While we all love the blooms of camellias that brighten our winter landscape, there are a number of other plants that can also add color, texture, and variety to your winter garden. In eastern North Carolina, this is the perfect time to install these plants as they are dormant, and they will have plenty of time to put down strong roots before new growth begins and the heat and humidity of summer returns. The following plants can be seen at the Pitt County Arboretum and found at local nurseries.
Winterberry Holly, Ilex verticillata, is a knockout this time of year. A deciduous holly, the bare branches showcase its gorgeous red berries that start appearing in fall. If not eaten by the birds, berries can last into early spring. To produce berries, the female plant must be cross-pollinated with a male holly flowering at the same time. It grows in full sun or partial shade. Pictured in the Butterfly Garden at the Arboretum is the cultivar Ilex serrata x verticillata 'Sparkleberry'.
Leatherleaf Mahonia, Berberis bealei, lights up any winter garden with its bright yellow flower spikes atop coarse-textured, holly-like foliage. Later, bluish-purple grape-like fruits appear. An evergreen shrub preferring partial shade, it's slow growing to 10 feet high. It's in the Arboretum's walking garden in front of the Extension Office.
Fragrant Tea Olive, Osmanthus fragans, is another winter-flowering evergreen shrub with tiny fragrant white flowers that start blooming in early January. Deer resistant and drought tolerant, it prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. Its dense, rounded growth form makes it an ideal specimen plant for open areas. Tea Olives are in the Arboretum's perennial border by the side parking lot entrance to the Extension Office.
Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, a lovely scented native vine with trumpet-shaped yellow flowers, starts blooming in early winter continuing until April depending on weather. It can be trained on arbors, trellises, or trees where it can grow to 20 feet high if not pruned. Growing in sun or shade, it prefers a moist, well-drained organically rich soil. It can be seen on the trellis in the Arboretum's Children's Garden and along the Tar River section of Greenville's greenway.
So what are you waiting for? Add more winter color to your landscape!
Written by: Joanne Kollar, Extension Master Gardener volunteer