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Garden Tips

The Downtime Garden
By: Bob Beyer, Travis County Master Gardener

Is the winter period the "ho hum" time of year for your garden?  Does your garden lack the interest that draws you to it during this time?   Well, let's change that image!

Plan for “all season” color, not just “seasonal”

So much emphasis and effort is placed on our spring to fall garden. The winter garden gets overlooked and is usually unattractive. All season plants that are permanent, preplanned, and integrated into the overall garden design can change that.  Seasonal plants are temporary, and meant only for specific periodic plantings.  The winter season in Austin generally runs from December 1 thru March 31. We reside primarily in cold hardiness zone 8b (minimum coldest temperature ranging between 15 and 20), but a small area around Austin itself is in zone 9a (20-25 degrees). Although we rarely see temperatures that low, we must be prepared for that possibility. Plants must deal with subfreezing temps, ice, sleet, rapid temperature change and wet and cold combinations.

The Challenge

Central Texas native and adaptive plants are mostly deciduous/perennials. Evergreens are a garden treasure in Central Texas, but limited. Winter color plants can be seasonal, or all season – cold hardy. Landscape areas should blend both evergreens with seasonal plants. Winter color can be from foliage or flowers –don’t overlook foliage. Foliage can be variegated white/yellow, green, blue/silver, & purple. Marginally hardy or semi-evergreens need protected micro-environments. Cool weather seasonal plants offer more color variety and bloom. Use colorful, eye catching hardscaping to add interest to winter gardens. Avoid container plantings except in very protected areas as roots freeze much faster than terrestrial plantings. Now let’s look at some plant choices…..

Good plants for off-season temporary garden color in FALL:

Sumac, Bradford Pear, Red Maple, and Crepe Myrtles -for foliage color.
Mums, Copper Canyon Daisy, Fall Aster, Mexican Mint Marigold, Philippine Violet - for flowering

Good plants for off-season temporary garden color in WINTER:

Cyclamen, Pansies, Snapdragons, Dianthus-for winter flowering
Flowering cabbages, kale, or colorful Swiss chard for cool weather colorful foliage

Permanent Evergreens to Use
Colorful variegated cultivars of well known Evergreen plants, e.g.

Eleagnus pungens, cvs Maculata, Gilt Edge, Hosobo Fukurin
Abelia grandiflora cv. White Marvel or other variegated cultivars
Yucca filamentosa cvs Golden Sword, Variegata, Gilt Edge, Color Spot
Daniella tasmanica cv. Variegata
Viburnum tinus cv. Bewleys Variegated
Myrtus communis cv. Variegata
Trachyspermum jasminoides cv. Variegata
Yucca rotundifolia cv. Margaritaville
Tulbaghia violaceae cv Variegata (Society Garlic)
Ophiopogon (Monkey Grass) –variegated, black, dwarf, etc.
Ligularia species and variegated cultivars

Colorful evergreen shrubs and cultivars (other than green)

Silver colored foliage, e.g.

Leucophyllum fruitecens 'silverado‘ (Texas Sage)
Teucrium fruiticans (Bush Germander)
Saphora secundifolia 'silver peso‘ (TX Mt. Laurel)
Yucca pallida (paleleaf yucca)
Dasyliron wheeleri -Wheeler’s Sotol
Silver-leafed fan palms, e.g. Brahea armata, Serenoa repens (silver leaf form)

Purple colored foliage, e.g.

Loropetalum chinensis 'plum delight‘ –Chinese Fringe Flower

Deciduous winter color from berries/bark, e.g.

Ilex decidua (Possomhaw Holly) –persistent red berries
Lagestroemia indica cvs (esp. Natchez) –brown exfoliating bark

Green is a color too!! Evergreen shrubs to consider:

Acca sellowiana (Pineapple Guava)
Michelia figo (Banana Shrub)
Fatsia japonica (for a tropical look)
Roses (earthkind varieties and minis)
Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon Holly) –weeping, upright, dwarf forms
Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae) –one of few suitable conifers
Podocarpus microphylla (Japanese Yew) -comes in dwarf forms
Cold hardy small palms and cycads
Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) –fragrance, texture, etc.
Punica granatus cv nana (Dwarf Pomegranite) –semi-evergreen
Nandina domestica (only dwarf non-berry cultivars, e.g. San Gabriel)
Malpighia glabra (Barbados Cherry) –semi evergreen
Opuntia cactus –thornless
Saphora secundifolia –TX Mountain Laurel

There are no winter-flowering hardy evergreen shrubs/plants for our area.

Hardscaping to add winter garden interest. e.g.

Natural materials, e.g limestone rocks and boulders, Cedar driftwood
Nostalgia items, e.g. old wagon wheels and garden tools
Décor items, e.g. signs, art work, water features

Why let winter be your garden’s “down time” when it can be nearly as vibrant and enjoyable as the spring to fall gardening “prime time”. We are fortunate to not have severe winter conditions in Austin, but with some limitations, we can enjoy year- round color and visual interest in our gardens.  See our presentation (with plant pictures) on Winter Gardening at www.centraltexasgardening.info/wintercolor.pdf

A variety of plants that will add interest and color to your garden during the winter “Down Time” period.

Downtime Garden plants

 
©Zilker Botanical Garden,
Austin Area Garden Council
512.477.8672
info@zilkergarden.org