It’s nearly here – winter officially begins next week, on December 21. Look outside your window at your garden and chances are it looks sad and barren. Brown, wet leaves cover what once housed your pride and joy – an abundant garden filled with gorgeous blooms.
It doesn’t have to be that way. REW spoke to Brian Pomfret, certified master gardener and proprietor of West Vancouver’s Bloomingfields Garden Care & Design Inc. He was happy to tell REW how to care for our winter gardens and to provide a list of hardy plants that can survive the cold months ahead.
However, he does caution that: “You can plant any time of the year, but if you are thinking about winter blooms, it’s probably too late to plant now … plant in the early fall at the latest.”
Brian’s Winter To-Do List
- Winter is a great time to prune most trees and shrubs other than spring-flowering shrubs. “I’m talking about trees such as cherry trees, which should be pruned just after the blooms fall off,” says Pomfret. “You also don’t want to prune a birch in the winter … it’s a bleeder, so the best time is in the summer.”
- Check for any damage to trees and shrubs. Remove the broken or diseased branches first. Some trees, like Magnolias and fruit trees are better pruned in the summer.
- If you have banded any of your trees you will need to remove the bands in mid-to late January. Tree bands left on too long can collect moisture and cause the bark to rot.
- Do not deadhead or cut back plants that will continue to look good right through the winter. For example, Ornamental grasses, seedheads on poppies and the cone-like centers of Rubdecia flowers.
- If the weather becomes cold again, check that any slightly tender plants are protected by mulch or evergreen branches laid over them. Try not to walk on frozen grass. Dislodge any accumulations of snow from your plants and hedges – especially broad-leaved evergreens. Do this before snow becomes wet and heavy or freezes and you will minimize damage.
- “When it comes to winter care, most trees are best pruned when they are dormant … typically in January,” adds the 30+ year veteran gardener. “However, the best time to prune any flowering tree or shrub is always after they have finished blooming.”
In the end, Pomfret says there’s no hard or fast rule for anything, so if you have any questions or concerns, head over to your nearest garden centre and ask the professionals.
“Your gardener or your garden shop employees should be able to answer most, if not all, of your questions,” he adds. “Gardening is both an art and a science – there is always more to learn.”
Brian’s Top Eight Winter-Happy Hardy Shrubs
Witch Hazel: This plant blooms in the middle of winter and comes in a variety of colours. It produces tiny flowers that are a welcome beacon during the often dark, dreary days of winter. “This is a personal favourite of mine,” admits Pomfret.
Gaultheria Procumbens: This creeping wintergreen shrub’s claim to fame is its pretty tiny red berries. Its foliage has a pungent wintergreen scent when crushed. It looks wonderful in woodland plantings, rock gardens and heather gardens.
Callicarpa, or Beauty Berry: This one has tiny little purple berries that grow in clusters. Once it loses its leaves in the winter months, it leaves behind these pretty purple berries.
Sarcococca Humilis, or Christmas or Sweet Box: If you want fragrance, this is the one for you as it emits a beautiful vanilla scent. “Because it loves shade, it looks fabulous around a doorway or entryway into your home,” he adds. “It also looks great in a cluster of pots or in a hedge.”
Winter rose, Christmas rose, Lenten rose or Hellebore: Whatever you call it, this has attractive leathery leaves and pretty, open-cup flowers that look similar to a single rose. It is shade-tolerant and is great as ground cover under trees. It is very hardy but does, like any other plant, perform better with a tender loving green thumb!
Yuletide Camellia: This plant produces single, brilliant red blooms with bright yellow stamens – making a true statement at Christmas time! The flower comes out as early as late December or early January.
Rhododendrons: These plants require little maintenance in semi-shaded to sunny spots. These evergreens produced beautiful flowers but they look pretty sad if there’s a freeze. “It takes a lot to kill them, but they also don’t tolerate standing water,” adds Pomfret.
Ornamental grasses: These hardy plants adapt well to our West Coast winter months. Grasses require low levels of fertility and do not need to be cut down before winter. “In our climate, grasses like sweet soil as opposed to acidic soil,” he adds.