January Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Winter Honeysuckle

A beautiful day in the garden can be had here in Georgia. One of the things I love most about living in Georgia is our mild winters. Yes, I know it has been bitter cold some days, which can be unbearable for us cold-natured gardeners. But on those nice sunny warm winter days, I love to walk in the garden. A few shrubs are blooming now in my garden. 

One of them is Winter Honeysuckle. Lonicera fragrantissima is covered with small but deliciously fragrant flowers that begin opening anytime from late January to early February. And when I walked outside yesterday afternoon, I found Lonicera fragrantissima in full bloom. This variety of Lonicera is known as Winter Honeysuckle since it blooms reliably every Winter. This old-fashioned shrub is also known as Kiss Me at the Gate.

Although I have received emails telling me Winter Honeysuckle is invasive, we have not found that to be so in our area. I have verified this with my favorite nurseryman. A large shrub will not make more than a couple of seeds, and there are no known areas that have been hugely populated with this lovely shrub. 

An old-fashioned shrub you probably won't find in your local garden center, Lonicera fragrantissima is worth grabbing up if you find one. I'm not sure why it is not widely grown, since it is so easy to propagate and grow.

Winter Honeysuckle is somewhat evergreen here in Georgia, depending on the winter. But the best thing is that Winter Honeysuckle blooms in Winter. The small flowers are very fragrant.

Lonicera fragrantissima grows very large, reaching a mature height and width of 6 feet or more. This lovely shrub tolerates a wide variety of conditions: sun, shade, dry, moist, cool, or hot. Winter Honeysuckle should be more widely available.

What's Blooming in my Georgia Garden in January: Loropetalum

Loropetalum Ruby
Loropetalum has become my favorite non-native shrub. Some varieties bloom off and on almost year round here in Georgia. 

Loropetalum is a Chinese Fringe Bush with pink blooms and usually purple leaves. It complements most plants and provides a nice contrast in the garden. The evergreen leaves are beautiful any time of the year. 

Blooms are a vibrant pink fringe flower and come several times a year here in Georgia. Although some growing instructions indicate Loropetalum needs consistently moist soil, I've found that requirement to be untrue. Loropetalum is quite drought tolerant here, and our summer droughts are brutal. I think the key to survival is to plant the shrub in Fall so it has time to dig its roots in deep before the heat and drought of summer arrives.

Available in a large variety of different mature sizes, there's a loropetalum suited for every garden. Lororpetalums with mature sizes of up to 6 feet according to the grower tag have easily reached 10 feet or more here, and that's even after I pruned them in an attempt to keep them smaller. I eventually gave up on that and decided to let them just be as big as they want to be. Some of our Loropetalum shrubs are actually small trees. 

Zhuzhou is our largest Loropetalum. We are using this variety in a mixed shrub planting to screen out our neighbors wire fence. It's fast growth has been much appreciated here. The vivid fuchsia pink fringe flowers on a large tree-like shrub up to 10 feet tall make this plant an eye-catching specimen in the garden. 

Loropetalum Ruby is special because it maintains its purple leaves year round and blooms profusely several times a year.We have quite a few of this large-growing variety in our garden, and they are easily 10 feet tall.

If you have a smaller garden, you'll like Plum Delight, which is a more compact shrub maturing at about 6 feet tall. Foliage is a striking blackish purple or a deep burgundy, and the dark pink fringe flowers are larger than those on other varieties.   

Purple Diamond is an even smaller shrub considered to be semi-dwarf at a mature size of about 5 feet tall and wide.

The smallest development I know of is Purple Pixie, which is a dwarf shrub with a lovely cascading habit that will only be about 3 feet tall at maturity. This one is beautiful in a large pot. The leaves stay deep purple year round here in our garden.

If you visit our garden, you'll notice I am a collector of Loropetalum shrubs. We have twelve or more, and I keep planting them. Loropetalum is one the easiest to grow shrubs one can plant. And I love anything that blooms several times a year. As far as I know, Loropetalum is not invasive, so it is welcome among our native plants. If you don't have Loropetalum, you should get one. Or two, or three!

October Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Mistflower

I love Eupatorium coelestinum for its showy bloom clusters in early fall. This plant is usually referred to by one of its common names which include Hardy or Perennial Ageratum and Mistflower. 

Eupatorium is a deciduous perennial native American plant in the same family as Joe Pye Weed. The bright periwinkle blue blooms of Eupatorium coelestinum attract a lot of attention in September and October, when most flowers have stopped blooming. Mistflower contrasts nicely with fall-blooming asters and the common fall mums.

The plentiful 4-inch flower clusters atop tall stems resemble the shorter annual ageratum, but Hardy Ageratum comes back bigger and better every single year.

With large clumps of bright blooms visible from a distance, Mistflower is a good candidate for a roadside garden.

Hardy Perennial Ageratum prefers full sun, fertile soil, and regular water, but this hardy variety can tolerate periods of drought. Like other varieties of Eupatorium, this one can grow in wet soil too.  We have a patch behind the greenhouse that has taken over a shady spot where the sprinkler keeps the soil evenly moist to wet.

This very showy and assertive perennial will reach heights of up to 4 feet tall, but it can be kept mowed to only a few inches. Just to give you a hint of its vigor, Mistflower is in the mint family.

This is a perennial plant that looks best in naturalistic informal gardens. It grows very well in my shade garden, where its blooms seem electrified in September.

Perennial Ageratum emerges late in spring, so be careful not to uproot it when doing your spring weeding. 

Cut back once or twice in summer to promote bushiness and more blooms, and to keep it from coming into full bloom too early.  I always want mine to wait and bloom in October.

September Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Jerusalem Artichoke

The tallest perennial in our garden is the Jerusalem Artichoke. Helianthus tuberosus is a perennial sunflower native to the Eastern United States. This is a great plant for the Fall garden at the back of the border.

Also known as Sunchokes, the Jerusalem Artichoke is a perennial plant that grows from a tuber. The tuber is edible and can be used like a water chestnut in salads or stirfry.

The flower is a lovely sunflower type bloom. The golden yellow blooms attract all kinds of pollinators. The blooms are fragrant and smell like chocolate!

Our patch of Sunchokes is over 10 feet tall this year, thanks to all the rain we received early in the Summer.

Native Americans ate the tubers and traded them to other tribes. Once European settlers moved in an found out about this native tuber that could be used like a root vegetable, they began shipping the tubers back home to Europe. The tubers were truly appreciated by the French who like adding it to soups.

Contrary to what you might think, Jerusalem Artichokes have nothing to do with Jerusalem and they are not artichokes. The tubers might taste something like an artichoke. These tubers became so popular in the early 1600's that they were cultivated as a crop and shipped to other areas. They have sense naturalized and it is now impossible to know the original native range. They can be found growing from Canada and the state of Maine, as far West as North Dakota and Texas and down South into Flo

If you'd like to have a patch of Sunchokes, keep in mind that they multiply more than rabbits! Each little piece of tuber will make another plant. So once you have Sunchokes, you'll always have them. This is truly a perennial you can plant and forget.

Jerusalem Artichoke tubers are best dug in Fall or Winter, depending on your climate. Clean dry tubers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. They are good eaten raw in salads or sliced into stirfries or steamed and eaten like a potato. Sunchokes are a nutritious tuber high in protein and iron and surprisingly low in starch. Unfortunately, the tubers cause severe flatulence in some people, so you might not want to eat them before going out.

And of course, leave it to the Germans to figure out a way to make a liquor out of Jerusalem Artichokes! In Germany, the tubers are made into a type of Brandy and other types of alcoholic beverages.

Due to its wide growing range, Jerusalem Artichokes can obviously be grown all over the United States. Plant them in full sun in soil well amended with compost. Once the plants emerge, mulch them well to retain moisture and keep down weeds. Water well during periods of drought to encourage larger tubers for eating.

September Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Hibiscus mutabilis, Confederate Rose

One of the most requested plants in our garden is the Confederate Rose. You will probably never find this plant in a big box store, and it's hard to find it in any nursery. Yet, this elusive old Southern plant is a favorite of many gardeners.

Confederate Rose is not really a rose, but a Hibiscus, Hibiscus mutabilis, to be exact. 

The blooms of the Confederate Rose are voluptuous, like one might expect from a flower in the South. Although single flowers are out there, I have seen only the many-petaled, double blooming variety that opens light pink and gradually changes to a deep rose-pink on the third day after opening. It is the changing of the bloom color that gives the plant its botanical name, Hibiscus mutabilis. Blooms can be up to 6 inches across. All those petals remind me of the many fluffy layers of the petticoats worn by Southern belles of antebellum times here in the Southeastern United States.

Despite their popularity and ability to thrive in the Southeastern US, Confederate Rose is not native to the South but comes from China. They thrive in the South anywhere that they have time to open their very late flowers before fall frost. This species is a popular passalong plant. 

Height varies from about 8 to 15 feet and the plant grows wider every year (kind of like me, apparently.)

Confederate Rose is an eye-catching foliage plant even before bloom, with large, soft, gray-green maple shaped leaves. 

Like all plants in the Hibiscus family, Confederate Rose grows best in full sun with regular water, but it will bloom quite happily in part shade. This is true especially in areas with very hot temperatures lingering into its bloom time of late summer and early fall. Although this Hibiscus does love water, it can withstand periods of drought that is common in the Southeast.

Confederate Rose will grow in regular garden soil, but it will grow larger and develop more blooms in good fertile soil. 

Once winter frosts burn back the foliage, the entire plant can be cut back to make the garden more tidy. This can be done any time during the winter or early spring. Near the coast, you can let the stems stay if you don’t mind the plant becoming very large. Confederate Rose will resprout from current branches where winters are mild. However, the plant will become 10 feet tall by summer’s end, even when cut back the previous season.  Make sure to plant it where it has plenty of room to spread out.