I love to garden which is probably why during the winter months I stare fondly at my garden all the while thinking about spring and contemplating the changes I may make once warm weather arrives again. I imagine additions such as new perennial plants, a grouping of colorful annuals, or possibly a different shrub to replace one that has overgrown its location. But to be honest there is another reason why I stare repeatedly at my garden this time of year. I’m not totally happy with how my garden looks in February. I remember the abundance of colors and textures during the other seasons and in comparison, I now see the predominate colors of brown, tan, and gray. Dull. Drab. I tell myself that in spite of shorter, darker days my winter landscape does not need to be so dull. Next year at this time I could be looking at a more colorful and interesting garden like the ones that inspire me in the gardening magazines. There is hope. I just need to revise my plan.
January/February are both excellent months to analyze your home landscape. You will want to be on the lookout for opportunities to make corrections, bring in a structural interest such as a trellis or arbor or a new shrub that adds the right touch to a neglected area of the yard. Simply put, look at your yard’s landscape to see what looks good to you and what does not. For me my focus is to bring more color and texture into my winter garden. As I walk around my yard and garden, I ask myself, what does my garden need? If more color is my goal, which plants should I choose? I get ideas from gardening magazines and begin to consider different plant combinations that could complement my garden’s existing palette or make my containers more eye-catching/appealing to look at in the winter. I like to create a winter-color wish list with the names of different plants I may want to try.
Before making any final decisions, I grab a pad of paper, a pen, a measuring tape (or several) and head out into my garden. I will start gathering information which I will need to complete an analysis of my site. If this is nothing you have ever done before I’m going to assure you it is a fun and interesting activity. It brings you into a close and personal relationship with your landscape in a way you may never have experienced before. Done thoroughly, you will come away with a better understanding of what you have in your yard/garden, the relationship between structures, and objects that enhance the landscape or ones that need to be removed or disguised.
Step 1: Get yourself some graph paper. Take measurements of your property or use a site survey if available. Note size/location of existing structures (you intend to keep) such as garage, fencing, workshop, greenhouse, storage shed etc. Note dimensions of house, placement of doors, windows, and access points to your house such as walkways/paths etc. Note the height of windows from the ground as you don’t want to place plants that will block your view. Important to remember is to note the location of utilities including electrical wires, phone lines, water, and sewer lines. You want to avoid placing trees/shrubs or structures on top of or underneath any of these.
Step 2: Create a site inventory. Make notes about your yard and surrounding areas. Look at conditions unique to your yard including special features or troublesome flaws. Are there views you want to highlight or disguise? Note the direction of prevailing winds, and orientation of house to the sun’s path. Does your house face east receiving hours of early morning sun, or does it face more west where the intense afternoon sun creates challenges for the garden and gardener. Note microclimates of shady or sunny areas, areas protected from prevailing winds. Are there plants you might like to add, which will thrive in these spots? Be sure to add them to your wish-list. Note also, the number of hours of sunlight and shade in different areas of your yard. Full sun is equivalent to 6+ hours of direct sunlight per day. Full shade receives less than 3 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Step 3: Identify your must haves. Do you need a covered area as protection from the late afternoon sun? Is there a need for additional plant varieties to bring winter interest to your yard? Are you interested in attracting wildlife to your yard? Do some research to identify colorful varieties of plants that not only add color but will provide food and shelter for birds, small mammals, and beneficial insects/pollinators. Write down your ideas.
If your yard has few deciduous trees or shrubs, why not consider adding a few different varieties which have interesting and distinctive barks. Be sure to include plants with colorful berries to your wish list. You will benefit both the wildlife and bring pops of vibrant color to your winter garden. If your landscape lacks a focal point consider adding a structure such as an arbor, trellis, bench, or sculpture.
When creating your winter garden wish-list don’t forget to consider four season perennials such as ornamental grasses, hardy plants that retain color all winter or those that bloom exclusively during the colder months. And don’t forget those perennials that leave behind not only interesting stems and seed heads which add texture but also provide food for birds and shelter for overwintering insects. Of course, the workhorses of the winter landscape are the evergreen trees and shrubs. These come in a variety of colors from green to yellow, and variegated. All very capable of adding delightful colors to your landscape. Write down your ideas.
As you evaluate and design your landscape, consider what you see in nature. Arrange trees and shrubs in groups rather than planting them individually. Always consider each plant’s size at maturity as well as its shape, color, and texture. Select plants that will thrive in your hardiness zone. When purchasing, read the plant label for the conditions needed which includes number of hours of sunlight per day, moisture requirements, soil conditions and pH preference. Know the maintenance needs of the plants you are putting into your garden. Do they require regular pruning, dividing, or do they have special nutritional needs?
Once you have gathered specific site information which should include your ideas and notes about the current landscape and desired changes, you will draw rough sketches to get a general idea of the design. After the base design is complete you will create a more final and exact plan. In the final design stage, I take information from my wish list and begin to put it all together on graph paper. To me, this is the most fun part of the whole process. I enjoy putting in as much detail as possible. But that is not always necessary.
At this point in the analysis and design process, plants will need to be chosen. If are like me, you will most likely need to narrow your choices to a few select plants. Ones that will be bring winter color and year- round interest to your home landscape and will be suited to the environment in which they will be planted.
For help in choosing which plants are best suited for our area, be sure to listen to WHEO radio program on February 27. The PCMG’s will share information on different varieties of trees, shrubs, and perennials (native and non-native) which can be used to bring more color into the winter garden. We will also discuss the specific characteristics of the different plants and explain their value.
https://ext.vt.edu “Selecting Plants for Virginia Landscapes; Showy Flowering Shrubs”
https://ext.vt.edu “Creating Backyard Habitats”
https://www.uga.edu “Drawing a Landscape Plan, The Basic Map,” plants.ces.nscu.edu. N.C. Ext. Gardener Plant Tool Box
11 a.m. @ P.C. Library
Growing Your Own Citrus Plants
11 a.m. @ P.C. Library
Culinary and Medicinal Herbs
9 a.m. @ Patrick and Henry Community College
PCMGA Annual Garden Symposium
Master Gardener Training 2024
Starts in March 2024.
Registration deadline: February 28
More information contact VCE: 276 694 3341
For updated information on upcoming educational events and activities be sure to check out PCMGA Facebook page.