Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999

Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener

Questions and comments can be directed to - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."

(November-December, 2006)
(Posted October 31, 2006)

Now that you've cleaned up those window boxes and containers on your patio and front stoop, they look rather bleak, don't they? Here are some suggestions for winter interest:

Winter Interest

  • Create winter container gardens using "sale" items from the nursery. Some plants that work well are any small evergreens, such as boxwood, ivy, dwarf conifers, liriope, and mondo grass interplanted with pansies, and flowering kale and cabbages. The foliage of "coral bells" is rather hardy and the plants do well in containers. Place materials close together for immediate effect, and remember to keep watered when the temperatures are above freezing.
  • Decorate window boxes and other outdoor containers with evergreen branches stuck into the soil. (Use the branches you saw off of the Christmas tree.) If the soil freezes before you have a chance to make your arrangements outside, simply soften it with warm water. Balsam fir branches, cedar, white pine, magnolia, etc., will keep well into the winter season. Add some bittersweet, holly or Nandina berries, or artificial (the realistic ones, please) berried materials for color.
  • You can also make "twig" arrangements in outdoor containers. Collect twigs with unusual features; for example, winged elm, corkscrew willow, red (red osier) dogwood branches, and the seed heads from crape myrtles. Place some magnolia branches in the arrangement to contrast with the bark.

Clean and store pots and containers upside down to prevent the damaging effects of ice, wind, and water from harming them. Clean and store garden tools.

Evergreens and Deciduous Shrubs

It is too late to prune shrubs! Wait until late winter to prune rose bushes as pruning now will produce new growth during any warm weather spells; any new growth will be killed by frosts because it will not have a chance to harden off.

You can always check for and remove any deadwood in your shrubs which is evident now.

Lightly trim (don't prune) hollies and other evergreens, such as magnolia, Acuba, boxwood, pyracantha to use for seasonal arrangements.

During periods of scarce rainfall, water landscape evergreens thoroughly once a week or so until the ground freezes.

Evergreens continue to lose water through their foliage all winter, and once the ground freezes they will be unable to take up water. If they are well watered before winter temperatures arrive, you reduce the chance of damaged foliage from winds and cold.

Broadleaf evergreens, such as camellia, rhododendron, and acuba suffer the loss of moisture during cold, windy spells. Spray them with a commercial product, such as "Wilt Proof" to prevent winter damage.

Also spray "Wilt Proof" on wreathes and other outdoor seasonal decorations so that they stay greener longer.

Cut away the suckers from the base of lilacs, forsythia, and crape myrtles. Since azaleas are shallow rooted, they will benefit from additional mulch now.

Winterizing the Flower Border

  • Cut back dormant perennials to about 3 inches above ground. After the ground freezes, plants can be mulched to protect against displacement due to freezing and thawing soil.
  • Leave ornamental grasses until late winter which is the proper time to remove the top growth.
  • Tulip bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes. They are best planted in cold soil so they do not send up shoots before the bulb makes roots. The same procedure applies to Dutch iris bulbs.
  • If you don't treat chrysanthemums as annuals, cut them down to within a few inches of the ground after the tops freeze. Apply a loose much of two to three inches after the ground has frozen.
  • Dispose of any diseased plant materials. Rake the leaves from rose bushes; dispose of all peony stems and leaves (to prevent any reoccurrence of blight). Get rid of any leaves from plants which had mildew or black spot during the growing season.
  • Don't worry if you see emerging bulb foliage in late December. The foliage is hardy, and the plant will not suffer from cold temperatures unless the flower buds are exposed.
  • Remove the old, leathery leaves from hellebores (Lenten roses) as the new flower buds and foliage emerge. These plants are very cold hardy.

House Plants

The growth and flowering of house plants slow during the cooler temperatures and shorter days of winter months. New growth will be minimal until the days lengthen in late winter and early spring.

Reduce fertilization and water until the time that new growth begins. Cyclamen is an exception here, as it should be fed and watered all during the winter.

Let pots dry out to the touch before watering, then water thoroughly and let the water soak in. Then water again until the water drains into the saucer.

Empty the saucer within an hour. Too much water damages indoor plants at this time.

Remember cacti go dormant during the winter and should be kept cool and dry.

Plant African violets in small, clay pots. Use a pot which is about one third the diameter of the plant.

Plant paper-white narcissus in pebbles in early November for flowering for Christmas. Cover half the bulb with pebbles to anchor them; water and place in a dark area until roots are established and growth begins. Then bring the container into bright light for flowering. Discard the bulbs after blooming.

Amaryllis bulbs will not bloom if placed in too large a pot. Use a pot size which allows about one inch of soil on the sides of the bulb. At least one third of the bulb should be above the soil level. Plant the bulbs and leave in a dark area until they establish roots. Withhold water until the tip of the flower stem emerges (in a few weeks of potting up); bring the container to a sunny window and turn it frequently to keep the flower stalk growing straight. Keep the leaves growing after flowering if you plan on keeping the bulb for next year's flowering.

Order Bulbs On-Line

Check out these websites for bulb ordering and garden materials, general plant information, and their gorgeous color photographs. There are also periodic on-line sales which are real bargains!

  • White Flower Farm ( - Their catalogues are worth saving for their gardening advice and tips.

  • Brent and Becky's Bulbs ( - They are considered the premiere American bulb company, located in nearby Gloucester, Virginia 23061.

  • Old House Gardens (Heirloom Bulbs for Every Garden) ( When you want that bulb that grew in Grandmother's garden, you can find it here!

  • Wayside Gardens ( Get on their mailing list for their seasonal catalogues. Also check out their on-line specials.

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