The Garden in December

If you’re anything like us, gardening continues on through the winter. So many gardening tasks can be more easily done in winter. The cooler temperatures make labor intensive chores less intense. Shrubs and perennials can still be planted, provided your ground is not frozen. Rain is much more plentiful, or as in our case, less scarce. Although many days are just too cold or too wet to get outside, we have days that are just lovely! Those are good days for going outside to do more planting, clearing, mulching, or just for a nice walk in the garden. Winter is a good time to re-evaluate your garden. Look around and take note of what you see. Now is when you can see the bones of your garden. Many things have died down for the winter. Many shrubs and trees have lost their leaves. Do you have evergreens? Do you have any blooms? There are many plants with winter interest. Evergreens are always welcome, but many plants bloom in winter! With a little planning, you can have blooms in your garden every month of the year, including December, January, and February!
  • December – Camellia Sasanqua, Osmanthus fragrans, Loquat, Wintersweet (Chionanthus praecox)
  • January – Daphne odora, Witch hazel, Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’, Camellia Japonica, Flowering Quince, Mahonia, Wintersweet, Winter Honeysuckle
  • February - Camellia Japonica, Daphne odora, Flowering Quince, Forsythia, Bridalwreath Spirea, Fujino Pink Spirea, Winter Jasmine, Winter Honeysuckle, Viburnum ‘Spring Bouquet’
In addition to winter blooms, most of the plants listed above are very fragrant—my belief is that they need that additional oomph to attract bees to pollinate their flowers—something extra to entice the bees to come and visit.

And don’t forget about berries! Many trees and shrubs produce berries in fall which remain on the plant throughout winter—attractive in the garden and food for the wildlife!
  • Cotoneaster
  • Dogwood – shrubs or trees
  • Indian Hawthorn
  • Holly – there are many forms available—trees, large shrubs, small shrubs, deciduous and evergreen.
  • Mahonia
  • Viburnum (many varieties)
I hope you’ll give these plants some consideration this season, as you contemplate your winter garden. And the next warm day that comes your way, get out there and plant something!

Camellia Sasanqua

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Camellia in bloom. I was young, and I was new at gardening. I was driving through a residential area when I noticed a large, bushy, green shrub with large red blooms that looked like roses. Believe it or not, it took me a while to find out what it was! You’re probably laughing at me now, but thank goodness I’ve learned a few things about camellias since then. 

It wasn’t until attending the Master Gardener Course that I learned of the Sasanqua Camellia. Sasanquas are early bloomers, usually blooming October – December, so there is less chance of frost damaging the blooms. The fall blooming Sasanquas make great holiday decorations and gifts. 

Sasanqua camellias seem to be faster growing and are often grow larger than Japonica. Dwarf camellias are available too--great for smaller gardens or containers, but beautiful in any garden. Some varieties bloom so profusely that the blooms hide the foliage! 

Camellias prefer a sheltered site away from drying winter winds. Bright, filtered shade beneath tall trees is ideal. Moist, well-drained soil is best, but camellias are drought tolerant once established. All our camellias are very young, but some of them are even forming bloom buds in spite of no water! 

Remember that deer will eat the camellias, so consider using a deer deterrent around them. Your local Humane Society or Animal Shelter has plenty of inexpensive deer-deterrent—the all-natural kind. Just ask the attendant which dogs are frisky enough for deer control! For additional deer control tips go to where you can read the archived article and view photos of our organic pest control staff.

Plants for a Dry Shade Garden: Native and Not!

If you have dry shade in your garden, you know what a challenge it is to find plants that will grow in those conditions. What plants grow well in dry shade? This is a list of some of the plants we’ve found to grow well with little or no supplemental water. As I said, this is just a list, but if you'll check back often, we'll add plant profiles as time permits.

Strawberry Euonymus
American Beautyberry
Native Azaleas – Alabama and Florida (Piedmont is moderately drought tolerant as well)
*The straight species ones have done much better for us—the named hybrid varieties haven’t survived the drought in our garden
Oakleaf Hydrangea
Red Buckeye
Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)
Arrowwood Viburnum

Perennials & Groundcovers:
Asters (Shade-loving varieties, like wood aster)
Ageratum (the hardy perennial one)
Columbine (Aquilegia)
Dwarf crested Iris
Hardy Geraniums
Native Wild Ginger
Solomon’s Seal
Pachysandra Procumbens (Allegheny Spurge)
Pussytoes is a very cute little native plant with fuzzy silver leaves like lamb’s ear.
Rudbeckia (Blackeyed Susan) does surprisingly well in dry shade if the shade is not too dense. We have several patches planted in shade, and they seem to bloom just as well as the ones in full sun. They bloom just a little later in the season when in shade, which works out just fine for me.
Purple Coneflower does equally well in shade.

There really are some ferns that grow just fine in dry shade.
My favorite is Christmas Fern, because it’s a native plant, and it looks a lot like the popular hanging basket fern, Boston Fern.
It looks great all summer, in spite of no rain or supplemental water at all. Plus it’s evergreen.
Autumn Fern isn’t native, but it’s my 2nd favorite, because it too is very drought tolerant and evergreen.
Dixie Wood Fern is a very large fern that is moderately drought tolerant, although it prefers moist soil.
Eastern Wood Fern is an evergreen native fern that grows well in dry woods. It might move into 1st place in our garden, if it continues to do well.

Carolina Jasmine/Jessamine naturally occurs most often in dry shady woods. We were lucky to have this one already growing in our woods, and it grows well and blooms in spite of no supplemental water.
Red Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) also usually occurs in the woods but blooms better in the sun. It tolerates dry shade very well, but blooms less in the shade.
Virginia Creeper is a deciduous native vine with beautiful red fall color that is often mistaken for poison ivy.
I won’t mention the non-native vines for dry shade, but there are some. Many of the popular ones are quite invasive. If you need more information on these, let me know.

Since native plants are my favorite, I tend to concentrate most on them, but I’d be telling a story if I said we don’t grow anything else. We do try to avoid invasive plants, but many non-natives provide a lot of easy-care beauty in our shade garden. You really can’t beat these for a dry shade garden:
Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant)
Daphne odora
Gardenia (once established)
Hellebores (Lenten Rose)
Mahonia (Leatherleaf)
Mondo grass, also a non-native plant, is a great performer.

Rohdea (Japanese Sacred Lily) – makes a great
substitute for Hosta, since it’s evergreen and deer- resistant.

Viburnum (there are many types, both native and non-native)
*In addition to being evergreen and deer-resistant, both the Aspidistra and Rohdea grow well in even very deep shade.

Shady Solutions for a Dry Shade Garden

Shade garden can be very challenging, because there are many different types of shade. Shade means different things to different people. Not all shade is the same. Types of Shade: Part shade can be very variable. Time of day is very important—whether or not the shade is morning shade or afternoon shade can mean life or death for a plant. Afternoon shade means the area is shady after lunch, but sunny in the morning. Morning shade means the area is shady before lunch and sunny in the afternoon. With the heat coming from our summer sun, I wouldn’t even consider this spot to be shade at all. *Most shade loving plants can tolerate some morning sun, but they cannot live with our hot afternoon sun. Filtered Shade – This is usually shade beneath large trees that have a high or open canopy, letting in little bits of sun off and on throughout the day. This kind of shade is perfect for a wide range of plants. Full Shade – Shade all day long. This can be either shade provided by tall trees or a tall wall like a building of some kind. There is still some light for the plants, but plants in full shade receive no direct sun. Deep Shade – Shade all day long beneath big trees that let in very little light at all. In deep shade the area can seem dark. This is beneath very big trees like oaks. This is the most difficult area to fill, but there are some plants that grow fine here. In addition to determining what kind of shade you have, it’s important to also consider soil condition. Moisture, or lack of moisture, makes a big difference when choosing plants for a site. Moist Shade – Most shade-loving plants like moist soil. If you have moist soil or a way to water to insure that your shade garden does have moist soil, you’ll have no problem growing a beautiful shade garden. Dry Shade – Dry shade is by far the most difficult shade to deal with. Since most shade plants also like moist soil, plant selection for a dry shady area is greatly decreased. This is what I’ll focus on tonight. Although recent rains have brought back some green to our gardens, we’ve been under a serious drought for quite a while. Several years ago, my husband and I bought a house in a wooded area that had been overgrown and neglected for years. Ever since then, we’ve been been working on a woodland garden using primarily native plants. We’ve tried to come up with an easy way to water this area using our well, but so far, the area remains dry. For this reason, I’m constantly searching for plants that can tolerate dry shade. Dry shade is probably the most difficult soil in which plants can grow, because the shade is made even more dry when large trees are soaking up any available moisture when rain does come, leaving very little for other plants with less aggressive root systems. When planting in dry shade, it’s very important to amend the soil at planting time. Plants expected to grow in dry shade need all the help they can get, and it’s much easier to spread out your roots in soft pliable soil, even if it’s dry. Woodland soil tends to be dry and full of tree roots, and there’s a lot of competition among plants for what little water there is. Composted cow manure or mushroom compost are my favorite soil amendments. Mulch is important too, because it conserves moisture in the soil and helps keep the roots cool. Shredded leaves are the perfect mulch for shade gardens, because the leaves will enrich the soil as they break down. If shade gardening is among your interests, take a look at my other post, Plants for Dry Shade.

Dry Shade Garden

As you might suspect, gardening in shade is a passion of mine, but with this ongoing drought, I must constantly search for plants that can tolerate dry shade. Dry shade is probably the most difficult soil in which plants can grow, because the shade is made even more dry when large trees are soaking up any available moisture when rain does come, leaving very little for other plants with less aggressive root systems. Shade means different things to different people—not all shade is the same. When choosing plants for your shade garden, you must first determine which type of shade you have. For instance, morning shade and afternoon shade are not equal, because the rest of the time is full sun, and shade plants cannot tolerate afternoon sun. Some areas might have filtered shade, when there is dappled bits of sun peaking through the trees. Other areas might have full shade or even deep shade, which means very little light comes in at all. Once you’ve decided which type of shade you have, you must understand if your soil is moist or dry. Many shade plants require moist or even wet soil. If your shady area is moist, you are very fortunate. If your shade garden is dry, then you’re in the boat with me. You will need to amend your soil prior to planting, since anything planted in dry soil needs all the help it can get! Work in any kind of organic matter that is readily available—composted cow manure or mushroom compost work very well. Once these things are accomplished, you can choose your plants and prepare your planting hole. Finally, have ready some organic mulch—shredded pine bark is good but shredded leaves are probably even better for shade plants. Remember to water well at planting time and water often until your new plants are established.

Antique Shrub Roses for A Carefree Rose Garden

Now that our weather is cooling off a bit, roses are beginning to give us another great show. Even the most popular repeat blooming roses often bloom sparingly during our summer heat. I don’t blame them—I don’t think I’d bloom either! But roses, like us, enjoy this time of year, because the temperatures are more to their liking. Mutabilis Rose is one of my favorites. Sometimes called the Butterfly Rose, because the multicolored blooms look as if a flood of butterflies have landed on it, Mutabilis Rose is an antique rose from China. Single petals open yellow, change first to orange, then to pink, and finally turn crimson, with these different colors on the bush at the same time! Mutabilis Rose is almost thornless and retains its glossy green leaves with no spraying. Carefree Beauty is a large growing shrub rose with huge, fluffy double blooms to match. The pure pink blooms are more vivid during the cooler fall season. This rose literally blooms until the first frost, and I've had buds on mine in winter. Blooms are large—up to 5 inches across. Red cascade is classified as a miniature rose, but that’s because of its small leaves and flowers. This rose is certainly not miniature in size or flower power! Once established, Red Cascade is simply covered with blood red double blooms from spring to fall. It makes an excellent groundcover for steep banks but is equally beautiful climbing on a fence or trellis. These roses really bloom continuously all summer, but the fall show is simply spectacular and very welcomed in my garden. If you’re too busy to spray roses, try one of these—they are truly trouble free. Fall is an excellent time to plant roses, because the roots will have plenty of time to become established before next summer’s heat wave. Since we still are not receiving enough rainfall, remember to water regularly after planting, as long as Georgia continues to remain under extreme drought. At least it’s cooler. Enjoy Fall!

Daphne Odora - Fragrant Winter Daphne - for Dry Shade

Daphne odora, Fragrant Winter Daphne…mmm—the fragrance is just lovely. If you’ve never had the pleasure of approaching a Winter Daphne shrub in bloom, just imagine a bowl full of fresh lemons, sliced, right beneath your nose. It isn’t an overpowering scent, or strongly perfumey; it’s just a fresh, clean, lemony scent. The first time I saw it, we were at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and the shrub was not in bloom. It was so cute, we just had to find one for ourselves, but it took awhile. Daphne is an evergreen small shrub, reaching only 3-4 feet in height, and the leaves are variegated—deep green with a creamy yellow margin around each one. Blooms come in either pink or white. Daphne odora isn’t easily found, probably because it has a reputation for being difficult to grow. Really, it isn’t, if you know what it likes. Daphne will not tolerate wet soil. It needs very little water. That isn’t a problem for us right now, but when it does rain, clay soil will remain soggy, so amend the soil when you plant. Daphne prefers shady conditions. The perfect spot would be beneath large trees on an incline for good drainage. Mix in some soil conditioner or compost and builder’s sand, and plant high—with the top of the root ball slightly above ground level. Then mulch well to conserve moisture and keep the roots cool. Water the shrub when you plant it, but don’t worry about watering it again. Can you believe it’s that easy? Yes, it is.

June Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Oakleaf Hydrangea

This time of year our garden is always bursting with blooms, but this year has been a little different. Due to a very mild winter, everythin...