The month of January is a time of dormancy in the garden but on mild days when the ground is not frozen you can lower your cabin fever with a few outdoor chores.
If winter has made you snippy and your cutting remarks made indoors have been unwelcome, sharpen those shears and take out your aggressions on some plants.
Clip the old leaves from hellebore plants now to better see the emerging blossoms. Hellebores produce fresh new foliage after they bloom, so you won’t risk cutting off new foliage growth if you clean up the plants in the dead of winter. Prune trees and winter hardy shrubs if there are branches blocking pathways. Shrub roses, spiraeas, nandinas and invasive blackberry brambles can be cut almost to ground level.
Winter is also a good time for dreaming and scheming and upgrading your landscape. Spend some time paging through garden magazines, reading blogs, and discovering some of the new and improved trees and shrubs to replace the overgrown and underperforming plants in your garden.
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GardeningSimplified.tumblr.com is the website for an online magazine that offers blooming inspiration and some newly introduced problem solving shrubs. Two of my favorites for the Northwest:
Buttonbush ‘Sugar Shack’ (Cephalanthus)
It’s so unusual you must see the flowers to believe it.
Here is a native shrub with personality. The blooms are round white orbs that cover the shrub along with glossy green leaves. The blooms have projecting stamens that make each flower resemble a golf ball with antennae. Then the flowers mature into unique, round, red fruit. Growing 3 to 15 feet tall and wide, this shrub is the answer to soggy soils and makes a great addition to pond side plantings or as a shrub that will survive near a rain entrapment area.
Buttonbush ‘Sugar Shack’ is still rather new on the market, so you may need to order it from your local nursery. Just offer to make a deposit on the order and have them call you when the plant arrives from the grower.
Quince ‘Double Take’ (Chaenomeles)
This is an early flowering, medium sized shrub grown for the show off blooms that look like camellias or small roses. (The quince that bears fruit for eating is a different plant that is sold in a tree form.) What makes this shrub so desirable is that quince is drought and deer resistant while producing big blooms when the rest of the landscape still sleeps a winter slumber.
In my own garden this shrub flowered in poor soil and partial shade, The vivid orange color of “Orange Storm” caught my eye from indoors on a rainy day, making me think at first that someone had played a joke and attached tissue paper blooms to the bare, leafless branches of my new quince plant. The blooms were surprisingly long-lived, and if a vivid orange seems too bright a color for your garden, “Double Take” quince also comes in pink and red forms.
The Gardening Simplified website also offers new hydrangeas with huge blooms on compact sized shrubs (look for “BoBo,” a dwarf paniculata variety) plus hard working evergreens to create screens, early blooming forsythias, drought resistant barberries and even thornless roses for summer-long color.
Winter may be the season of your discontent, but let this inspire you to search out better plants. The season of dreaming and scheming is here, so let the list-making begin.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.