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5 Ways to Put Your Garden Beds to Bed for Winter

14_08559 14_08554 11_11388 Rake On The Wheelbarrow

Prepping your garden beds for winter will make it easier to get a jump start on planting in the spring because working in a soggy, spring bed is a difficult task! It’s far smarter to do that work in the fall when the beds are dry and the weather is nice.

So, if you’re wondering how to tuck your garden beds in for a long winter nap and have them wake up refreshed, start with these five tasks:

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Forcing Spring Flowering Shrubs

It seems like every year Punxsutawney Phil, our official forecasting groundhog, sees his shadow and forecasts an extended winter.  It’s hard news to hear when you are eager to get outdoors and start gardening.

So what’s a gardener to do? One way you can defy Old Man Winter is by forcing blooming shrubs such as quince, forsythia and pussy willow into flower indoors. The process is simple and the results will brighten your home while you wait for spring. Here is how you do it.

As soon as you see the flower buds on your spring flowering shrubs start to swell, clip a few branches to bring indoors. Select branches that are heavily loaded with buds. You will usually find these towards the top of the shrub.

Quince
Once you get the branches inside it’s important to re-cut the ends at a slight angle. Then make a few slits about 2 to 3 inches long around the base. Both of these steps will help draw more water up into the stems.

Put the branches in a bucket of water and keep them in cool dark place for a few days, misting them occasionally. Then move them into a well-lit room and watch as the warmer temperatures coax the flowers into bloom.

Selecting De-icers for the Garden

What is the best way to deal with ice on steps and paths in the garden? I have been told not to use salt based products is this true?

Although not always the ideal solution, I prefer to use sand on icy steps and paths. This way I don’t have to worry about any negative impact on my garden.

If the situation calls for a chemical de-icer it is best to use one that is either potassium or calcium based. Here’s why: salt absorbed by plants, either through the roots or leaves, draws moisture from plant cells, causing their tissues to dry out. When you use a salt based de-icer, salt can soak into the ground with the melting snow or can become airborne and cling to leaves and evergreen needles.

Always use any type of de-icer sparingly and remove ice and snow with a shovel first.

Winter Garden Plants

As the brilliant colors of fall fade Mother Nature begins to reveal the quiet beauty of the winter garden. Colorful barks, evergreen foliage, bright berries and subtle blooms reveal themselves to add interest to an otherwise stark landscape.

You would be amazed at the number of plants available to brighten your garden this winter. Here is a list of a few of my favorites.

BLOOMS
You may be surprised to know that quite a few plants bloom during winter, especially if you live in a mild climate. Here are just a few.

 
Iris reticulata
Camellia japonica
Jasminum nudiflorum
Pansies and Violas
I like to plant large drifts of these cheerful flowers throughout my garden. They are the perfect companions to spring flowering bulbs and will bloom continuously through the winter in zones 7 and above. For best performance, plant violas and pansies in full sun, although violas will tolerate shade.
Snowdrops, Galanthus
White, teardrop shaped blooms adorn these little woodland beauties in late winter or very early spring. I like the variety ‘John Gray’ because of its extra-large flowers. Hardy in zones 3 – 8, plant these bulbs in early fall in partial to full shade areas. Snowdrops prefer rich, well-drained soil.
Iris reticulata
Often emerging through crusts of snow, this iris is the first to bloom in my garden. I like ‘Cantab’ because of its sky blue flowers. Plant these beauties in large drifts of 20 or more and you will be well rewarded with their beautiful blooms in late winter/early spring. Plant in full sun. Grows to about 6 inches tall.
Crocus
One of my fondest memories is the ring of purple crocus that encircled the big oak tree on my grandmother’s front lawn. It was the only contribution that my grandfather made to their garden. The delicate cup shaped blooms would emerge in late winter and serve as a gentle reminder that spring was eminent. Plant spring blooming crocus in the fall in full sun to partial shade. Hardy in zones 3 – 8.
Camellia japonica
Traditionally considered the belle of the Southern garden, new cultivars of this shrub have been created that are more cold tolerant. Some varieties of this evergreen shrub bloom in very early spring. Plant camellias in partial shade in an area that is protected from drying winds. They thrive in humus rich, well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 7 – 8.
Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima
This shrub is the old fashioned and unimproved variety. How refreshing! Of course this says nothing about its incredible fragrance that fills the garden as early as January! Cold hardy to zone 5, plant winter honeysuckle in full sun to partial shade. Grows 8 to 10 tall and up to 8 feet wide.
Winter Jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum
This is a plant with subtle beauty when used as a focal point or single specimen, but when used collectively as a group it is a cold knock out. Late in January the plants are covered in tiny lemon yellow blooms. Hardy in zones 7 – 9. Winter jasmine thrives in full sun with average soil. Grows to 15 feet in warm climates, in the North it tops out at 3 to 8 feet.

EVERGREENS
During the growing season evergreens often act as background support to the more colorful plants but during the winter these quiet elements move to the forefront often providing the only color in the garden. There are many to choose from but here are a few of my favorites.

 
Boxwood
Cedrus atlantica glauca
Elaeagnus
Elaeagnus ebbingei
Great for creating a privacy screen, the plant’s silver-green leaves, cinnamon colored, whip-like stems and interesting berries make this shrub a favorite in my garden. Best if grown in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Hardy in zones 7 – 11.
Boxwood
My garden would not be complete without boxwoods. I use them to create living walls, punctuate entries and as focal points. Their bright green foliage pops against the gray winter landscape. Hardy from zone 6 to 9, plant these workhorse shrubs in full sun to partial shade in fertile, well-drained soil. Can grow up to 5 feet and 4 feet wide depending on variety.
Yew, Taxus baccata
An excellent shrub for creating the walls of your garden rooms. Yews are a favorite in English gardens. Hardy from zone 4 to 7. Plant in full to partial shade, well-drained soil. Will not tolerate wet feet. ‘Hick’s Yew’, a favorite of mine, grows to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Blue Atlantic Cedar, Cedrus atlantica glauca
An attractive tree in any season, its blue green foliage really stands out during winter. This tree makes an excellent focal point in gardens where the space is available. Hardy from zone 3 to 9. Plant in full sun, well-drained soil. A slower grower, the Blue Atlantic Cedar will eventually reach 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide.

 

BARK
Often hidden behind a veil of green during the spring and summer, shrubs and trees with unusual bark really stand out once the leaves have fallen.

 
Cornus sericea
Acer griseum
Betula
Red Twig Dogwood, Cornus sericea
After the leaves fall in autumn, the red stems and twigs take center stage. The color ranges from dark coral to Chinese red. This is a shrub that can take very cold conditions. It seems the colder it gets, the "redder" the stems look, but maybe it’s because of their contrast with snow! Cold hardy from zone 2 to 8. Tolerates most soil types. Grows 8 to 10 feet tall.
Paper Bark Maple, Acer griseum
This tree is slow growing and will reach a height of 30 feet tall with an equally wide canopy. The old bark peels off in strips, revealing cinnamon brown color underneath. Hardy in zones 4 – 8. Plant in full sun and fertile, moist but well-drained soil.
London Plane Tree, Platanus x hispanica
Last year I saw this tree planted in a friend’s garden. I was spellbound by the beautiful bark – a tapestry of brown, gray and cream. This tree can grow up to 100 feet, so site it in a place where it has plenty of room. It prefers full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 5 – 8.
Birch, Betula
In a garden in Georgia I planted a small grove of birch with spectacular results. The peeled and papery bark is a beautiful texture in the garden. Cold tolerance depends on species. The Paper birch, B. papyrifera, is cold tolerant to zone 2. Plant in full sun to light shade in moist but well drained soil. Mature plant size depends on variety and species.

 

BERRIES
I consider berries the flowers of winter. Not only do they add color to the garden but provide food for birds as well.


Aronia melanocarpa

Ilex opaca

Malus
Black Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa
This plant is much more garden friendly than its unruly cousin the red chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia. Deep purple almost black berries form in late summer and persist through January. A particularly nice cultivar is ‘Autumn Magic’, which has brilliant fall color and larger, longer lasting berries. Black chokeberries are very adaptable. They can be planted in full sun or partial shade. The plant prefers moist areas but will grow in dry soils as well. Hardy in zones 4 through 9.
Rosa rugosa species
This roses produce lovely, orange-red rose hips. It is extremely cold tolerant and is hardy from zones 2 – 9. Plant in full sun in a spot where it will get plenty of air circulation. R. rugosa can get up to 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall.
American Holly ‘Carolina No. 2’, Ilex opaca
I have always considered the American holly one of the most noble trees in the southeastern forest. If you have ever examined a fully ripened holly berry closely you find they are such as intense shade of red that they almost appear to glow. Native to North America, this holly is hardy in zones 5 – 9. Plant in full sun or shade in well-drained soil. Can reach up 50 feet tall with a 30 foot spread. Requires a male pollinator within 300 feet to bear fruit.
Possumhaw, Ilex decidua
There is nothing like this plant’s scarlet berries to break the gray pall of winter. A well-berried tree can easily be the center of attention in any landscape. The cultivar ‘Warren Red’ produces especially lustrous and long lasting berries. Plant in full sun to partial shade with alkaline soil. Possum haw can grow up to 20 feet tall. It is hardy in zones 5 – 9. One thing to keep in mind that the plant requires a male pollinator within 300 feet to bear fruit.
Crabapples, Malus
There are not enough good things to be said about crabapples. My ‘Narragansett’ crabapples are beautiful in every season. In the late fall and winter they produce small clusters of light red fruit. I think the birds appreciate them even more than I do. Crabapples thrive in full sun but will tolerate light shade. Plant in consistently moist, well-drained moderately fertile soil. Most varieties are hardy in zones 5 – 8 but there are one or two that can survive in zone 4. Mature plant size depends on variety.

GROUNDCOVERS
Evergreen groundcovers should also be considered for your winter garden. These plants can add a carpet of color, pattern and texture to otherwise bare spots in your flowerbeds.


Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’

Euonymus fortunei

Hedera helix
Liriope muscari, ‘Silver Dragon’
I like liriope because of its grass like foliage and dense habit. ‘Silver Dragon’ has attractive green foliage with white and silver variegation. Liriope will thrive under any light condition. It is drought tolerant but prefers to be sheltered from cold, drying winds. Hardy in zones 6 – 10. You can expect this plant to reach about 12 inches tall.
Creeping Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, Veronica peduncularis
This plant has delicate green foliage that turns slightly purple in winter. The true wonder of this plant appears in late February when it becomes covered with clear blue flowers. Expect creeping Veronica to reach a mature height of about 4 inches with a 2 foot spread. Plant in full sun to partial shade in consistently moist but well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 4 – 8.
Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei
Wintercreeper is one of my favorite groundcovers. I particularly like the variety ‘Coloratus’, which turns a nice burgundy color in the fall. This plant grows up to 2 feet tall. Performs best in full sun and tolerates any well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 5 – 9
English Ivy, Hedera helix
One of the best groundcovers for shady areas has to be English ivy. There are several varieties to choose from. I often rely on the green and white variegated varieties such as ‘Anne Marie’ and ‘Baltica’ to bring interest and color to a garden. English ivy will tolerate full sun in cooler climates but should be planted in partial shade in zones 7 and above. It is important to plant English ivy in an area that has good drainage.

Because English ivy is a potential hazard for native plants I only use it in controlled environments in areas where it is not a problem and recommend that it is not allowed to run rampant. Always check with your local Cooperative Extension before planting it or go to the National Park Service’s web site at http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/. They have a nice map that shows which states are troubled by this plant.

5 Outstanding Trees for Winter

I met garden designer and author Rosemary Verey when I was a student at the University of Manchester. She was such an inspiration to me that I made it a mission to keep in touch. When she came to the states for book tours I attended her lectures and contacted her whenever I was in Great Britain. It was years ago at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis that I heard her speak about her book The Garden in Winter. There is a line in this book that I just love. "If our gardens are to be more than graves commemorating summer’s beauty, we must start by using our eyes." Rosemary VereyShe goes on to discuss how she noticed that her garden would take a backseat to the surrounding countryside during the winter months. It seemed that her garden was designed with just the growing season in mind, but Mother Nature created a landscape with year round interest. So she began to look at winter with fresh eyes. Even on the grimmest winter day there was something to admire – a frost covered seed head, rain soaked hues of gray, brown and lichen green, or sunlight reflecting off an evergreen hedge.

I had the opportunity to put this philosophy to practice when I visited the New York Botanical Garden one winter. That’s right, I purposely toured the gardens in winter and I have to say that the trip was a great inspiration to me. I used my eyes as Rosemary instructed and discovered a whole world of possibilities.

I found the trees at the Botanical Garden to be particularly eye catching. Their silhouettes really popped out against the dormant landscape. And the barks! Some of the trees really had amazing color and texture to their bark. I only wished that I had room in my garden to squeeze in one of those tree.

Sadly, I don’t, but perhaps you do. Here is a list of 5 outstanding trees with interesting bark that will add color, texture and form to a garden any season of the year.

Paper Bark MaplePaperbark Maple
Acer griseum
Whenever space allows I recommend a maple. They are an excellent shade tree in summer and most offer brilliant autumn color. The paperbark maple has the added bonus of a flaky, orange brown bark. Its lovely contrasted with spring greens and winter grays. Grows 30′ tall x 30′ wide, deciduous, slow growing, zones 4 – 9.

Tanyosho PineTanyosho Pine
Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’
Not only does this tree have striking red bark, but the form is exceptional as well. An evergreen dome sits atop multiple, twisting trunks. In addition to the bark, the winter buds are a deep brown-red. Grows 12′ tall x 20′ wide, evergreen, slow growing, zones 4 – 8.

London Plane TreeLondon Plane Tree
Platanus hispanica syn. Platanus x acerifolia
I recommended this tree to a friend who has a home in the country. It’s a tree that needs a lot of room to grow. The bark is a lovely patchwork of brown, gray and cream. Grows 100′ tall x 70′ wide, deciduous, zones 5 – 8.

Lacebark PineLacebark Pine
Pinus bungeana
This tree is a chameleon. It starts out conical like a Christmas tree, but as it matures, it develops into a more irregular form with a flat top. As the tree ages the smooth bark becomes flaky creating round light green and cream patches that fade to reddish brown and gray-green. Grows 30 – 50′ tall x 15 ‘ 20’ wide, evergreen, slow growing, zones 4 – 7.

Coral Bark Japanese MapleCoral Bark Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’
This Japanese maple has striking red bark that is prominent in the fall and winter. The autumn foliage is a bright, yellow-orange. This tree prefers shade in the afternoon in warmer climates. Grows 20′ tall x 15′ wide, deciduous, zones 5-8.

Good to Know: Selecting the Right Tree for Your Garden

Before you select a tree, take note of the area where you want to plant it. Is the location in sun or shade? What type of soil does it have? Is the area soggy or well drained? Your tree will grow and thrive if make sure the site matches the tree’s optimum growing conditions.

Another important consideration is to compare the site to the expected size of the tree.

You will also need to consider proximity to buildings, sidewalks and other hardscape features. Tree canopies and root growth can be troublesome if planted in the wrong spot.