LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
(01/03/20) There was a time in my life when I thought a colorful winter garden did not exist. I was so wrong. It took me years to figure this out. I only had to look around me. There’s still color out there.
It doesn’t take a person with a “green thumb.” Those people don’t exist. Every great gardener has killed countless plants. That’s how they cultivated the art of gardening. It can be a costly hobby, but the return is priceless. And those who do it best do it with love and little effort.
Are you looking for a winter plant list or a helpful source of inspiration? The first place to learn which plants are best to use in any time of year is local retail nurseries. They’re going to be stocking what is in season. They are growing, buying and selling the plant materials that work best for every season, year-round.
Next, visit public gardens. They will often feature seasonal interest throughout the year. Better yet, visit your local horticulture research stations. That’s what they do best, particularly the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden in Baton Rouge and the Hammond Research Station in Hammond. They’re doing all the work for us. That is, they are conducting the research and trialing plants, then reporting which do best. That’s where Louisiana Super Plant selections are made. All of the stations across the state are in on the research, too.
Great landscaping companies and architects also use the best, newest plant varieties. And they are on top of which plants perform best for each season. I get a great deal of inspiration just waiting in line at a drive-thru restaurant. Some of the best landscape architects and firms create and maintain those beds. At the end of the day, pay attention to what you see around you, and you will learn so much. Take a picture and go to the nursery. Someone there can identify the plant that caught your eye and help you locate one.
The most functional and attractive landscapes have a place for every type of plant. These include permanent fixtures such as trees, shrubs and turfgrass as well as the not-so-permanent annuals and perennials.
Camellias are in their prime in winter. With thousands of cultivars to pick from, you can find colors and forms that add a charming look to any garden. The evergreen hollies are showing off their gorgeous red berries now. And some roses and azaleas even continue to bloom.
When the turf has gone brown, the annuals and perennials are typically selected to change things up in the landscape and provide color and visual interest.
We use annuals for seasonal color. Why? Because annuals complete their life cycle in one year, which makes them the plants we want to change out. And thank goodness we can.
Some things are timeless and other things just get boring. We change our fashion seasonally. Trends come and go. So it is with plants. Our landscape is an expression of ourselves.
So what’s the trend this winter? What is fashionable, functional and reasonable? Here is a list of great performers for winter. The varieties in parentheses are Louisiana Super plants.
Alyssum, baby’s breath, dianthus (Amazon and Jolt series), ornamental kale (Redbor), pansies, petunias (Supertunia Vista Bubblegum), poppies, snapdragons, stock and violas (Sorbet series) are just a few cool-season annuals to add to your landscape beds.
Some perennials will come back year after year from their roots but typically die back in the winter. Others, however, dazzle in winter. Armeria or thrift plant, columbine (Swan series), crocus, cyclamen, daffodils, delphinium (Diamonds Blue), foxglove (Camelot series), heliotrope, hellebore, leucojum or spring snowflake, Lenten rose, paperwhites, primroses and reticulated iris are some traditional plants that do well in the South. With a mild winter, some plants such as ligularia, sedums (Lemon sedum) and salvias will continue to perform where protected.
Some evergreen perennials for Louisiana are ajuga, bergenia, blue fescue, creeping raspberry or creeping jenny, evergreen miscanthus, foam flower, hardy ice plant, sedges and many ornamental grasses.
A great garden has a focal appeal year round. Planning your landscape to have color in every season can be easy when you know which plants to use. It will keep your landscape exciting and new.
There is no green thumb. Just make sure plants get minimal, but regular, TLC, and they will continue to perform for you. The best gardens thrive because we get out and enjoy their beauty often. Winter does not have to be drab. It can be a slate of beautiful colors. Just go for it.
Swan series columbine blooms in winter, offering gorgeous color. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Lemon sedum continues to thrive in winter, adding gorgeous chartreuse color to the landscape. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Jolt dianthus, named a Louisiana Super Plant in 2019, out-blooms the rest in wintertime. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter