Two splendid things are happening this week in the Piedmont. Both are flowers, and what a mark they make in the winter landscape.
Out first was the Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume, a fine medium-sized tree whose white or pink flowers would make you think it is April instead of early February. The second is winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, a shrub whose yellow flowers on arching branches are sometimes confused with forsythia.
These are two of the most distinctive plants for midwinter bloom. In full flower, they are traffic-stoppers because the colors are so beautiful.
But they are very different.
Japanese flowering apricot gained in popularity in the past decade or so as home gardeners became aware of its very early, very lovely bloom and size well-suited for a small front yard. It also appeals to people who want a four-season landscape.
Despite its name, it originated in China, and modern hybrids, most of them with pink flowers, began to be developed in England in the late 1940s.
Quite a few named varieties are in the marketplace. It requires sun with moist but well-drained soil and may reach 25 feet over time. Since this is prime time for planting trees and other woody plants, you can see plants in bloom while making your selection.
The winter jasmine is one of my favorite plants. This is partly for its reliable bloom in mid-to-late winter when the cheerful yellow flowers look so springlike. It is also a pretty plant, with arching stems that tend to be bright green. This is a no-nonsense, easy plant that causes no trouble and looks good in a corner where it can reach mature size of 4 or 5 feet tall. It an also be useful to spill over a slope.
A sunny location produces the best flowers. Rejuvenation pruning every few years should encourage fresh growth and good flowering.
From a distance, it is confused with forsythia. Just remember: winter jasmine blooms early and has green stems. It can certainly be planted and enjoyed now.
Q. I have a lot of shrub pruning to do this winter. Is it too early to get started on this?
A. Not too early. Aim to get this work done by early March. However, do not prune shrubs that will bloom this spring, including azaleas, forsythia, pieris and camellias. But most hollies and ordinary evergreens such as ligustrum and cleyera can be pruned this month.