Many gardeners put up their tools and prop up their feet during the winter months. It is a time to slow down and take life a little easier. Many gardeners spend the long evenings poring through garden catalogs and magazines. Getting inspiration for their spring planting. I do the same. But that is not the point of this post.
Here in Durham North Carolina, we usually have fairly mild winter with the occasional snow. Today for example the high temperature will be in the 60’s. It is still a little early to do a lot of cleanup in the garden as the leaf litter helps keep down winter weeds and moderates soil temperature fluctuations. Never know if bitter cold weather is still ahead. Besides, the dried tops of many perennials look good in their winter browns and tans. I especially like some of them when they are covered in frost and sparkle in the sunlight. So I usually wait until later in the winter to do my cutting back of perennials. Take the time to appreciate the subtle colors and textures of your winter garden.
I also take the time to see where the garden is lacking in interest during the winter. Around here the leaves drop just before Thanksgiving, and the trees don’t leaf out until late March or early April. That’s a good 4 months or more. Don’t waste that time! Add color for that third of the year. Find blank areas in the garden in the winter where you can add evergreens or plants with winter color like berries or a change in color. One of my favorite plants in my garden is a white pine called ‘Hillside Winter Gold’ As the name suggests, the needles on it turn gold in the winter.
Another plant that adds interest to the winter garden is Ilex verticillata. Some variety names are Winterberry and Sparkleberry. These are native deciduous hollies. As with all hollies, there are both male and female plants. If you don’t have berries, you may have a male or you have a female and there is not a nearby male. I usually insure berries by ordering a male any time I plant females. Most named varieties will be of a known sex.
Other plants with winter berries are evergreen hollies, hawthorn, and beautyberry. Many of the thuja cultivars have evergreen foliage that changes color with the cold weather as do some of the junipers. Many winters the oakleaf hydrangeas hold onto some of their deep red leaves. Some plants have interesting bark that shows more after the leaves fall. The oakleaf hydrangeas have a cinnamon peeling bark that is hidden by the large leaves all summer. Ninebark also has interesting bark that is unnoticed during the summer.
The point I am making is that the garden doesn’t have to be boring for the third of the year or longer that it is “dormant”. With some planning and some appreciation for winter’s subtleties the garden can be quite enjoyable year round.
Continuing on the theme of color during the winter blahs, there are other ways of having color without flowers. Evergreens are the most common. However, some evergreens may also change color during cold weather. One of my favorite plants in my native garden is a white pine called Hillside Winter Gold. As cold weather starts to affect it, the needles start turning yellow. I have mine planted in a bed of Muhly grass. In the fall, the muhly grass seed heads turn pinkish of purple depending on your viewpoint. This contrasts nicely with the yellowing needles of the Hillside Winter Gold pine. As the cold weather continues, the needles turn more yellow and the muhly grass seed heads turn tan. I also have a viriginia pine called Wates Golden that also turns yellow in cold weather. The color is not as intense as the Hillside but it is usually attractive in it’s own right. These plants are barely noticed during the summer months but stand out quite nicely during the winter months. With warm weather, the needles turn back to green and they graciously slip back into the background and surrender the spotlight to the spring flowers.