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5 essential plants for a winter landscape

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • More choices for winter beauty

    Japanese flowering apricot, a great small tree getting very popular for its medium height of about 15 feet and early flowers that are white, pink or red.

    Okame cherry, with early blooms of reddish-pink and beautiful bark, is bigger than the Japanese flowering apricot.

    Winter honeysuckle, bearing tiny very fragrant white blooms on a large, round shrub.

    Witch hazel, producing a dramatic, very large shrub or small tree with unusually shaped flowers of yellow, bronzy red or copper.

    Winter jasmine, with arcing or cascading stems filled with golden yellow, long-lasting blooms.

Winter approaches, and this is no time to sit back and wait for spring. A winter landscape in the Piedmont can be quite colorful, not just green and gray. Lots of gardeners depend just on pansies for bright hues through winter. But other choices are out there – suitable to buy and plant now – that make permanent additions to the landscape and reward you winter after winter.

Here are just five of the nicest:

For great scent

Winter daphne is a pretty evergreen that grows slowly to make a roundish shrub about 3 feet tall. The blooms, opening in mid- to late winter, are rosy pink, and their intense, sweet fragrance seems far larger than such small flowers could produce. This is a little shrub to plant close to doors, decks or patios, where you will enjoy the scent. Winter daphne (Daphne odora) requires excellent soil drainage to avoid deadly root rot.

For lots of blooms

No Piedmont landscape is complete without one or more camellias. By making careful choices, you can have camellias in bloom from mid-autumn to mid-spring. But winter is when you love them most, especially when they reach sufficient size to produce a lot of buds. Two of the most reliable are Professor Charles Sargent, bearing red flowers over a very long season starting in early January; and Lady Clare, with deep pink flowers, opening in November and through the winter.

For long-lasting flowers

The Lenten rose is a small perennial that has found its place in the Piedmont’s shady gardens. Whether planted as a single specimen or in mass by the dozen, Lenten rose rewards the gardener with reliable, no-fuss beauty that is very long-lasting. Flower buds and new foliage rise in mid-winter, just as you are ready to cut back the old leaves. The foliage looks good through the year and the flowers last well into spring. Left to set seeds in undisturbed soil, more plants will pop up to become bloom size in about three years. Much breeding of Lenten rose in recent years has produced new colors in soft shades of pink, purple and cream, giving a fresh look to this useful, durable perennial.

For bunches of red berries

Holly berries have value beyond their use in Christmas decorations. They add liveliness to the landscape at a time it is needed. Fortunately, many choices exist, from short to tall to huge. An excellent choice for a dense boundary hedge is Nellie R. Stevens, but choose wisely, because it can reach 15 feet and higher. The needlepoint holly is a bit shorter and also suited as a small screen or singly as an accent plant, reaching 10 feet over time. Even shorter is Blue Girl, which, despite its name, bears red berries and grows about 6 feet tall. Most hollies require pollinators, so check labels carefully as you select.

For a splash of sunny yellow

Even though we get sunshine in winter, some days can be a bit gray. This is when early daffodils such as February Gold and Rijnveld’s Early Sensation earn their keep. Both are very hardy and should go in a spot where you will see them easily and be surprised by their cheerful color. Both grow about 12 inches tall, but February Gold’s blooms are smaller than Rijnveld’s. Both have the traditional shape of the yellow daffodils that are so abundant in March, so why wait?


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