Viburnums For Any Landscape

Right: bright red Viburnum opulus berries, do droop. They also feed hungry songbirds.

What exactly is a Viburnum? Viburnums are trees or shrubs, evergreen or deciduous, that may be diminutive three-foot globes or grow 60 feet tall. Their leaf texture varies from smoothly shiny to velvety, and, their leaf edges may be serrated, dentate, lobed, or not! Viburnum flowers are either round or flattish and range in color from white to pink. The blossoms are either deliciously fragrant, have absolutely no scent, or can be downright offensive. Just forget trying to determine what viburnum you are admiring by its fruit color alone since berries range from yellow to orange, red to black, and blue to purple.

According to the great Georgia plantsman, Dr. Michael Dirr, their characteristics are simply too varied to make a definitive identification without a very good reference guide. In his 2007 guidebook, Viburnums, Flowering Shrubs for Every Season, by Timber Press, Dirr admits that even taxonomists can’t agree on how many species presently exist in the genus Viburnum with the true number probably falling somewhere between 160 to 250.

What makes a Viburnum a Viburnum?

V. Carlesii - Photo by Pam Beck
The Koreanspice bush, V. carlesii, provides a perfect example of a viburnum’s opposite leave arrangement.

Famed tree and shrub specialist Michael Dirr’s definition is:

  1. The fruit is a drupe, generally ellipsoidal, flattened, ovoid to rounded, with a fleshy coat, hard bony endocarp, and a single seed within; and
  2. The leaves are always arranged opposite; a few species, occasionally, have three leaves at a node.

Growing Viburnum

Viburnum diltatum (Image by KENPEI)

Besides their exquisite beauty, the main reason why we embrace viburnums in our home landscapes is their extreme hardiness. Many varieties can be very drought tolerant (once established) as some of our best Southeastern native viburnum hail from dry woodlands. A few, such as our native Arrowwood, will also tolerate wet feet. Most will grow well in full sun to part shade, can take a variety of soil types, and still thrive.

Planting Viburnum

In the absence of good soil, you could amend the planting hole fill dirt with Black Gold Garden Soil for improved drainage that will still provide enough moisture retention essential for a newly transplanted viburnum. Otherwise, mulch the base of your new addition with Black Gold’s Garden Compost Blend in order to help hold moisture, keep developing roots cool in summer and warmer in winter, and to suppress weeds.

Great Viburnum

In my home landscape, I have found several species of viburnum grow well under the canopy of a large Black Walnut tree, where it is very dry. Here I have planted Koreanspice bush (V. carlesii) and Cranberry viburnum (V. opulus), and they both perform beautifully.

Viburnums have also been evaluated for their resistance to deer grazing. The toughest survivors of deer predation are our native Arrowwood (V. dentatum); Blackhaw (V. prunifolium); Smooth witherod (V. nudum), which is sometimes erroneously called “possum haw” and, the Maple-leaf arrowwood (V. acerfolium).

Koreanspice Viburnum

The flowers of Koreanspice viburnum are so fragrant. (Image by Bouba)

Koreanspice viburnum (V. carlesii, Zones 4-7) is one of our most popular, old-fashioned, pass-along southern shrubs. Grown for its intensely sweet springtime fragrance, the late March to early April flowers of Koreanspice begin pale pink, turning white with age, grow 2-3 inches across, and are rounded. This 8-10 foot tall shrub has dull green leaves that turn reddish in the fall, and red to black fruits.

Cranberry Viburnum

Cranberry viburnum is named for its brilliant cherry-red fruit clusters that begin coloring in late summer. The popular double-flowered variety ‘Roseum’ is sterile and bears no fruit.

The Cranberry viburnum is named for its brilliant cherry-red fruit clusters that begin coloring in late summer. Its famous leaf fall color is much more dramatic in cooler regions where leaves turn gold, red, and burgundy. A very good cultivar is V. opulus ‘Compactum’, which should top out at just 5-6 feet.

Chinese Snowball

For sheer drama, nothing compares to the Chinese Snowball (V. macrocephalum). This multi-trunked small tree can reach 12-feet or more in height and grow just as wide. Sometimes semi-evergreen in mild winters, this very dark-leafed viburnum is beloved for its 6-8 inch, rounded, springtime flowers that begin pale chartreuse and age to purest white. They are so beautiful that we can forgive it for not bearing any scent. A significant bonus is that it also flowers again from late summer into fall. Since the Chinese Snowball’s hydrangea-like flowers are sterile, there is no fruit, therefore no unwanted seedlings.

Bodnant Viburnum

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is an early bloomer with lovely fragrant pink flowers. (Image by Magnus Manske)

Your winter landscape could be delightful including a Bodnant viburnum in it. Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ has bright pink, strongly perfumed flowers in late February to early March in my Wake Forest, North Carolina, Zone 7-8 garden. The small, rounded, sweetly fragrant flowers are borne on bare branches on a rather rangy shrub, but ‘Dawn’ blends nicely into the mixed border the rest of the year.

Viburnum Tinus

Garden centers offer V. tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’ in autumn, which is the right time to plant them. During the late fall months ‘Spring Bouquet’ forms tight rose-colored clusters of buds that will start popping open during the first months of the new year. These viburnum flowers are only slightly fragrant, but they will cover the small shrub. This evergreen viburnum will need part shade in summer, winter protection from sun, plus they benefit from being shielded from desiccating winds.

Doublefile Viburnum

Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum) has lovely tiered branching and should not be pruned.

Since they bloom in early April, Doublefile viburnums, V. plicatum f. tomentosum, are great substitutes for ailing native dogwoods. Named for its flowering habit of doily-flat flowers positioned side-by-side along the top of long horizontal branches, this is a stunning small tree. These viburnum are deciduous in winter, have dark green foliage in summer, and bright red berries in late fall. A cultivar named ‘Summer Snowflake’ will bloom well in early spring, then sporadically repeat off-and-on throughout the summer.

Chindo Viburnum

Chindo viburnum is another popular viburnum that isn’t grown for its flowers at all. Promoted by the late Dr. J C Raulston of North Carolina State University, V. awabuki ‘Chindo’, is a loosely pyramidal-shaped, shiny-leafed, evergreen shrub that can reach 15-20 feet. It grows in sun or shade and is shaped reminiscent of a large-leafed holly, so it makes an ideal screening plant. One warning is that a Chindo viburnum won’t like winter temperatures that drop below zero; so, if it does get that cold you may have to trim your plant back severely in springtime to encourage new growth to flush.

There is probably a perfect viburnum for just about any location in your landscape, so how do you go about narrowing your selections? Ask your garden center professional for their recommendations, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service, and find a copy of Dirr’s Viburnums book.


V. awabuki ‘Chindo’ - Photo by Pam Beck
The ‘Chindo’ viburnum is an outstanding evergreen screening shrub. (Photo by Pam Beck)

Favorite Holiday House Plants

Stumped about what small token of appreciation to take to a holiday open house, a close friend’s party, or your annual family gathering this festive season? Consider gifting the host and hostess with a traditional winter-flowering houseplant as a long-lasting reminder of your thoughtfulness.

One of the most popular holiday houseplants associated with our wintertime holidays is the colorful Poinsettia, named in honor of South Carolinian, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), the first United States Minister to Mexico, who sent their native shrubby Flor de Noche Buena back to the States in 1825, where this colorful spurge was enthusiastically grown and shared.

Variegated forms of poinsettia are a colorful option for the holiday home.


Its scientific name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, which means “most beautiful”, as poinsettias are indeed stunning. Wide serrated leaves called bracts surround clusters of unassuming flowers at the center of each leaf bunch, and it is these dramatic bracts that turn deep red, pastel pink, bright white, warm salmon, or variegated as nights grow longer and the temperature drops.

When choosing a gift poinsettia, select a plant that doesn’t appear spotted or wilted, and one that has a good overall shape (as euphorbias are extremely brittle, so will break easily if mishandled). Also, choose a plant that hasn’t completely changed bract color and whose true flowers are not yet spent. Keep your potted poinsettia warm when transporting it home or to its final destination to ensure its best survival and long term handsome appearance.

New poinsettia cultivars come in lots of colors and sizes.

Poinsettia Care

Poinsettias are easy to care for if you remember that they prefer bright light, but not direct sunlight; that you should moisten their potting medium as soon as the soil surface feels dry to the touch, but do not allow them to sit in water; and, that these plants prefer consistently warm indoor temperatures ranging between a high of 74 degrees F to no cooler than 60 degrees F at night.

There are euphorbias that are poisonous to humans, but the poinsettia isn’t one of them. Do remember that its milky sap may cause a dermatological reaction for extremely sensitive people. And, you will want to take extreme care around indoor pets, who may be tempted to chew these plants, as the poinsettia is on lists of plants that can potentially harm small animals.

Old cyclamen flowers are best clipped off with a sharp pair of shears.

Florist’s Cyclamen

Another darling of the winter interior plantscape is the popular florist’s Cyclamen persicum. These cheerful, compact, low-growing plants have extremely decorative leaves and send up myriads of backswept flowers that hover just above the foliage. Their naturally rounded habit makes them perfect centerpieces for holiday tables.

Growing Florist’s Cyclamen

These winter-flowering plants do well arranged near large windows as cyclamen thrive in cool rooms that do not get above 68 degrees F during the day, yet can drop down into the 40s—50s at night.

Winter bulbs for forcing are the perfect gift for winter.

Do water them before they wilt, as soon as the potting soil surface feels dry. Since cyclamen are grown from a rooting base called a corm, it is essential to keep water out of the center to keep the corm from rotting. This can be done by sitting a potted cyclamen in a shallow bowl of water for 5-10 minutes, allowing the water to wick up into the potting medium, then removing the pot from the water bath to allow any residual water to drain off before finally returning the cyclamen to its place of honor.

A trick that I had to learn the hard way is that it is best to remove spent cyclamen flowers with scissors. If you pull the stem of a fallen flower or a spent leaf, you may tear the plant’s tuber. A quick clean up about once a week usually is all the time that it takes to keep these delightful plants looking their holiday best.


Finally, the grand queen of holiday plant gifts has to be the amaryllis (Hippeastrum hybrids). Tall, regal, and always a conversation piece, these amazing tropical-looking houseplants can be gifted already flowering or as large bulbs brimming with potential.

Amaryllis often come in holiday-perfect color combinations.

Growing Amaryllis

If you share an amaryllis bulb as a present, consider adding an appropriately-sized decorative pot along with some quick-draining potting medium, such as Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE®. Your container should be close to the size of the bulb, leaving only a ½-inch to an inch of space inside the container at the broadest point of the bulb. Add enough soil to cover and secure the bulb’s roots, then continue tucking soil up the side of the bulb stopping somewhere between the broadest diameter of the bulb to just below its neck.

A newly planted amaryllis bulb only needs bright light to begin sprouting, but it should be moved into full sunlight as it stretches in order to avoid becoming too leggy. And, water sparingly while the bulb is sprouting to prevent rotting the bulb.

If you choose an already budded amaryllis as a present, encourage its new owner to keep it out of direct sunlight in order to preserve the elegant bloom for a longer period of time. (Watch the video below to learn more about growing amaryllis.)

While you are picking up a choice holiday plant for family and friends, remember to be kind to yourself and be sure to take home one or two green presents for your own enjoyment.

Fun Fall Decorating with Pumpkins

This elaborate collection of pumpkins and gourds annually graces Lisa and Jeff Tice’s home in Greenville, SC. (Photo by Marian St Clair)

Once upon a time, pumpkins only appeared briefly as round, orange Jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween night, as the tasty main ingredient in a traditional pie at Thanksgiving, or were mentioned in passing as a potential means of transportation and affordable housing in children’s fairy tales. Today, however, pumpkins have quickly transformed into the hottest decorating item for fall.

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This colorful pumpkin planter is the creation of Marian St Clair of Greenville, SC. (Photo by Marian St Clair)

Not bad for a native New World fruit (no, a pumpkin isn’t a vegetable). Pumpkins, Cucurbita pepo, and C. maxima, are members of the squash family, which includes juicy cucumbers, loofah sponges, tough-skinned winter squash, and gourds.

Carved Pumpkins

The reason for the pumpkin’s surge in popularity is its good looks and long durability, potentially lasting weeks in outdoor arrangements thanks to its colorful hardened outer skin – if it has been cured correctly. This amazing resilience, plus the wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors now being grown for both crafters and foodies, provides homeowners and professional designers with quite a bit of inspiration.

For those who love the time-honored ritual of carving a pumpkin, there are carving kits complete with specific tools and traceable patterns, and many how-to videos will help you create something more dramatic than the simple triangular eyes and noses of the grinning jack-o’-lanterns of yesterday.

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Master pumpkin carvers display their amazing skills at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, NC each October.

Painted Pumpkins

If you have a really steady hand, a pale three-dimensional face can be artistically carved into a pumpkin. Though removing the outer skin may cause the pumpkin to deteriorate more quickly, the inner flesh is firm enough to hold up for several days to a week if outdoor temperatures are cool and you keep your work of art out of direct sunlight. Part of the fun, however, may be watching your sculpture transform into something really ghoulish as it disintegrates.

Painting pumpkins has become a recent popular trend. You can spray paint them solid black, white, or even gild them in gold, silver, and bronze to match your other porch embellishment. Stenciling designs, university logos, and your house numbers with acrylic paint onto a pumpkin should last awhile, as the pumpkin’s outer shell hasn’t been compromised. Having your children or grandchildren paint faces on several smaller pumpkins, rather than carve them, is another great way to enjoy their precious creations a little longer, too.

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Small painted pumpkin faces for sale at the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh, NC.

Small painted pumpkin faces for sale at the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh, NC. Pumpkins can also be utilized as containers. Cutting off the top, then scooping out the seeds and most of the inner flesh provides a temporary seasonal pot for mums and pansies. Remember that if you plant directly into the fruit, moisture in the potting medium could cause the pumpkin to rot quickly; but, if you simply set an already potted plant into the open shell, it may hold up better.

Choosing Varieties

Since there are so many varieties of pumpkins on the market, grouping them in natural arrangements is another way to showcase your front door for fall. Whether you simply line pumpkins up the stairs or assemble them around your threshold, their size, shape, and color will certainly make a spectacular statement.

The giant pumpkins at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, NC are worthy of becoming Cinderella’s coach. (Photo by Celeste Sagi)

For more inspiration, visit your local farmer’s markets, botanical gardens, and zoos where grand displays of pumpkins are popping up everywhere. If you want to try your hand at growing your own pumpkins for next fall, here are a few growing tips:

Growing Pumpkins

Pumpkins need a long growing season, often requiring over 100 growing days to transform from flattened seed to fully mature vines, producing thick-skinned fruits to cut for display.

They also require full, direct sun, and they need lots of room to sprawl, with vines easily covering an area 20-feet across. Pumpkins don’t like cold soil, so direct plant seed once the soil temps are closer to 70-75 degrees F.

Starting seed indoors can be tricky, as pumpkin seed germinates quickly and seedlings get leggy fast, so they are difficult to transplant with success.

The reasons pumpkins are traditionally planted on a hill is that mounded soil heats up quickly and drains well. Black Gold® Garden Soil would be a good choice for creating these raised planting areas in the home garden.

Pumpkins are greedy feeders, needing additional fertilizer and supplemental watering in droughty summers. Here is another reason why incorporating Black Gold® Garden Soil into the planting area would provide essential organic matter to hold moisture, while at the same time helping feed these hungry plants for up to six months.

When watering your pumpkin patch, try to keep water off of the foliage to help prevent foliar diseases, instead deliver it down to the roots where it is needed. Soaker hoses are perfect for this.

Harvesting Pumpkins

The deep color change is a pretty good indicator that your pumpkins are getting ready to harvest. Another indicator is that their supporting vines begin to turn brown, but the best test is when you can no longer easily puncture the outer skin of a pumpkin with your fingernail. (Some pumpkins are more soft-skinned, but overall this is a good test.)

You may find that you are developing impatience to pick and enjoy your pumpkin crop, feeling much like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin in the Peanuts comic strip, but resist the temptation to cut them too early. Pumpkins last much longer when harvested after they are fully mature. Then you will be able to enjoy them longer for all of your fall decorating needs.

Summer Annual Herbs for The South

Defining an herb can be so confusing. Botanists say if something is “herbaceous” it is a seed-bearing, non-woody stemmed plant, but this term refers to all non-woody flowering plants. Herbalists, consider plants to be herbs as long as their leaves or stems benefit mankind in some way as medicine, dye, pest deterrents, perfumes, or, for our most popular modern herbs, for flavoring food. (A spice, in contrast, is when a plant’s dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetable is used in comparable applications.)

A beautiful borage flower ready for picking.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to limit our list to a few annual culinary herbs that also happen to be herbaceous, and perform well in Southeastern gardens.

How to Grow Herbs

First, let’s discuss how to grow herbs. You could assume that most culinary herbs would grow well in the hottest states on the East Coast because so many of our favorite flavorings are from the balmy Mediterranean. The problem here isn’t the sun and heat, it is the high moisture and humidity, which turns silver-leaved plants to mush and breeds fungus.

To combat this problem, try to give herbs lots of breathing space between plants so that what little breeze may be blowing will help dry them out. A clever gardening practice I learned while volunteering in a historic public herb garden is to mulch closely-branching herbs, such as rosemary and lavender, with coarse gravel or bright white rock to reflect heat and light into the undersides and interiors of the plants. This is a perfect application for either decorative white rock (which is less than ½-inch in size) or washed pea gravel.

All herbs need excellent drainage. Though that isn’t usually an issue for gardeners with sandy soils, those of us with clay-based sites must raise and amend herb gardens with organic matter to encourage drainage and open up the porosity of the soil for good root development. Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend offers a mixture of peat moss and aged compost to improve soil moisture retention, aeration, and drainage. This top-quality garden amendment is OMRI Listed for organic gardening.

For sandier soils that dry out too quickly, try Black Gold Garden Soil, which enriches the soil with needed organic matter to increase moisture retention and promote aeration and drainage.

Growing Herbs in Containers

Growing herbs in containers may be the best choice for gardeners with limited space or sunlight. I have successfully used Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE® for my potted herbs and was pleased with the results. I credit the earthworm casting fertilizer for the lush growth, even in summer, when most plants slow down in the heat.


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The variegated basil ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ never bolts and produces tasty leaves all summer long. (Image by Jessie Keith)

The first annual summer herb that most gardeners can’t wait to get started is basil (Ocimum basilicum) in all of its many forms from various large-leaved sweet basils to the exotics like African blue, Thai, and Indian holy basil (O. sanctum). Varieties of our favorite herb for spaghetti sauce, pizza, and Caprese salad keep being introduced into the gardening trade, including teeny tiny-leafed globe basil, columnar basil, and this year, I have seen more white variegated ‘Perpetual Pesto’ basil offered at garden centers.

Basil loves it hot. It sprouts quickly from seed started directly in the soil, and is only 6-15 weeks to harvest. Keep picking your basil leaves throughout the summer for the bushiest plants, and be sure to keep the endless supply of basil flowers pinched for the best-tasting leaves.


Borage is another annual that can be started from seed, even when soil temperatures are up into the ’80s. The signature sky-blue, star-shaped flowers of borage (Borago officinalis) can be sugar-coated, dried, and eaten; but, the young leaves add a hint of cucumber taste to salads. Once the fuzzy leaves mature, they are best cooked. Keep planting them throughout the summer for continuous harvesting.


Eat the leaves and cilantro and the dried seeds as coriander.

Southerners may be more familiar with the fresh leaves of cilantro than we are with the nutty seeds of the same plant, which are called coriander (Coriandrum sativum). An ancient plant mentioned in the Bible, this herb has been relished throughout history in cultures across the world.

Though usually planted by seed in the early fall in the Southeast United States, coriander left too long in the garden will scatter seed that will pop up everywhere the next spring. Keep cutting and using this plant when it is fresh, as it bolts easily, then vanishes.


Nothing perfects a potato salad, deviled egg, or pickle like the addition of dill (Anethum graveolens). Dill’s ferny leaves are fragrant and astringent, so the perfect complement to heavy rich foods and anything made using vinegar. This is a plant to keep seeding into your garden every few weeks. Like cilantro, it bolts quickly in the heat, so be prompt to pick it and replace it.

Dill flowers are just as tasty and pungent as dill leaves. (Image by Jessie Keith)


Newer to the culinary scene is epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) a wild plant that is essential in Mexican bean dishes, soups, and mole sauce. Once treated as an aggressive weed, gourmet cooks are now searching for its fresh young leaves. Your local Latin market may have some viable seed available, otherwise, check organic seed catalogs.


We love the colorful flowers of nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), not forgetting that both the fresh blossoms and its rounded leaves can be peppery additions to salads, and that nasturtium flower buds can be pickled like capers. Plant nasturtium early in the summer in very well-drained, moderate to poor soil for the best flowering. Remember that unlike others in this list, these annual plants don’t thrive as well during our dog days of summer but perform better in fall.

Of course, there are cool-season annual herbs, biennial herbs, and plenty of perennial herbs to cultivate in the Southeast, but I hope that this sampling of summer annual culinary herbs will inspire you to keep planting something special through the hottest days ahead.

Tips for a Four-Season Garden

A dramatic yucca blends beautifully with this summer perennial garden and becomes a featured soloist in winter.

Every gardener wants a colorful garden that can be enjoyed throughout the entire year. Spring is easy as it emerges onto the scene with bright white and pastel flowers among newly budding leaves. Sunny annuals fill the color niche in summertime, as autumnal foliage does in the fall. But, winter’s landscape can be bleak, dull, almost a study in greys and browns.

Don’t give up on your dream. There are a few landscaping tricks of the trade that can help your property remain attractive throughout all four seasons.

‘Snowflake’ Oak leaf hydrangea offers bright green spring growth, beautiful summer blooms, deep red fall leaves, and lovely bark in winter.


First, design your garden from the ground up, paying special attention to your pathways. These critical hardscaping elements need to be both safe and appealing as this is how you and your visitors come and go. Secure paths with good footing will enable everyone to tour your landscape even in the worst weather.

Vertical Structures

Manmade structures, such as walls, fences, and arbors, naturally draw the eye when juxtaposed against nature. The same is true of other prominent decorative garden features like bird baths, sculpture, flags, and seating. Keep all of these ornamental touches well-placed and well-maintained as they will definitely stand out against your plantings.

Add Evergreens

Thoughtfully design your landscape so that evergreens compose at least a third of your plantings. You can do this by incorporating both broadleaf and coniferous evergreens into every gardening area.

Permanent green in your garden may also include your turf grass areas, which act as rugs and runners in a bare winter landscape. Round-shaped evergreen shrubs are attention grabbers, so these dramatic spheres are perfect for anchoring your garden during those quiet periods in the landscape between exuberant bloom times. This is when boxwood and small-leafed hollies are absolutely indispensable.

Consider incorporating more evergreen conifers into your design for their graceful structure and vibrant seasonal changes. When provided with enough sunlight, choice conifers may either intensify in color or alter their foliage color completely. For instance, the needles of a Pinus virginiana ‘Wate’s Golden’, which is normally a nice medium green in summertime, turns brilliantly brassy in winter.

Ornamental grasses shine on a winter’s day at Hoffman Nursery in Rougemont, NC.

Add Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses are an important element in an all-season garden as grass adds movement, color, and soft sound throughout the year. If left uncut in winter, most grasses turn tones of light blond to deep rust that can be spectacular, even in snow. There are also evergreen decorative grasses such as Acorus and Carex which persist in shades of deep greens, cheerful yellows, or white and green variegation.

If your site allows, try evergreen ferns for dry shade to moist shady spots. Garden favorites include Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), and Tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum), which is related to our North American native evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Amend fern beds with rich Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss for best performance.

If you are fortunate to live in areas where the woody lilies, such as Agave and Yucca survive, these upright architectural plants are always appreciated in a winterscape.

Keep Seedheads

Another way to extend the four-season beauty of your garden is to allow flower seed heads, pods, and the tassels of various perennials to remain in the garden throughout the winter, only cutting them back when new growth begins again in the spring.

Carefully choose specimen deciduous plants that provide four season interest. Japanese maples are a perfect example of a dramatically sculptural focal point in winter that can have as many as three different foliage color changes during the year.

A ‘Midwinter Fire’ dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) glows against pink Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in winter at Daniel Stowe Botanic Garden.

Beautiful Bark

Winter woody plant bark color should also be considered when choosing the best plants for your four-season plan. Red and yellow twig dogwoods; stunning yellow, red, and coral bark maples; the frog-green stems of Chinese parasol tree (Firmiana simplex); or, the young golden branches of Salix alba ‘Vitellina’ willows make quite a statement.

Deciduous trees and shrubs with striped, mottled, or exfoliating bark are also candidates for your four-season landscape. Many gardeners are familiar with the sensational bark of crepe myrtles, but miss enjoying the peeling bark of our native Oak leaf Hydrangeas.

Utilize small trees and shrubs with naturally contorted branches like ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’ (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), contorted Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Contorta’), and Trifoliate Orange ‘Flying Dragon’ (Poncirus trifoliata).

If you would rather grow edibles, blueberries offer charming white bell-shaped flowers in spring, their signature indigo fruit in summer, blazing orange-red fall foliage color, with very attractive bark and interesting branch structure in winter.

And, don’t forget the charming presence of evergreen herbs such as piney rosemary, silvery lavender, numerous kinds of thyme, and delicious cold-hardy curly parsley.

Designing Small Garden Spaces

Uniformly colored patio furniture that echos a garden’s color theme is perfect for a small garden.

The good news is that your landscape is small. Less outdoor area to maintain means more free time for you and your family. You will save a lot of money on water and the cost of hardscaping. Your choice specimen plants will be noticed since they aren’t competing with swaths of other plants, and any decorative items you place in the garden will take center stage.

But, there are still two major issues facing your landscaping plans. The first is creating privacy and the second is effectively designing your small garden to make it feel more spacious.

Designing for Privacy

If designing for privacy, choose well when selected screening plantings for small garden spaces. Some trees grow quickly and seem ideal for hiding the neighbor’s neon swing set, but if the screening plants grow wide, then you’ve lost a large chunk of your own backyard. Look for evergreens that are narrow and tolerate shearing.

Large-leaved plants are placed in the foreground and fine-textured plants in back, making this small garden space appear deeper.

When a space is too small for large trees, vertical lines can be accomplished by erecting arbors, obelisks, pergolas, or other supports, for evergreen vines. Drawing the eye upward in the landscape takes away from the confines of modest space. Another advantage of placing an arbor covered with a vine along or over a deck is blocking the neighbor’s view when you want to sit outside. Privacy goes both ways.

Add Walls and Walkways

Try to tie all of the elements of the garden together to extend the space. If you have brick walls, use brick walkways. When grouping containerized plants by using one type of material (such as terracotta), the uniformity will create harmony. Continuity is soothing in a small space.

Plant Accordingly

Many good landscapes lose their sense of balance because of the size of the plants, accents, or furniture placed within them. Large trees or oversized pots will dominate a diminutive garden. One dramatic statue becomes a focal point, but many become a crowd. Less can be more.

Search for scaled-down cultivars of the plants you love. Dwarf trees, miniature conifers, petite bulbs, and Lilliputian groundcovers can fill a limited space with delightfully contrasting texture and color. The only thing to remember when admiring an undersized plant with an innocent-sounding scientific name ending in ‘Nana’, is that depending on the plant, the smallest selection could still be pretty big.

Use plants that do double duty. A single daphne can perfume an entire landscape in late winter and is an attractive evergreen shrub fulfilling two jobs. Woody herbs make aromatic small shrubs and groundcovers. A hedge of blueberries gives seasonal interest with late-winter flowers, delicious summertime fruits, and add brilliant fall color. Small fruiting trees, strawberry groundcovers, and a trellis draped with raspberries or grapes will enable you to have your landscape and eat it, too.

Hiding parts of the garden with plantings and structures creates mystery in this section of the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, North Carolina.

Consider a Water Feature

If you want a water feature, a simple recycling fountain can add the white noise of splashing you need to drown out the drone of street sounds. A bowl of goldfish in a shady nook, a tub filled with hardy water lilies, or a narrow stream bubbling along a garden path are miniature projects that embellish your small landscape.

Maximize Space

Utilize every square inch. Garden all the way to the front curb. If the only sunny spot for your bush tomatoes is at the mailbox, plant them there surrounded by purple basil, and then run a cucumber up the post for salads. Train decorative vines up the house or espalier small trees against the foundation. Fill your patio with containers. Hang baskets from the eaves. Window boxes and deck-railing planters give you even more room to grow. Ensure container and small-space gardening success with a mix that will save you watering time and worry, such as Black Gold® Waterhold Potting Soil (with Resilience™).

When your lot is long and narrow, try staggering your vertical lines from trees, structures, and statuary to create mystery. Your goal should be to screen parts of the landscape so that a visitor cannot see the entire garden upon first arrival. Curved walkways, prominent screens of evergreens, and sections of fencing increase the adventure of discovery of what awaits.

Depending on your neighborhood covenants, you may or may not be able to fence off your property. If you can fence, choose a style that will complement the house and still do what you need. As the old adage goes, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The visitor's eye is directed upward by narrow conifers and the peaked roof line of the arbor in this intimate area at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina.
The visitor’s eye is directed upward by narrow conifers and the peaked roof line of the arbor in this intimate area at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina.

Consider the View

Do your neighbors have a spectacular specimen tree, water feature, or garden view that you would enjoy seeing every day? This principle of “borrowed view” will create the illusion of enlarging your property by extending the line of sight into the landscape beyond. In this situation, you would not want to totally screen your property. A break in the hedge or a window in the fence may be what you need.

A few tricks of perspective will allow the garden to appear larger than it really is. Make your walkways wider as you enter the garden, then narrow the path toward the end to create the illusion of depth. Use broad-leaved plants close to the entrance, then scale down foliage size through the landscape until your tiniest leaves are at the back of the property.

Ensure small-space gardening success with a mix that saves watering time and worry, such as Black Gold® Waterhold Potting Soil.

Placing a landscape on a diagonal line adds interest. Varied levels with a series of stairs in the landscape can create the feeling of greater distance traveled. Try a folly at the end of a path that looks like a doorway into another garden when it is really a mirror reflecting your own garden.

For depth, use colors that recede, like blues and purples, not only in your flowers, but also in your painted hardscaping and seating. To make an unsightly item disappear, paint it flat black or dark brown, if in a mulched bed, or deep forest green, if around evergreen plantings. On the other hand, if you want to brighten a dark corner of the garden, a wash of warm bright color or white paint will definitely draw attention to that area.

The advantage of gardening in a small space is that you will probably spend less money than landscaping a large property, but every decision will have a big impact. Each corner of the property will be closely examined. Your plants must be carefully chosen. Attention to detail is critical. Keep it simple.

Repotting Houseplants

Before repotting, bathe smooth-leaved house plants in tepid water to help remove dirt or dust.

It is midwinter. You are occasionally stuck indoors, but your fingers are itching to play in the dirt. Why not channel that frustrated gardening energy into repotting some of your indoor house plants? As most houseplants appreciate being bumped up into a larger pot every couple of years, this activity could be beneficial for both you and your green cohabitants.

Notice the circling roots and air pockets in the old potting soil or this pot-bound house plant.

Check the Roots

First, check if the houseplant you have in mind for an overhaul is actually pot bound. The most obvious warning sign that it is time to repot is that your plant dries out quickly between watering, even in wintertime when house plants are generally resting. Then, ask yourself if water runs straight through the pot and out the bottom when you water it. Or, is there a noticeable gap between the inside rim of the pot and the soil?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, take your potted plant where you can work on it, and gently remove it from the container to examine its roots. Are the roots matted? Do roots circle around the outside edge of the potting medium? Are there visible air pockets in the potting medium? Are any roots growing through the drainage hole of your container? Again, if you found some of these markers, you know for certain that you need to repot this plant.

Water your plant in its original container, then allow it to rest for about an hour to reduce stress during transplanting. This waiting period is perfect for hunting for a larger container, thoroughly washing the container you are going to use, and cleaning up the plant.

Measure pots to make sure that you bump up only 1-2" larger when you repot.
Measure pots to make sure that you bump up only 1-2″ larger when you repot.

Cleaning New Transplants

When tidying a house plant, please don’t pull off old leaves and spent flowers as this may damage the plant. Instead, take a pair of scissors or sharp pruners to trim off any dead material. You can also trim off the dried brown tips of leaves if you think that this makes the plant look better.

Next, wash dust off smooth-leaved foliage houseplants. These plants can be taken into a sink or shower and rinsed directly with tepid water. Make sure that you also get the undersides of the leaves. If you need to clean your plant in place, just gently wipe each leaf from the trunk or leaf base toward the tip with a damp cloth. I still like to use the old-fashioned recipe of 1 part milk to 2 parts warm water to wash smooth foliage, and this treatment will leave a slight shine behind.

For fuzzy-leaved plants, like African Violets, clean them by misting their leaves with tepid water, then keep them out of any direct sunlight until after they are completely dry.

Friable, organic, soilless potting medium is perfect for house plants.
Friable, organic, soilless potting medium is perfect for house plants.

Check for Insects

Don’t forget to check your plant closely for overwintering insects. Spider mites are notorious for hiding on their almost transparent webs in the foliage of houseplants as these minuscule mites thrive in the low humidity of our nicely heated homes. If you spot an insect problem, treat it before you return the plant to its place.

Soil Selection

Now, it is time to repot. I prefer to use Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Soil Plus Fertilizer for both indoor pots and outside containers. For my specialty plants, I switch to Black Gold® Cactus Mix, Black Gold® Orchid Mix, Black Gold® African Violet Potting Soil, or Black Gold® Moisture Supreme Container Mix for those plantings that need extra moisture all of the time.

Open any bag of Black Gold potting medium. You will immediately notice that the soilless potting medium is light and friable, and combines several key ingredients. The primary ingredient is Black Gold® Peat Moss, which is comprised of 100% Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss. It is both sustainably harvested and OMRI Listed for organic gardening.

Perlite, which is a lightweight, expanded volcanic rock, is used to improve both drainage and aeration. The specialty mixes often contain vermiculite, a naturally occurring mineral that is highly absorbent, lightweight, and a common addition to soilless growing mixes as it has a high water-holding capacity and neutral pH to promote faster, healthier root growth.

The label lets you know the ingredients are good.
The label lets you know the ingredients are good.

Black Gold also utilizes organic material close to the source, so you will note that its compost components change depending on what part of the country the product was manufactured. Can’t get more local than that!


Tip your houseplant out of its original container, then using your fingers, tenderly tease circling roots loose and remove most of the old potting medium from the exposed root ball.

Place a small amount of your new potting medium in the bottom of the new, clean container. Do not place rocks, broken pieces of older pots, or Styrofoam pellets in the bottom of a pot, as this only reduces the amount of potting soil that your plant needs to remain healthy.

A very happily repotted rubber tree sitting next to my desk, again.
A very happily repotted rubber tree sitting next to my desk, again.

Place your plant into its new pot, and begin filling in around the sides with potting medium, making sure that you work the soil into all of the empty spaces and firm it around the edges. It may be tempting to top dress your container, but it is better to leave the original soil line of the plant exposed.

Water the newly transplanted houseplant, again, and fill in any depressions you may see with more potting medium. Allow the plant to rest and drain before placing it back where it is usually situated.

There. You just spent some quality gardening time nurturing your indoor plants. This may help tide you over until you can go back outside.


Traditional Fall Harvest Pies with a Twist

Savory tomato pie is a perfect side for dinner or addition to breakfast.
Savory tomato pie is a perfect side for dinner or addition to a holiday breakfast.

Unlike the cool berry and citrus pies of summertime, pies made with fall fruits and veggies are warmer, spicier, and richer in flavor. Choosing a dessert to make for holiday gatherings can be a struggle when one family member craves a deep dish apple pie with a flaky crust and gooey interior, perfectly complimented with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, but another guest insists on an old-fashioned pumpkin pie, aromatic with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Continue reading “Traditional Fall Harvest Pies with a Twist”