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January 2012

QuestionWinter Color 2012


AnswerSo far this winter has been an improvement over last year, with weather almost too mild at times. But our winter is far from over, so keep your fingers crossed. Typically when we think of garden color, we think spring and summer, but there are a number of plants that can add winter interest and color. From true flowering plants to colorful bark, leaves and berries, there are options for all gardens. Take inventory of your own garden, and if you need color, consider some new additions. Shrubs are the backbone of the landscape. While we do want evergreen shrubs to be the foundation of the landscape, deciduous plants can also add seasonality and rhythm to a garden. While green is of course a color, there are variegated plants and some that take on their own winter hue. Nandina’s can be a nice green addition to the garden during the growing season, but they really shine in the winter landscape with red or burgundy foliage. Standard plants also have a nice berry display. Some folks dislike nandina’s since they can spread by seed into wild areas, but they are a versatile plant, and usually pretty tough. Many female hollies are loaded with berries this year, and the fruit is a nice addition to color. The deciduous hollies are really showing off with berries on full display without being masked by foliage. But there are some plants that actually bloom in the cooler months. There are several species of camellias that are common throughout central and southern Arkansas, and with hardier introductions, now being planted even in the northern tier of the state. Camellia sasanqua’s are in full bloom now, and some of the Camellia japonica’s are beginning to bloom. There are other hybrids available as well. These plants do best in full morning sun, and afternoon shade. They like acidic soil conditions and even moisture in the summer—not tolerating heavy, wet soils very well. Flower colors run from pinks to reds and whites, with some bi-colors as well. There are several species of mahonia that shine in the shade garden. Oregon Grape Holly is a common name, but these plants are setting flowers now, which will be open in a few weeks. The fragrant yellow blossoms will be followed by robin’s egg blue fruits. A new introduction is the Soft Caress mahonia, which looks almost like a small palm plant. Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is already blooming in many parts of the state. Often mistaken for forsythia, which won’t be in bloom for a month or so, winter jasmine is a low growing plant with cascading branches covered in bright yellow flowers. Even though it does lose most of its leaves in the fall, the branches stay green. It has started blooming a bit earlier than normal this year. Some less known shrubs for winter interest include wintersweet and winterhazel. Both of these shrubs bloom in the winter and are highly fragrant. Winter sweet, Chimonanthus praecox is related to our common sweet shrub (calycanthus) and has smaller, fragrant flowers and is the first to bloom in January. By February, the winterhazel, Corylopsis platypetala is blooming. This plant is in the witchhazel family and while it has small flowers they cascade together in a small cluster. Both plants will grow in partial shade, and while not too exciting the rest of the season, can give you great fragrance and interest in the winter garden. Another fragrant winter shrub is winter honeysuckle. Its tiny white flowers may not stop traffic, but it can add fragrance to your home and garden.        


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