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Winter-Blooming Shrubs

The Martha Stewart Show, February 2010

Who says we need to wait until spring for flowers? Not horticulturist Vincent Simeone, director of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park. He shares some of his favorite indoor and outdoor winter-blooming shrubs.

Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a small tree or shrub that produces fragrant, usually yellow flowers during the winter months. Its name has nothing to do with witches, but rather comes from an old English word, "wych," meaning flexible.

Its shrubs feature a wide-spreading, vase-shaped growth habit and dark-green textured leaves that change to golden-yellow, orange, and occasionally red. Its flowers are hardy -- on extremely cold days, they'll even close up to avoid being damaged.

Witch hazels should be sited in open areas of the garden in full sun or partial shade, where they can be enjoyed from a window or view from the house. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and moderate pruning.

Here are some witch hazel varieties that Vincent especially likes:

  • Sunburst
  • Orange Beauty
  • Angelly
  • Livia
  • Georges
  • Arnold Promise
  • Fire Charm
  • Ruby Glow
  • Jelena
  • Diane
  • H. mollis (Chinese Witchhazel)
  • H. japonica (Japanese Witchhazel)
  • H. vernalis (Vernal Witchhazel)

Known for their delicate beauty, camellias make a bold statement whether planted indoors or out. And with more than 250 species, there are a bounty of colors and shapes to suit any taste.

Camellias like cooler climates; filtered light; and relatively moist, acidic soil. However, they can tolerate full sun and a wide variety of soil types.

Nonhardy Camellias
There are many varieties of nonhardy camellias, which must be grown indoors in most climates. You can't go wrong with any of these:

  • Takayama
  • Alba Plena
  • Lady Clare
  • Madame Cachet
  • Fragrant Pink
  • Preston Rose
  • Lallarook
  • Sawada's Dream
  • Reine De Fleurs
  • Jardin D'Hiver
  • Debutante
  • Mikenjaku
  • Nobilissima

Hardy Camellias
With their glossy, broad leaves and brightly colored flowers, hardy camellias make excellent groupings in a shade garden or even as a tall screen. They are excellent companion plants to Rhododendrons, holly, and shade-loving perennials. It's important to site them away from exposed sites, ideally with morning sun and afternoon shade.

In colder climates, camellias are best planted in springtime, so they can establish themselves before the onset of winter. In warmer climes, plant camellias after the typical heat and humidity of summer has passed.

Vincent recommends these types of hardy camellias:

  • Long Island Pink
  • Winter's Star
  • Mason Farm
  • April Remembered
  • April Kiss
  • April Rose

Photo credit: Planting Fields Arboretum

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