No—I’m not referring to thermal underwear. I’m talking about plants that will bloom in winter for us diehard gardeners.
I took a stroll through my yard after the snow storm last Wednesday—February 20th--just to see what I could see. Lo and behold, the first thing that caught my eye was Winter Honeysuckle.
Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is in full white blossom no later than the first week of February as a rule. The blossoms are rather humble when compared to the more familiar vining honeysuckle but the fact that they are blooming creamy-white with pink blush starting in late winter—before there are leaves on the branches—make them quite showy. Leaves soon follow, emerging yellow-green and slowly darkening to blue-green. In April, berries emerge initially green, ripening to pink. In May/June these turn a bright red. In the south Winter Honeysuckle is partially evergreen.
Then on to my Hellebores which are sometimes referred to as 'Christmas Rose' or 'Lenten Rose.’ Hellebores are the stars of the late winter/early spring garden. Plants generally bloom between December and March, though some begin earlier and others continue into April and May. Nearly every garden has a spot for hellebores; the plants will thrive in many different environments. Still, they remain unknown to many gardeners despite their toughness, beauty, hardiness, and wonderful habit of blooming in winter when most other plants are dormant. Most Hellebores at local nurseries or garden centers are somewhere in the range of white to magenta, with various pinks and mauves (spotted or unspotted) being common and would almost certainly be Helleborus x hybridus. There are also greens and 'yellows' and 'blues' and many other combinations that are possible--not to mention virtually endless combinations of spotting and veining--along with the possibility of doubles or semi-doubles. In USDA 6 and above, most Helleborus x hybridus plants maintain their dark green, glossy foliage through winter. But by late winter, it is helpful to cut back the old foliage. The buds typically emerge from the soil sometime between January and March, though they may be earlier or later depending on the hybrid's genes, as well as the local climate and recent weather conditions. Many are hardy to zone 4 or 5, but this also depends on microclimates and local conditions. In areas of constant snow cover, plants will survive very cold temperatures. When planting, an open, partially shaded location suits them. As with most perennials, a nutritious soil that has decent drainage but is not overly dry gives best results. Still the plants will respond well to many different conditions, which is a sign of the overall adaptability of hellebores.
Next in line is my Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) with plump buds ready to burst forth. There are few plants as striking and bold as the Saucer Magnolia in full bloom. It is a deciduous tree with huge leaves that drop each fall. The tree remains bare all winter long. Then, in early spring, the entire tree bursts into color as the huge flowers open. Saucer Magnolia is a multi-stemmed, spreading tree, 25 feet tall with a 20 to30 foot spread and attractive gray bark. It has a fast growth rate initially but slows down when the tree is about 20 years old. Large, fuzzy, green flower buds are carried through the winter at the tips of brittle branches. Blooms open in late winter to early spring most often before the leaves, producing large, white flowers shaded in pink. Unfortunately, here in Shawnee, late winter freezes sometimes cause the buds to abort before blooming.
Then last—but certainly not least—are the old fashioned “Easter Flowers.” Daffodils, Narcissi, Jonquils, and Paperwhites are all essentially variants of the same flower: they are all members of the genus Narcissus. These beloved bulbs mainly bloom in late winter and early spring, breaking the spell of winter with their large blossoms in cheery tones.
Narcissus naturally occur in meadows, woodlands, along streams, and in rocky outcroppings up to sub-alpine altitudes. Narcissus make splendid companions to herbaceous and woody plants. Their use in landscapes are numerous: in formal spring displays, mixed herbaceous or shrub borders, deciduous woodland plantings, rock gardens, naturalized in large scale meadow plantings and in containers.
The “Easter Flowers” in my landscape were originally growing at the site of an old house place, on property my parents bought near Van Buren, Arkansas in 1951. The flowers were located in a field quite a distance from the house that we occupied. Every so often some of the family or friends would dig a few to start in their spaces, but over the years the flower bulbs were never depleted. While I was visiting there several years ago, my dad and I were out checking on his cattle. We were riding along on his “hoss”--as he referred to his four wheeler-- when we happened upon the “Easter Flower” spot. Daddy always carried a grubbing hoe on his four wheeler in case he should spot a dreaded thistle growing in his pasture. On that scorching hot summer day, we dug through Bermuda grass to find these hardy bulbs that had survived with no care for so many years. I brought some of them home to Shawnee, kept them in peat moss in my cellar till fall, then planted them. They have been here for 10 plus years and still going strong. My Daddy left this world not so many years after we dug those bulbs, but when I see these tenacious blooms peeking out through the snow it evokes a wealth of beautiful memories of days gone by.
The belief in eternal life is symbolized by the daffodil, or narcissus that blooms in early spring during the Easter season. Daffodils are perennials, or flowers that return each year, and Christian legend holds that daffodils bloomed bountifully during the time of Christ's resurrection.
Hope you enjoyed a stroll through my winter landscape as much as I did.
Linda Workman Smith
Multi-County Master Gardener Association