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Make Gardens Look Fantastic In January
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The goal, make your garden look great in January. That was the challenge Ed Martin, renowned and retired Mississippi State University professor emeritus of landscape architecture, would issue to his students and to those of us who have been lucky enough to sit through one of his seminars.
Why would we have this goal? If your landscape looks good in January, then all the other months will fall into virtual landscape bliss. What makes a landscape look good in the dead of winter? The color green. The structure and foundation of gardens come from evergreen shrubs. Once these are in place, seasonal color can be used to add brightness and interest.
Why talk about January now? You can pick no better season to plant shrubs than the fall. Consider what happens when you plant 3- or 5-gallon shrubs now. Top growth has pretty much come to a halt, but roots grow and spread dramatically through the cooler months. By spring, your shrub will look like the same 3- to 5- gallon sized plant, but the root zone will have expanded to a much larger size and become established at your home.
The choice of shrubs may seem overwhelming. My favorites are hollies, and I love Mary Nell and Nellie R. Stevens. The new Mary Nell seedlings called Red Holly Hybrids are gaining notoriety all over the southeast and even into Texas. Liberty, Patriot, Cardinal, Little Red, Robin, Oakleaf and Festive are all choice plants.
Hollies are tough during cold winters and unbearable summers like the one we just experienced. They serve as the perfect backdrop for colorful blooming annuals and perennials.
I also have a deep appreciation for the Japanese cleyera known as Ternstroemia japonica. This tea relative offers high gloss foliage with copper-colored new growth. This is the ideal replacement plant for those replacing red tip photinias.
As I drive through my neighborhood, though, I've come to realize that my landscape is woefully short of camellia sasanquas. They have shiny evergreen foliage as pretty as you could want and are starting to bloom everywhere with large, showy blossoms. Look for varieties like Pink Snow, Cleopatara, Bonanza and my favorite, the compact Shishigashira.
Though I have none in my yard, I know the bloom of the camellia japonica with its even larger flowers will follow these camellia sasanquas. Look for varieties like Debutante, Pink Perfection, Professor Charles S. Sargent and Mathotiana.
For shadier areas of the garden, one of the best evergreen shrubs is the aucuba. The brightly variegated foliage adds color year round and gives a tropical look despite its Himalaya origin and hardiness to zero degrees.
These are the type of shrubs that make your garden look good in January. It makes sense to purchase and plant them now. It also is wise to buy larger shrubs for the best impact. This helps you see how many shrubs you will need and prevents you from planting them too close together.
Put these shrubs in a bed that has been well prepared and free from encroaching turf. Make the planting hole as large as possible, but not deep. Once the shrubs are in place, add seasonal color of pansies, panolas, violas, snapdragons, dianthus, kale and cabbage. Finish the project by adding mulch.
If your garden normally looks desolate, barren or Siberia-like in January, it probably is missing the key ingredient, evergreen shrubs available now at your local garden center.