This post is part of a series on winter flowers that we grow on the farm and enjoy.
Shrubs, you may ask? Is there such a thing as a shrub that flowers in winter? Yes! I love our winter-flowering shrubs and cannot wait to share them with you.
One of my favorite shrubs that I have posted about before is pieris. I cannot get enough of pieris once it starts flowering in late February. I like to add it to any arrangements that I am making.
When we moved into our home, one of the features I loved about it was the mature landscape surrounding it. I knew about the azaleas and guessed at the rhododendrons, but many of the other shrubs around the house were a mystery to me. A good friend who was (and is) a landscape architect came by and walked around the house with me, pointing out each bush and tree. Thanks, Sarah! I quickly came to appreciate pieris as it flowered just when I was ready for spring.
Care and maintenance
Plant pieris in acidic soil where it is protected and partially shaded. Ours grows in landscaping close to the house. Make sure to prune pieris after it flowers in the spring in order to have blooms the following year. It does not need to be pruned back heavily but can be pruned to keep it tidy. Mulch well and enjoy this low maintenance and hardy perennial shrub.
Make sure to harvest pieris in the morning or evening. Cut the branch right at a junction with another branch or bud. Place in fresh water.
You can take cuttings from pieris in midsummer after the flowers have faded. Cut a 5" section, removing all but the top leaves. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone, and place it in growing medium, making sure to maintain moisture, and check on it in about 8 weeks.
The other shrub that bears mentioning because of its winter blooms is camellia. The beautiful blooms outside my kitchen window remind me that I can make it through the long winter and that spring is just around the corner. (The beautiful camellia pictured here is from a nearby friend's yard).
This is another plant that I did not know about until moving to North Carolina. Even though it does grow in Houston where I grew up, I had not encountered it before. When we moved into our home in North Carolina, it was fall. That winter, our camellia bush burst into color and was a welcome surprise. We soon found a baby camellia growing nearby and transplanted it to an area where it would receive more dappled sun. It is thriving and putting out even more blooms than its parent plant. (Note that seedlings are not true to the parent plant).
Care and maintenance
Camellias come in a range of colors and sizes with over 3,000 varieties. They do best in partial shade, need rich soil and consistent moisture, and do well with mulch. Like pieris, they should be pruned after flowering and can tolerate pruning. Make sure to cut above last year's growth in order to force multiple branches from that location.
Monitor plants for pests, diseases, and other issues. Camellias can get diseases such as camellia petal blight and camellia leaf gall. In general, it is good practice to dispose of any fallen camellia blooms. If you notice blooms turning brown and falling off the plant, pick up any diseased blooms and throw them out. Likewise, if leaves turn white, then brown, and fall off, discard leaves. Keep an eye out for tea scale by checking the backs of leaves for the residue left by tea scale, a mold-like substance. Leaves will turn yellow and fall off. If you notice scale, you want to remove it as soon as possible. You can use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to wipe down the underside of the leaves, use your finger, or use a damp washcloth to remove scale. If that does not work, investigate horticultural oils and organic products that can help.
Make sure to harvest camellia blossoms in the morning or evening, cutting the stem at the junction with another branch or blossom. Place the branch in water immediately after harvest.
Camellias can be cultivated with cuttings. In late spring to midsummer, after the plant has finished flowering, cut a 4-5" section of new wood, removing all but the top 2-3 leaves. Dip the branch in rooting hormone and place it in potting soil. Make sure to maintain an even moisture.