Plants to catch your eye in January
Bark, color, seed pods, architectural stems ... these are winter garden wonders. Views like these, particularly from a favorite window, help connect us to the outdoors during the winter season. Likewise, birds are seeking seeds, shelter and berries in the depths of winter. Everyone is happier with a year round garden! Here are five fantastic plants to amp up your winter view. All can be seen growing at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C.
River birch (Betula nigra) is easy to grow, fast growing, and tall at 40 to 60 feet. This tree thrives in moist or regular soil in full sun or part shade. It typically grows in multi stemmed fashion with three to five trunks. Best though, is the tree's bark. The papery trunks are thrillingly textural. There are smaller cultivars such as 'Little King.' Another cultivar commonly sold in nurseries in the mid-Atlantic is "dura-heat" which is more drought tolerant and slightly smaller maxing out at 40 feet. This Morton Arboretum fact sheet lists the cultivars commonly available. If you want the straight species, it may be easier to order by mail or shop at one of our local native plant nurseries.
American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a medium sized shrub that produces nuts during the growing season and has these interesting catkins during winter. I will be planting this for the first time this spring. According to Prairie Nursery, this grows easily in sun or part shade in soils of any moisture level. The height is described as 6 to 15 feet. Both the nuts and catkins are good food sources for wildlife. Prairie Nursery explains that, as the shrubs are unisex, you only need one shrub to produce nuts but you will have far more nuts with three to five shrubs. The Nursery also recommends this for hedgerows. I can't wait to try growing this. It sounds great for larger gardens and, hopefully in our smaller garden, pruning can manage its "shrubbiness!"
Red Twig Dogwood
Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a medium sized shrub that grows in part shade or partial sun. These shrubs are quite different from the iconic dogwood tree. The shrubs have small white flowers in spring and green foliage throughout summer. In winter, they pop with bright red stems. To make them stand out, plant in front of evergreens or another dark background. To maintain the bright stems year to year, cut one third of the oldest stems to the base each year. You can tell which stems are older because they are thicker and the color is more faded. This will encourage growth of new stems which have the brightest color. Many large nurseries also carry European and Asian red twig dogwoods so if you desire native shrubs, please look for "Cornus sericea."
Common Witch Hazel
Native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in winter which is about all one needs to know! It typically blooms in November and December in the middle of the watershed. The one above, though, was still in full bloom at the US Botanic Garden in January. These can be grown as shrubs or small trees and really take well to pruning so you can manage their shape and size. They grow best in full or partial sun and soil with average moisture.
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is typically grown for its upright green foliage that stays strong in shade and white or pink late summer flowers but check out its winter profile, very architectural. Certain perennials really add structure in winter. This is one of the best.