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Master Gardeners of Orange County, NC
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Bloom · Berry

Below is a simple ‘shortlist’ of plants that are normally in bloom this month or are of interest for fruit, bark or foliage. See Bloom • Berry for comprehensive lists with links to photos and cultural information.

Perennials Shrubs Trees
Rohdea (frt)

Ornamental Grasses
maiden grass
river oats
switch grass)
Aucuba (frt)
Camellia
evergreen & deciduous hollies (frt)
Nandina (frt)
Pyracantha (frt)
Wintersweet
Witch Hazel
Japanese apricot

Lawns

Keep tree leaves from collecting on your lawn. Shred them and add to your compost pile, or use them to mulch your beds.

Ornamental plants

Frosts & freezes

Frost damage will be less if there is some wind or cloud cover. Since cold air settles, there is usually more damage in low-lying areas. Usually no freeze damage occurs until the air temperature is 30°F. Spraying plants with water before the sun hits the leaves can reduce or eliminate damage from mild frosts.

Siting

Plants on the east or south side of a building or wall are the most likely to be damaged in winter. These areas warm up quickly after a frosty night and typically warm up faster in spring. Plants don’t know whether or not to stay dormant.

Damage

New growth can be nipped, bark can split and plants can lose water rapidly when subjected to winter winds. It often takes several weeks or sometimes months before the damage is visible. Azaleas may not show damage until the first hot spell.

  • Bark split
    Bark can split on trunks and branches after daytime sun warms up plants following an overnight freeze. Young trees are particularly susceptible. Wrap trunks with cloth or paper for protection.
  • Breakage
    Limb damage is usually caused by a combination of ice, snow or wind, or by improper removal of ice and snow. Frozen, laden limbs are very brittle and snap easily if bent the wrong way. Remove snow by gently sweeping branches upward to lift off snow without further stressing the limbs; do not attempt to remove ice. Young drooping branches will often recover after the ice and snow melts.
Radiant Heat

Effectively trapping radiant heat from the ground can increase hardiness by more than 10 degrees. Covers should go all the way to the ground so that heat does not escape, but use stakes to prevent them from touching the plants. Burlap, bed sheets, blankets and agri-fabric are preferred, but plastic buckets work as well (plastic sheets and metal buckets are not recommended since they overheat too rapidly once the temperature rises). Be sure to remove the cover once the temperature is rising to prevent cooking the plant.

Mulch

A layer of mulch around the crown or a covering of conifer branches helps protect roots of tender plants. For special plants, make a wire cage around the plant and fill it with leaves.

Ice-melting Substances

Salts and fertilizers of any kind are not recommended, including salt, rock salt, calcium chloride, calcium nitrate, urea and other nitrogen fertilizers. Runoff from salts can harm plants and runoff from fertilizers can contaminate streams and groundwater. Sand, cat litter or ashes are a better choice. These materials are less harmful to plants and degrade rapidly.

Insects

Watch for cool season mites on evergreens. These mites are often only noticed after the damage is done (interior browning of foliage in early summer), when the pests are no longer present. Use the white paper test: Hold a piece of paper under a stem and shake the foliage vigorously. Observe the debris, ignoring anything that moves quickly. Watch for a speck smaller than a period on this page to begin moving.
Cool Weather Spider Mites
Southern Red Mite and Spruce Spider Mite

Maintenance

  • Mulch should be applied after the ground has frozen but before the coldest temperatures arrive. Applying mulch before the ground has frozen delays plants from entering dormancy, thus increasing susceptibility to injury from cold snaps. In addition, early mulch can attract rodents looking for a warm over-wintering site.
  • Prune berry-producing plants if berries are desired in table arrangements over the holidays. Remove “weed” or undesirable trees from your landscape.

Planting, dividing, transplanting, propagating

Bulbs, perennials and woody plants grow roots when soils are cool but above freezing. The more roots that grow before next summer, the better the plant will be able to absorb water and oxygen to meet the demands of summer heat.

  • You can still dig and divide most perennials, but now is the optimal time for early bloomers. Recovery is quicker if they are well watered before you dig. Water them again when replanting.
  • After Christmas, plant live Christmas trees in the landscape. Keep these trees indoors no more than 14 days.
  • Take hardwood cuttings of landscape plants like forsythia, flowering quince, weigela, holly and hydrangea.

Sanitation

Leaving frost-killed foliage on perennials can provide cover and food for birds and winter interest for us. In addition, butterfly bushes, hollow-stemmed species like salvias and hardy lantana, and many marginally hardy species suffer more winter damage when pruned. However, it is better to remove the foliage of the following plants and dispose (don’t compost) in order to reduce incidence of diseases that are common in our area:

RosesBlackspot overwinters in fallen leaves and appears again next spring.
PeoniesLeaves and stems can harbor botrytis blight.
Bee balm, phloxLeaves and stems can harbor powdery mildew.

Soil test

Test your soil if you have not done so for two or more years. Take several core samples from over the area to be tested, mix them together and fill the sample box. Sample boxes and submission forms are available from the Cooperative Extension Office and some local retailers. Note that soil tests are free from April-November, but the state now charges $4/sample during the peak season of December–March.

Watering

Keep landscape plants watered. Cold, dry winter winds quickly remove moisture from soil and plants. Newly-planted plants are especially vulnerable.

  • Dry winter winds carry water away from leaves, causing them to wilt and turn brown, a condition called “winter burn”.
  • The only way to know when a plant needs water is to check the soil around its roots. Dig a few inches into the topsoil. If the soil is dry, water is needed.
  • If the ground is frozen, plants cannot take up water from the soil to make up for that lost from their leaves. In dry winter weather, water deeply on warm days. Watering just before a cold snap can help plants survive bitter temperatures.

Weeds

Vegetables

Use wood ashes on your vegetable garden if soil pH is below 6.0.

Fruits

  • Order berry plants (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries) and grape vines for February or March planting.
  • You can continue planting fruit trees through the end of winter dormancy, but planting before Christmas is preferable.
  • Put pine needles or wheat/barley straw over your strawberry plants.

Bulbs

December is an excellent time to plant spring bulbs. Loosen the soil thoroughly, then plant at least as deep as recommended for the bulb size — usually 3x as deep as the bulb diameter. Tulip and daffodils should be planted at least 5–8” deep. Fertilize lightly after planting with a balanced fertilizer. Should you add bonemeal? Perhaps not: The Myth of Beneficial Bone Meal

Landscape uses

Spring-Flowering Bulbs SC CES
Little Blue Bulbs RHS
A Token of Remembrance — Daffodils in Cemeteries Southern Garden History Society
Daffodils in Early Southern Gardens Southern Edition
Using Smaller Daffodils in the Garden Broadleigh Gardens

Holiday

  • Keep your living Christmas tree outside until you are ready to decorate. White pine is a type of living tree that will do well in much of North Carolina.
  • Once you get a cut Christmas tree home, make a fresh cut to remove about an inch from the bottom of the trunk. Immediately place it in a bucket of water and leave it in a shady spot away from wind. Check the next day to replenish the water supply. Once the rapid uptake slows after 2–3 days, you can bring the tree inside. Check it daily to keep it watered throughout the holidays to reduce chance of fire. Use only UL listed cords in good repair. Turn lights off when you leave the house.

Landscape ideas

Seasonal beauty

2008   2009 JCRA February photo tours of the JC Raulston Arboretum
Know Your Natives — Frostweeds “Bloom” Frost Flowers AR Native Plant Society

Design ideas

Q&A: Piet Oudolf on Designing a Winter Garden NY Times
Winter Interest 101 ASLA
Plants with Winter Interest IN CES
Trees & Shrubs for the Four Season Landscape Morton Arboretum
Shrubs for Autumn & Winter Interest gardenweb
Fill Winter With Flowers Fine Gardening Nancy Goodwin. great bulb bloom chart

Trees — interesting bark

JCRA
SC CES
Taylorsville, UT
North Branch Nursery
Fine Gardening

Shrubs — winter fragrance

Uncommon Scents: a Common Sense Guide to Winter Blues SFA Arboretum
Fragrant Shrubs for All Seasons NC Extension Gardener

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Lawn · Garden Moisture Index

Colors indicate inches of precipitation deficit/excess with a resolution of 4km.
Alabama State Climatologist Lawn/garden moisture index

This live feed maps the difference between recent garden-effective precipitation and the amount normally adequate for the time of year. Soil water-holding capacity is not considered, but the index still provides a good idea of current soil moisture.

Check drought conditions
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919 · 245 · 2061