Winter months in Kansas City can certainly be bleak, to say the least. Weeks of grey skies, punctuated with periods of sleet, snow, and ice can depress even the hardiest of gardeners. There are a few bright spots, though, when it comes to plant materials that cheer us up. Aside from the usual evergreens (which we’ll touch on soon in another blog), there are some interesting deciduous plants, and even some bulbs that give us a reason to walk around the yard. One of our favorites is Witchazel;
Not only does it put on a spectacular fall show with leaves of yellow, orange, and crimson, it blooms reliably in the dead of winter when almost all hope is lost! Most years Witchazel blooms in late January, though this year it is delayed (due to the prolonged frigid temperatures) and has just begun blooming in mid-February. Witchazel has a quirky flower borne on barren stems in colors ranging from bright yellow to rich red, with some beautiful apricot and orange varieties available. The plant has a nice branching structure and doesn’t get weedy looking like many other large flowering shrubs—and, it’s easy to grow.
Another favorite is Cornus mas, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood.
This is the very first tree to bloom in the spring( usually early March) here in the Midwest. Its blooms are bright yellow, though fairly small, and there are plenty of them. This tree looks its best when planted in front of tall evergreens, or by a building so there is contrast for the flowers to show off. It blooms for quite a long time, and since there are no other trees in bloom, Cornus mas is a definite star of the landscape at a time when we gardeners need a pick- me -up!
Finally, a couple of bulbs that brighten up the winter landscape need to be mentioned. A personal favorite of the gardeners here at Greenleaf is the unusual Arum italicum ‘Pictum’.
Arum is a leafy perennial bulb (actually a tuber) that produces large bright green leaves with white veins, and reminds one of a tropical. The unusual characteristic of this plant is that it emerges from the ground in the fall, and remains a beautiful green all through the winter! Plant a group of these near your front door, and guests will be amazed at your “tropicals” peeking through the snow. Arum continues through the spring, but in early summer, the foliage dies back and this plant produces a tall spike of orange red berries which last a few weeks.
Then the plant disappears completely until fall once again summons cooler temperatures and the lifecycle begins anew. The other cheery bulb that every gardener should have is winter aconite.
Winter aconites are small, buttercup yellow flowers that often emerge through the snow and definitely brighten the boring winter landscape. They are quite short, only 2” or so, and they have a bright green foliage bed to sit upon. This tuberous bulb does spread fairly aggressively, but because of their diminutive size, and the fact that they literally disappear after late spring, winter aconites are rarely considered a problem.
Check back often to see more of our favorites!