Get color now with winter-blooming plants

nbrachey@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 4, 2013 

  • Garden Q&A Q. My flower bulbs are still not planted. Is it worth doing? This question comes up every winter. It is not too late, and you should do it now. The easiest way is to plant them in pots of soil and keep them outdoors for the chilling they require while they grow roots then break dormancy. I often plant bulbs bought on sale on New Year’s Day (my form of celebrating), and they do very well, but bloom a bit later than if planted in November or December.

It is time to think of the new look that begins to unfold now that we are fully into winter.

The Piedmont’s winter can be rough at times, but more typically it is moderate jacket weather. That makes life fun for gardeners. Being outdoors, picking off spent blooms of pansies, looking for the winter weeds such as chickweed and enjoying the fresh air all make for a nice winter experience.

All this is enhanced by shrubs and trees that bloom in January and February. One of my neighbors expressed joy – and more than a little surprise – in late December that her Okame cherry was beginning to bloom. What a pleasure.

Winter does not produce the masses of bloom we see in April and May, and a major reason is that people plant for spring beauty. They should also plant for winter.

Start with camellias. No evergreen gives you more than these Southern favorites for shady landscapes. Their glossy green leaves on shapely medium-to-large shrubs look good all year. Depending on the variety, you get long-lasting flowers in late autumn, winter or spring in a range of colors including white, cream, pink and red.

But there are more to choose from, especially when you see them in bloom in garden centers this winter. The common names of some give you a clue: winter honeysuckle, winter daphne and wintersweet, for example. These are wonderful plants that add great scent as well as beauty to the landscape.

Winter honeysuckle ( Lonicera fragrantissima) is a roundish shrub, not a vine, and grows rather anonymously through the year. But in mid- to late winter it blooms with lots of very small white and yellow flowers that emit a sweet, rather powerful scent that is delightful to bring into a room. The shrub itself is not a front-door plant, but more of a background plant that is still close enough for the fragrance to be enjoyed in the winter.

Winter daphne ( Daphne odora) is one of the nicest plants there is, though it is very particular. It requires shade and perfect drainage to avoid root rot. The result is a pretty round plant with solid green or variegated foliage. The flowers open about mid winter and are intensely fragrant. The little shrub grows about 3 feet tall. Its appearance and scent make it worth the worry it causes gardeners.

Wintersweet ( Chimonanthus praecox) is one of the earliest winter plants to bloom here, but this is a tree rising 10 to 15 feet that requires some space in full sun or part shade. It is worth it for the sweet to spicy scent starting in December and the pretty yellow leaves in fall.

And there are still more: Lenten rose is one of the best perennials for shade, with long-lasting flowers through the winter. Others include the early cherry trees, including Okame and Prunus mume, and the first bulbs to flower, including winter aconites, snowdrops and bunch crocuses.

All of these and more can make your landscape more interesting and beautiful, whatever the weather brings our way.

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