The green thumb
Have you looked at your neighbors' garden and wondered what you could do to add a little interest in your own landscape this winter? If you look out your window and think your yard looks a little blah, start planning now to pick plants that will add interest next winter.
We usually only think about evergreen trees and shrubs to perk up the landscape, but one of my favorite plants is beautyberry. There is a stunning example about halfway between the Douglas County Courthouse and the Douglas County Judicial & Law Enforcement Center. The leaves have dropped, but the branches are loaded with metallic purple berries. It is an unusual color for the landscape and is quite striking in combination with the faded greens and browns we usually see this time of year.
Evergreens are still a good choice to add some green to the landscape. Pines are not native to Kansas and have many disease problems in this area, but limber pine and Eastern white pine are usable in some sites. Eastern redcedar grows well here; look for improved cultivars such as Canaertii. Chinese juniper, a cousin to the redcedar, is a good choice, and there are many good cultivars available. Blue spruce and Norway spruce can perform well in the right site and with ample winter moisture.
For shrubs, there are varieties of juniper available of every shape and size to fit any application. Yew is a good evergreen selection for shade. Holly, boxwood, Pyracantha, Mahonia and Leatherleaf viburnum will hold their leaves through all or most of the winter. Female hollies bear red berries; Pyracantha has brilliant orange fruits, and Mahonia has tiny blue berries that add to the show. Plants with berries also will serve as a food source for nonmigrating birds, so you should expect the berries to be gone before winter is over.
Vines and groundcovers such as English ivy, periwinkle (vinca minor), Euonymus and Halls Japanese honeysuckle usually hold their leaves throughout the winter to add a nice green splash. Bittersweet vine produces vibrant red, yellow and orange berries.
If you are really thinking outside the box, use plants with interesting foliage or stems such as Redosier dogwood with brilliant red stems and the self-described yellow twig dogwood. Lacebark elm and river birch both have mottled, peeling bark that provides variation in color and texture. Harry Lauder's walking stick, a small tree with twisted branches, is a rare centerpiece in the winter garden. Weeping trees and shrubs with layered branching habits change the look and texture of a leafless, flowerless place.
Ornamental grass clumps also add texture and structure to the winter landscape, but trim clumps that are in close proximity to the house or other structures. The dried grass burns easily and is considered a fire hazard.
A good plan incorporates winter interest as just one component to the landscape. Consider size, shape, texture and color for all seasons. Use your imagination, but try to limit yourself to plants that are well-adapted to local conditions with few insect and disease problems.
Make a visit this winter to your local nursery or garden center and make a list of plants that are appealing to you. If your neighbor has a plant that you like, ask him or her about the plant. This is the best time of year to discover the plants that will allow your garden to provide another season of enjoyment.
-- Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent--Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.