The flowering quince (chaenomeles) around town have been putting on a show now for a couple of weeks. This wonderful deciduous ornamental is just about the first thing to begin blooming in the garden each year; I have seen the quince in the photograph start to bloom in January. This is an easy plant to grow; flowering quince doesn’t seem bothered by insects, diseases (except perhaps leaf spot in the summer), or deer. If it had one drawback, perhaps, that might be the thorns. Flowering quince want full sun and, like all plants, well-drained soil. It is neat to bring branches in the house and watch them bloom during late January. The flowers make a glorious flower arrangement. The quince pictured here ( I don’t remember the cultivar) grows only about three feet tall and about five feet around. There are many, many cultivars of flowering quince available to the trade: some grow tall; others remain dwarf size. There is a wonderful assortment of colors, including coral, pink, red, white and, my most favorite, the one that sports pink and white and red blooms all on the same branch (‘Toyo Nishki’). I have been told that quince can even survive in dry shade--the gardener's worst place to get something to grow, but I have not been successful in that environment.
Flowering quince is a wonderful addition to your garden. It might almost be described as bullet-proof, a gardener’s favorite plant description.
THE SOUTHERN LIVING GARDEN BOOK was the source for my information.
Many winter days can be very gray with bitter temperatures and blustery winds. We are worried more about our freezing pipes than gardening chores. This year so far our winter has been rather balmy. Winter does not have to be colorless or boring in the garden. The tropical leaves of the fatsia japonica or the reddish cast of a loropetalum’s leaves can brighten up our surroundings. The breath-taking blossoms of a camellia japonica, the cheery faces of the pansies, or the bright yellow trumpets of the early daffodils can add the burst of color that gardeners long to see twelve months of the year. Some of the most wonderful splashes of color in a winter landscape can come from berries. The weeping yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’), nandina (Nandina domestica) and various cotoneaster cultivars sport wonderful bright red winter berries.
By mid-January the weeping yaupon is covered with bright red berries that sparkle in the sun like round jewels. As do most plants, the yaupon prefers well-drained, fertile soil. It will grow in part to full sun but will have more berries in the sun. This yaupon can reach 15 to 20 feet in height and about five to six feet in diameter. Deer don’t care to eat it. It is a trouble-free, easy-to-grow evergreen; the glorious fruit is just one more reason to add it to your landscape–provided you have the room to let it do its thing. This plant is one that must be planted in the right place because of its size at maturity.
Some gardeners have a love-hate relationship with the common nandina, a member of the bamboo family. I am not sure why as it can survive just about anywhere and be completely ignored. I have seen it growing, and even thriving, where it receives absolutely no attention. As do all plants, a nandina prefers well drained fertile soil with regular watering but it will grow in tree roots with dry shade. Nandinas can appear far from their original home as the birds drop the berries; since it spreads by underground stolons it can also creep out of its original planting space. For color, from both the leaves and the berries, it does deserve to have a place in the garden. It is tough as nails, doesn’t seem to be troubled by pests or diseases, and is not too picky about its growing conditions or its environment (grows in sun or shade). Improper pruning techniques, however, can quickly ruin a nandina’s appearance. Shearing it into a hedge, a square, or a round ball are all misdemeanors in the gardener’s book of pruning. If a nandina needs a little pruning,, that is best done with a hand pruner. One can also cut one third of the canes to the ground each year for three years. There are so many cultivars: ‘Firepower’ grows two feet tall; others such as ‘Plum Passion’ reach four to five feet. The common nandina can reach six to eight feet.
Another beauty in the winter garden is the cotoneaster as the berries appear sooner than those of the nandina and yaupon. When its weeping branches are covered with hundreds of red berries, it is a standout in the winter garden. Cotoneasters require little care and should not be heavily pruned as that will ruin its natural shape. It would make a beautiful espalier across a fence. Most cotoneasters prefer full sun, but will grow in light shade also. They will survive on little water. Although they do well in drought conditions they are prone to a type of blight which will mutilate and kill them.
When you are choosing plants for your landscape, remember those whose beauty is in the berries During the cold days, your winter jewels will warm your heart.
Although tree bark, form, and evergreen foliage generally can certainly liven up the winter garden, there is probably nothing that cheers us in the middle of winter like a splash of color. Our daytime temperatures have ranged from near 70 to the high 40's. There have been days with bright blue skies and days where we never caught even the smallest glimpse of the sun. On those gray days dashes of color coming from the cardinals visiting the bird feeder were certainly welcome. Some of the garden appears to be resting, but many of the plants are putting on a brilliant winter show; after all, it is officially winter until almost the end of March. Unfortunately, there may be a lot of green in the lawns these days as winter weeds are making their appearance – probably the only spot of color in the winter garden we do not relish.
If you peek under your mulch you will see that the daffodils are coming up; soon our gardens will be full of the quintessential winter bloomer with bobbing, waving heads of bright yellow. My first daffodil began to bloom last week. If you plan carefully, you can have them blooming for several months. Daffodils come in an array of flower sizes (from the tiniest jonquil to the huge King Alfred), in colors from bright yellow to white to pink, in stems in different heights – in various blooming times.
I love to plant for winter color; following are a few of my favorites from the more than 400 plants which can bring life to the winter landscape. Hope these will inspire you.
Camellia japonica – these wonderful evergreens also like the same conditions as azaleas: acid, well-drained soil with filtered sun – so many to choose from (more than 3000 named ones exist): ‘R. L. Wheeler’ with its huge rose red blossoms, ‘LA Peppermint’ with it pink and white striped flower, ‘Lady Clare’ an oldy but goody with semi-double deep pink blooms , ‘Professor Sargent’ with dark red anemone-like flowers with ruffled petals in the center, and ‘Magnoliiflora’ (one of my very favorites) with its pale pink semi-double flowers. Camellias like to stay out of the early morning winter sun and very cold winter winds. My mom used to say camellias could break your heart because just as they began to put on their show there would be a killing cold snap which would destroy the blossoms. However, buds that are tightly closed can usually survive the cold.
Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten rose – forms a wonderful evergreen ground cover, and is a prolific reseeder (almost to the point that some may consider it to be invasive); it blooms in late winter to early spring in shades of cream, light green, or purple to brown (most blooms turn light green as they age) preferring areas with high shade. Lenten roses are fairly drought tolerant once they are established although mine needed supplemental water in last season’s drought; they will need tidying up in the late fall to remove tattered leaves. They dislike being disturbed and will pout if they are moved and take a couple of years to get going again; ‘Royal Heritage’, fairly new to the trade blooms pink to purple to black. There is absolutely nothing to bring life to the winter garden like a bed of Lenten roses with their (droopy) multicolored faces.
Pansy – no winter landscape is complete without pansies –whether in containers or in the ground
Chaenomeles, the flowering quince – produces flowers (some varieties double and others single) on thorny branches, with the shrub blooming before the leaves come out – very easy to grow, possibly bullet-proof. It is not very particular about garden soil – takes full sun; once established it is fairly drought tolerant. It is a marvelous sight in the winter garden as it is one of the first to bloom. A special treat is to take a branch that is budded and bring in the house to watch the flowers open up. Of note is ‘Toyo Nishhiki’ which sports pink and white and red flowers all on the same plant.
Daphne -- the most familiar may be the evergreen Daphne odora (winter daphne), prized for its heavenly fragrance and the dainty pink/purple blooms in late winter. WARNING!! Daphnes can succumb to sudden daphne death if they are not given perfect drainage; plant your daphne high just as you would your azaleas. Mine is in a huge pot close to the front door for two reasons: to smell whenever I come in and out and to monitor its growing conditions. Daphnes like to be protected from the mid-day sun and overwatering is a no no.
Edgeworthia chrysantha, the paper bush – deciduous plant that is a must for the winter garden with charming fragrant yellow flowers; it requires same growing conditions as azaleas and ample moisture during summer’s heat and drought.
Mahonia bealei, the leather leaf mahonia (also discussed in an earlier blog) -- planted not only for its wonderful holly- like foliage but also for the spikes of vibrant yellow flowers. It prefers a part shade location with rich soil and regular water (but a well-established plant has been known to tolerate dry shade)
Corylopsis, winter hazel – another one where flowers appear before the leaves– there are many to choose from but all have fragrant flowers shaped like a bell that hang in short chainlike clusters from the branches; another one that likes the same growing conditions as azaleas.
If you still need some winter cheer, please don’t forget the crocus blooming in late winter and signaling to us that spring is around the corner. Mass them; don’t plant them deeply, and hope that the squirrels and the chipmunks aren’t watching you the day you plant them.
Winter does not need to be a drab colorless season. With a bit of research and planning, something can be blooming twelve months of the year in your garden. I have used a book called THE WINTER GARDEN by Peter Loewer and Larry Mellichamp and THE SOUTHERN LIVING GARDEN BOOK for my inspiration and my plant facts. A walk through your favorite garden shop to see what is blooming at this time of the year may also spark your imagination. Remember we are in the middle of the best time to plant in our 7b to 8A area – so go for it!
The other day I noticed that we did not have our usual crowd of birds hanging around our feeder. We checked and the seed had gotten hard and was no longer as appetizing as it should have been so the old seed got dumped and the feeder got a good cleaning. Old, moldy bird seed can actually make our feathered friends sick. Cleaning the bird feeder and the bird bath may be two tasks that can slip our minds this time of the year but the feeder should be cleaned at least once a month. I clean my bird bath every couple of days in the summer. . . to keep the water fresh and to make sure mosquitos don’t use the bath as a breeding ground. During the winter I also give it a regular cleaning and fresh water. If you have a problem with the water freezing in your birdbath, there are little devices than can be put into your baths to keep the water from freezing. One of the most charming garden sights is the birds splashing around in the bird bath. Sometimes during the summer months I will run the sprinkler just for them and they will come running to bathe in the water that collects in the driveway. Not very water wise but a real pleasure for the birds.
Attracting birds to your garden is not difficult. Simply look at your yard as if you were a bird. They are seeking water, food, shelter, and places to build nests to raise their babies. They like to perch on branches; they like places to hide from predators. Choose plants that provide a variety of food; include plants that have seeds, nuts, berries, and fruit. Many native plants can be especially attractive to birds. Birds love the seeds in coneflowers so when the flowers die back leave the seed heads for the birds to munch on. Last summer we were gardening in Jacksonville’s Pocket Park. A little goldfinch was snacking on the seed heads of the yellow coneflowers, completely oblivious to all the activity around him as he enjoyed the treat. Supplement your plants with feeders with various kinds of birdseed. There is a style of feeder for every bird and every human taste. One trick to keeping your feeder stocked for the birds is to figure out how to keep the squirrels away. We have a squirrel baffle that keeps them from climbing the pole. I have seen enterprising squirrels leap from far distances to get to the seed. We have tried hot pepper in the seed which I read is a delicacy for the birds. It was supposed to help keep the squirrels at bay but they went right on eating. So we purchased a special feeder that gives the squirrels a little jolt. We no longer have a squirrel problem. Most birds will eat black oil sunflower seeds. I buy the kind that is the hearts only with the husks removed. It tends to make less of a mess under your feeder. Birds love suet which can be homemade or purchased in just about any hardware, big box, or pet store.
Just as there are a multitude of bird feeders on the market, the gardener can purchase just about any kind of bird bath. Cleanliness again is the watch word for both of these products.
Obviously, birds need shelter from predators as well as to nest. The best way to provide this is to have a variety of shrubs of all sizes and shapes–both deciduous and evergreen–in your landscape. But well-placed bird houses are also important, especially to attract bluebirds to your yard. Houses specially made for bluebirds are easy to find. Watching a pair of bluebirds line a blue bird house is one of the nicest experiences you can have in the garden. The bluebirds in the Jacksonville Pocket Park raised two sets of babies right in the middle of an urban park.
It goes without saying that to have birds you must be really careful with chemicals. Harsh chemicals–pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers and birds are not a good combination. Be prepared to accept less than perfect to make sure your birds stay healthy.
Mulch also makes your yard more inviting to the birds. Not only can they use some mulch material like pinestraw for their nests, mulch brings better soil and, often, earthworms, a treat for the birds. I love to watch the birds scratch around the mulch looking for a tidbit.
As far as predators, some things may be out of control (however, providing lots of good shelter is vital to help keep our birds safe). However, if you have cats consider keeping them indoors or placing your feeder so it does not become a feeding station for your cats. I just read a great idea–put something with thorns under your feeders. So if the seed spills and the birds like to gather to eat the spilled seeds, the thorns will help keep the cats away. We have lots of stray cats in our neighborhood. I have even seen one try to jump in the feeder to catch a bird. That definitely ranks as one of my husband’s top pet peeves.
With a little effort and some planning your yard can be haven for birds of many sizes and colors and will only make your garden a more delightful place for you and the birds.
2011 is about to become a memory; I hope it was a year full of good ones for all of you. As we have at the beginning of most years we begin that time-honored task of making New Years resolutions, most of which we break by the end of the month. Who really gives up chocolate for good?
Gardeners can and should make resolutions, ones we can keep. A few that came to mind:
Be water wise.
Plant the right plant in the right place which realizes into less work for you the gardener and less stress on the plant
Be cautious with herbicides, pesticides, and other garden chemicals for the sake of the environment and beneficial insects.
Reuse, recycle, repurpose.
Compost leaves instead of putting them at the curb
Include vegetable crops in your planting, even in a container.
Help start a community vegetable garden or a flower planting in your neighborhood.
Use native plants in your landscape.
Plan your garden to attract bees, butterflies, and birds.
Interest and educate children in nature and gardening.
Help yourself, your family, and your community become more sustainable.
Work to make sure that our bodies of water–lakes, streams, creeks are clean and inviting.
Consider taking the Master Gardener Class. Through the class you will become an educator and a leader and help others with their knowledge of horticulture.
Happy New Year to all of you!