Georgia Gardener Newsletter Design Tip: January 25, 2007

Blooms Year Round (From Fall Until Spring)

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Indian Summer Rudbeckia blooms in summer, but what about the fall and winter?

If you live in places like Wisconsin or Montana, you really have to reside yourself to the fact that when the waning warm days of summer and fall are over, so are the blooms that accompany it. Not so in Georgia. With our temperate climate that can produce temperatures in the 70s in January, we have the luxury of being able to have flowers outside in every month of the year.

Several factors can affect the color display of the fall and winter garden: your location, winter temperatures and rainfall. Aberrations in weather can catch the early bloomers off guard and ruin an otherwise colorful early spring, as in mid March of 1993 when the “storm of the century” caused a blizzard across northern Georgia. How sad it was to see singed Saucer Magnolias and Forsythia afterwards. This year we have seen some unusually warm weather in December and early January which may alter the timing of some plants listed below.

The Plan

It is possible to have blooming plants in the garden from fall through winter until spring arrives in early April. I can boast that I have something blooming in my garden every month of the year. Start by making a month-by-month list of blooming plants and their requirements beginning with the late fall bloomers. Pay special attention to those that are fragrant (marked with an asterisk *) and place them where their aroma can be enjoyed such as near entrances, paths or walkways.

Fall to Early Winter (October - December)

Among the most reliable late fall bloomers are Camellia sasanquas and native Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Witch Hazel usually blooms in early to mid November in Atlanta. Camellia sasanquas usually begin blooming in October and will continue (depending upon variety) through New Years. In my garden, Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsukegga’* starts in October and blooms for nearly a month with yellow-centered white flowers. The aptly named ‘Yuletide’ Camellia blooms near Christmas with its bright red, yellow-centered flowers. Early Camellia japonicas ‘White by the Gate’, ‘Christmas Beauty’, ‘High Hat’ and ‘Professor Sargent’ start their show in late November.

Perennial Gentians (Gentiana spp.) and Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis) will bloom until the first hard frost sends them into dormancy. Finally, several bulbs including Autumn Crocus (Crocus speciosus) and hardy fall blooming Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) round out the late fall season.

Yuletide Camellia in DecemberForsythia Sage in late October

Early/Mid Winter Bloomers (January – February)

The timing and abundance of mid winter blooms can vary from year to year. In mild winters that were preceded by a good growing season, a bountiful bouquet of flowers may be observed. In winters with harsh temperatures (teens or below) or that were preceded by a hot, dry growing season, blooming plants may struggle. One plant that seems unfazed by cold temperatures is the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger). This shade tolerant evergreen perennial begins blooming in my garden in January and continues until March. Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) usually begins blooming in February and continues into early April.

January and February also mark the middle of the Camellia japonica blooming season. Midseason bloomers include ‘Mrs. Charles Cobb,’ ‘Rebel Yell’ and ‘Clarise Carlton.’ I have observed that the open flowers of white-blooming camellias can turn brown in temperatures below 25 degrees. Other shrubs blooming ar this time include Paper Plant (Edgeworthia spp.), Daphne* (Daphne odora), Wintersweet* (Chimonanthes praecox), Vernal Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis vernalis) and hybrid Witch Hazels* (Hamamelis x intermedia).

Some of the earliest native ephemerals begin blooming at this time including Liverwort (Hepatica spp.) and Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum). Reliable blooming bulbs are Snow Crocus (Crocus sieberi), Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa spp.), early Daffodils, Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), winter Cyclamen (Cyclamen coum) and Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.).

Hellebores in JanuaryDaphne in January/February

Late Winter Bloomers (March)

March is a peculiar month in Georgia. Sometimes it’s winter, sometimes it’s spring and usually it’s both, often in the same week. In recent years, I have observed a familiar late winter weather pattern. Late February often ushers in a warm spell that continues into early March. This false spring often encourages April bloomers to peak out early and then WHAM sometime around the third week of March we are hit with a hard frost. In my opinion, plants that bloom in March have the toughest time of all dealing with such fluctuations in temperature.

The most familiar blooming trees in March are the Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana), the foul-smelling Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford') and the Redbud (Cercis canadensis). Other trees that can reach their peak prior to April 1 are the Okame Cherry (Prunus x incam 'Okame'), Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum). Every few years, the Saucer Magnolia flowers get caught in a hard frost and are turned to a mushy brown. However, it appears to me that those with darker purple blooms fair better in a frost then those with lighter pink flowers.

What would March in Georgia be without the Forsythia? Those bright yellow flowers are hard to miss. Other March blooming shrubs include the late season Camellia japonica cultivars ‘Purity,’ ‘Dixie Knight’ and 'Lady Vansittart.’ Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) often begins its show in very early March and Loropetalums (Loropetalum chinense) begin in mid March and continue into early April.

March offers a few blooming vines like evergreen Clematis armandii* and Carolina Jessamine* (Gelsemium sempervirens). Groundcovers like Georgia Blue Speedwell (Veronica peduncularis 'Georgia Blue') and Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) can be covered in flowers well before April. The woodland natives Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) light up the forest floor early in the month. In my opinion, some of the best flowering bulbs reach their zenith before the official start of spring. These include early Tulips, Spring Starflower (Ipheion uniflorum), Iris reticulata and Grape Hyacinths (Muscari botryoides).

Celandine Poppy in early MarchSpring Starflower in March

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