By Nancy Stephenson, Goochland-Powhatan Master Gardener
As the days become shorter and the air becomes cooler, there are still many opportunities to work in the garden. While preparing your flower and planting beds for a winter’s nap with a layer of shredded mulch, shredded leaves, or straw, you are actually protecting those sleeping perennials and tender roots so they will be ready to perform beautifully during the next spring/summer season. Removing fallen leaves from your lawn not only provides an attractive landscape, but the shredded leaves are an inexpensive source of mulch, which eventually decomposes into rich soil.
Winter is a great time to really take a good look at your garden and its landscape design. Since there will not be blooms or fragrances to compete with your vision during this time, it offers a great opportunity to plan for winter interest by adding plants for shape, color, fruit, and texture in an effort to create nice displays and invite wildlife, which will make those seemingly long winter months more bearable.
Evergreen trees and shrubbery with varying shades of greens, blues, rusts, and yellows are the bones of the garden. Hollies, conifers, and boxwoods are commonly utilized. Deciduous trees that display interesting bark, such as Natchez Crepe Myrtle with its peeling and cinnamon brown colored bark make an attractive companion to evergreen shrubs. Selecting broad leafed evergreen trees, such as American Holly (Ilex opaca), Foster Holly (Ilex x attenuata ‘Fosteri’), or Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), offer a range of foliage colors and textures for landscape interest, but they do require care in protective placement to avoid winter injury caused by winter wind and afternoon sun. North and eastern selections of a home or building are ideal in offering this type of protection.
There are also many interesting herbaceous perennials that are attractive during the winter season.
Some of them are as follows:
Bugleweed Ajuga reptans Rock Cress Arabis caucasica European Wild
Ginger Asarum europaeum
Sea Thrift Basket-of-Gold Bergenia Snow-in-Summer Barrenwort
Coral Bells Evergreen Candytuft Spotted Dead Nettle Moss Phlox Bethlehem Sage
Autumn Joy sedum Stonecrop Sedum
Armeria maritima Aurinia saxatilis Bergenia spp. Cerastium tomentosum Epimedium spp. Helleborus orientalis Heuchera spp.
Iberis sempervirens Lamium maculatum Phlox subulata Pulmonaria spp. Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum spectabile
Lamb’s Ears Stachys byzantina Foam Flower Tiarella cordifolia
Ornamental grasses with their attractive seed heads also add interests as well as food for birds in the winter. A list of some suggested ornamental grasses follows:
- Feather Reed Grass
- Fall Blooming Reed Grass Giant Miscanthus
- Small Japanese Silver Grass Chinese Silver Grass Silverfeather Miscanthus Moor Grass
- Switch Grass
- Red Switch Grass
- Fountain Grass
- Little Bluestem
- Cord Grass
- Variegated Cord Grass Prairie Dropseed
- Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ Calamagrostis brachytricha
- Miscanthus floridulus
- Miscanthus oligostachyus
- Miscanthus sacchariflorus
- Miscanthus sinensis ‘Siberfedher’
- Molinia caerulea (all cultivars)
- Panicum virgatum
- anicum virgatum ‘Haense Herms’,’Rotstrahlbusch’,’Rehbraun’ Pennisetum
- Schizachyrium scoparium
- Spartina pectinata
- Spartina pectinata ”Aureomarginata’
- Sporobolus heterolepsis
Even ferns such as Ebony Spleenworth (Asplenium platyneuron), Marginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) provide winter appeal.
Plants or trees for the winter garden should contain one or several of the following characteristics:
- Colorful berries that attract birds
- Branch pattern that gracefully catches snow
- Exhibits a delicate or interesting structure
- Exhibit a bark that is colorful or is unusual in texture Bears evergreen foliage
For more information about winter gardening or any other gardening questions, contact your Cooperative Extension: Goochland office (804)556‐5841 or Powhatan (804) 598‐5640.
One of the best tools gardeners’ have is their keen sense of observation. Watching nature and
observing how changes in the environment directs and affects growth and cycles in the garden
provides a valuable education that a class or textbook cannot provide.