considered long-season crops.
Winter Ornamental Gardening
If gardeners or homeowners want to add color into a dormant landscape, there are varieties of plants that allow just that. Black hellebore or christmas rose is a winter-blooming evergreen perennial with large, bowl-shaped, white flowers with yellow stamens. They are often called Christmas roses because they bloom around Christmas in warmer regions and in early spring in cooler areas. They are an excellent cut flower.
Winter Jasmine is a dense, fountain-like, semi-evergreen shrub that grows up to 5 feet. This plant has irregular blooming in late winter/early spring. Foliage will abscise and stems will die in severe winters.
This plant roots easily where arching branches touch soil. The cane-like, rapid growth creates colonies that look messy if unpruned, and can rejuvenate by severe pruning after flowering.
Winter Jasmine is drought tolerant, is tolerant of partial shade, does well in sterile soils (good in clear-cut areas), is seldom damaged by deer, and is pest and disease resistant. This plant is used on slopes, in raised planters, in foundations, and on overhanging walls.
The last ornamental plant I will discuss is the Common Camellia (Camellia japonica): an old southern gardening favorite. It blooms in early spring when not much else is blooming and adds color to what might otherwise be considered a dreary landscape.
Bloom color ranges from white to all shades of pink and red. The flower size is quite variable ranging from a two-inch diameter up to five inches. Depending upon the camellia type, flowering may start as early as October and finish as late as mid-March. The flowers on each plant will usually last three to four weeks. Visit plants.ces.ncsu.edu to read about other plants.
Maintaining a Landscape
Winter is the perfect time for landscape maintenance. This is the ideal time to transplant trees and shrubs, prune certain types of plants, and remove dead stems and leaves.
The types of plants to prune without repercussions are evergreen-type plants: boxwoods, hollies, cedars, and juniper. The pruning window for these lies between mid-November to late February.
For flowering shrubs, pruning is dependent on when the flower blooms. Summer blooming shrubs are ones that should be pruned in winter. Summer bloomers are shrubs that bloom after the month of May. Examples of summer bloomers are butterfly bushes, Japanese spireas, and Knockout roses.
Summer blooming shrubs produce flower buds on new growth. Pruning them now in January encourages lots of new growth to develop and can result in lots of flowers.
Shrubs that should not be included in winter pruning are spring bloomers. Examples of spring bloomers are azaleas, yellow bells, and common camellia. Prune these immediately after they finish blooming. A good way to determine that a shrub is a spring bloomer is if the plant blooms before Mother’s Day.