By Glenn DiNella
To brighten their landscapes during the dreary winter months, most homeowners rely heavily on evergreens such as hollies, junipers, arborvitae, hemlocks and palms. But a few plants offer flowers during the winter.
Hellebores, also known as Lenten roses because they flower January to April (overlapping the season of Lent), can be stunning in the winter landscape. Quickly spreading by seed, they look best when given a large bed and room to expand (see photo above). Their flowers come in a variety of colors such as white, purple, maroon and chartreuse.
As an added bonus, winter-flowering plants provide nourishment for bee populations that are having an increasingly difficult time finding nectar year-round. Without bees to pollinate our fruits and vegetables, the earth is going to be in trouble. Many bees starve to death due to the lack of nectar-producing flowers.
I see bees foraging on warm winter afternoons in my Zone 8 garden in Birmingham, Alabama. I photographed this honeybee on this winter honeysuckle in January 2016.
To help bees during the lean winter months, add plants that bloom late in the season. Here’s a quick list of winter-blooming plants:
- Camellia japonica (blooms August–May, depending on variety)
- Camellia sasanqua (blooms August–December, depending on variety)
- citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc.)
- forsythia (masses of yellow flowers before it leafs out in spring)
- hellebore (great ground cover)
- pansy (annual)
- quince (tough plant, blooms late winter/early spring)
- snapdragon (annual)
- viola (annual, like pansy, but with smaller flowers and foliage)
- winter daphne (specimen plant)
- winter honeysuckle (large shrub, not the invasive vine)
- winter jasmine (low, spreading/trailing shrub, with yellow flowers in February)
- witch hazel (after leaves drop, bright-yellow fragrant flowers from October–November)
Citrus plants, such as this Meyer lemon, often produce flowers in winter. (The immature fruits look like limes.) There is an entire science dedicated to predicting how and when citrus plants bloom. They are unpredictable—depending on factors such as species, stress levels, water availability and pollinators. But citrus plants in the Southeast often bloom during winter or early spring. If you live in the upper regions of the Southeast, try growing citrus in pots. That way you can take the plant inside on cold nights and move it out again on warm winter days, when bees can find it and help with pollination.
Camellia sasanqua has small, dark-green foliage and blooms in fall (typically around Halloween in my area). Camellia japonica has larger, medium-green foliage and can flower anytime from August to May, depending on the variety. By planting several types of camellias, you can virtually guarantee blooms all winter long.
Winter daphne (Daphne odora) can be temperamental and difficult to establish, but it’s a small, attractive specimen shrub that works well in a container, or as a focal point in an area where you can enjoy its fragrant flowers as you walk by. Variegated daphnes, such as this, are effective for adding a spark to a shady area.
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is a tough shrub, with arching branches that teem with small yellow flowers in January and February. It is not picky about soil, moisture (prefers somewhat dry), or pruning. It works well on a bank or above a wall, so branches can cascade.
Don’t forget about annuals when it comes to winter blooms. Whether it’s a mass planting or just a few pansies and snapdragons tucked into some containers, annuals can work wonders for brightening your landscape—and perhaps your mood—while old man winter is in charge.