By Glenn DiNella
I know some people up north think the South is just sunshine and green grass all winter long. The truth is, most parts of the Southeast experience their share of winter. Although ice and snowstorms are few and far between, we can see weeklong stretches of drizzly, dreary days and bitter cold nights that can ruin a gardener’s attempt to grow semitropicals or establish a few winter annuals. The deciduous plants go dormant, and our gardens, which normally provide a cheerful aspect to our lives, take on a somber note. Here are a few ideas for brightening your winter garden.
Okay, it seems like an obvious answer, but this winter keep an eye out for plants that capture your attention, then add them to your shopping list. The problem is, we tend to concentrate on other seasons. We go crazy planting in the spring, and are naturally inspired to buy spring-blooming azaleas, forsythia, and dogwoods. Then in fall we’re dazzled by sugar maples, purple beautyberries, and late-blooming black-eyed Susans. The plants that shine in winter are overlooked.
The spring blooms of this possumhaw (Ilex decidua) are tiny, and the foliage is just your basic green. But this plant shines in early winter, after the leaves have dropped and the berries change from green to eye-catching yellow, orange, or bright red (depending on the cultivar). They remain until the birds devour them or a hard freeze takes away their brilliant color.
A bright container planted with an evergreen, such as this lemon cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’) and annuals, such as these ornamental cabbages, can provide a high note in a winter garden. Other popular winter annuals include pansies, ornamental kale, snapdragons, and edibles such as parsley and Swiss chard. You might even try growing an entire winter crop of edible kale, chard, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other cole crops. This is great way to liven up your winter garden, and even inspire you to get outside and weed, water, and harvest during the winter.
If you prefer an understated accent to the winter garden, try something like this blue spruce sapling in a simple white container. Adding moss to the soil creates a spark of bright green to contrast with the spruce’s soft, bluish hue.
Occasionally I channel my inner florist and put together a cut arrangement. This pot and its twin flank the front doors of a house. While perennial ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum planted in the pots does a great job welcoming visitors in spring, summer, and fall, it goes dormant in winter, and the pots go drab.
Look around your yard or (with permission) your neighbors’ yards, and take cuttings that inspire you. I used nandina, golden chamaecyparis, aucuba, and variegated tea olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’). Simply stick the cuttings into the soil. During the cool winter months the arrangements last for weeks.