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Winter is for Planning & Plotting

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener & gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

February can be one of the most important gardening months of the year – the time to sit by the window with pad and pencil in hand, planning what you want to do when spring weather breaks. Your garden is a living, breathing and important part of life at your home. When something dies, it’s the perfect opportunity to try something new and different. When something outgrows its space, resist the urge to hack at it, and instead find a smaller species to replace it. When something flourishes, congratulate yourself and enjoy the fruits of your labor. In other words, your garden is an evolving work of art – and a soothing place to seek solace from the stresses of daily life.

As you plan the seasons in, changes and additions in your garden this year, don’t plan to do everything at one time or it becomes overwhelming and tedious. Instead, pick a part of the yard that needs rejuvenation the most. Maybe it’s the front yard where your curb appeal is weak. Maybe it’s a perennial garden where overgrown plants need to be divided and relocated or shared with friends. Maybe it’s a sunny spot where you can plant a homegrown vegetable garden. Prioritize your projects and plot out a schedule that allows you to move seamlessly from one completed project to the next. Jot down notes about sun, shade and soil conditions in those areas. Use your computer or tablet to research plants that will thrive there, and sketch out a rough drawing of the size and design you want in a garden. Soon you will have the makings of new and improved gardens that will be done in no-time flat. Spring days are just around the corner – start dreaming up your garden plan today.

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Cold Weather Checklist, McDonald Garden Center

Cold Weather Checklist

Looking for ways to keep your green thumb green over the winter? Well, there are plenty of opportunities to work in the garden throughout those cold winter months. And, while most of us are more concerned with caring for our lawn and garden during the growing season, winter prep is just as important for keeping things looking good year-round. We’ve put together a list of essential tasks that should be done throughout the winter months to keep your lawn and garden in tip-top shape come springtime.

Bring Plants Indoors - Bring as many of your potted plants inside to ensure that they don’t freeze, plus it’s a lot easier for you to care for them inside instead of going out into the freezing cold!

Mulch - Mulch keeps plants warm and insulated, especially if they’re in the ground and not in pots. Spread a layer around the base and stems and replenish as necessary.

Cutting Back Perennials - Cut back perennials so they’ll be ready to blossom when spring rolls around. Simply cut off any large or extended pieces so that the plant is flush with the ground. This will help keep them from being eaten or frozen during harsh winter months.

Care For + Prune Shrubs & Hedges - Pruning encourages healthy growth come spring. A good rule of thumb is to prune spring-blooming shrubs immediately after flowering and summer-blooming shrubs during their dormant season. When pruning, cut a single angle about ¼ inch from the branch. Adding a layer of mulch around the base of plants will help provide insulation during winter. Watering prior to deep freezes also helps to insulate roots. Wait until spring to fertilize shrubs.

Tips for Trees - Keep limbs away from power lines and roofs. Branches can easily pull down gutters or cause other costly damage. You may want to consult a professional arborist prior to tree pruning. They’ll know the best method for your variety of trees and the best time of year for pruning. Typically, tree pruning should be done in early autumn or late spring.

Maintain Outdoor Fixtures - Just like plants, outdoor fixtures need special care to weather the cold. Walkways and patios can take a beating in cold weather since changes in temperature and humidity can cause concrete and brick to shift and settle unevenly. Keeping them free of water build-up and debris will reduce chances of winter damage. Proper drainage is also essential, so be sure moisture runs away from your foundation and foot path area.

Pamper Your Houseplants - Winter is the perfect time to pamper those houseplants that sometimes get neglected while you are busy tending to your outdoor landscape and garden during growing season. So be sure to provide a little TLC to your indoor plants to ensure they continue to add color and texture to your home all year-round.

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Brighten Winter Days with Edgeworthia

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

When an unexpected warm day arrives in January, I use the gift to walk my yard, looking for signs of life. Exfoliating bark on the crape myrtles and winter-flowering camellias catch my eye, but it’s the Edgeworthia chrysantha in the back corner of the yard that really entices me to walk closer. Edgeworthia, nicknamed “paperbush,” has a split personality, in my viewpoint.

In summer, it looks like a tropical treasure. Its slender leaves are each about five to six inches long and about two inches wide. On top, the leaves are blue-green, while a silver green sheen covers the bottoms. The leaves are clustered at the tips of branches, making it a lovely addition to a dappled-shade or full sun garden.

In fall, the leaves disappear to reveal a reddish-brown bark.

In December, tight bud clusters – hundreds of them -- form at the branch tips.

In January, those buds slowly unfold to reveal creamy yellow centers and the most intoxicating fragrance you can imagine. Eventually, the flowers resemble silky tassels dangling everywhere, creating a breath-taking vision on a cold winter day.

Edgeworthia is a member of the daphne family and far easier to grow than fragrant daphne, which needs perfectly draining soil. Edgeworthia, on the other hand, tolerates difficult dry soil under a tall loblolly pine in my garden. When fallen limbs from the pine break branches off the plant, it sprouts new spring growth that covers the damage.

My paperbush grows about four feet tall and wide, thriving alongside camellias that provide fall, winter and spring color. It’s the darling of any gray winter day.

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