A week of overnight temperatures below thirty degrees has ended flowering of toad lilies (Tricyrtis) and most of the reblooming Encore azaleas. The lone azalea holdout, ‘Autumn Amethyst’ (below), will often flower into December, and of course I have no idea why this flower tolerates the cold while others fade overnight.
Outdoor thermometers stuck to the side of the house are not dependable for accurate readings of nighttime lows, but slight damage to flowers of several of the late autumn blooming camellias indicates that temperatures dropped near the mid-twenties (Fahrenheit), at least for a single night. Camellia flowers turn brown with low twenty temperatures, but when that time comes new buds often open for a new set of blooms. In December the next twenty degree night is typically no more than a night or two away, so flowers don’t last long and often are brown along the edges when they open.
Two heavily shaded camellias have plenty of buds, but the two often do not open a single flower until the middle of December. In our recent, mild winters there have been scattered flowers through January and February, and with a warm late winter several spring bloomers flowered with the last of the autumn blooms.
With a handful of common witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana, below) in the garden in varying degrees of sun and shade, their flowering cycle is extended from early October (sometimes late September) into mid-December. With consistently cool temperatures (my wife calls this frigid), the flowering cycle is extended, and occasionally there will be a few blooms remaining when Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) begin flowering in early January. Flowers of vernal witch hazels usually overlap with the earliest of the hybrid witch hazels so that one witch hazel or another is flowering from October until early March.
Acquaintances report November flowering on several hellebores, but the first week of December is the earliest in this garden, and often the first blooms are not seen until January. I’ll soon be on the lookout in local grocery stores for early flowering hellebores (with Helleborus niger gentics) that are stocked as Christmas promotions. These are not best suited for more than a few days indoors, but if the weather is mild enough the greenhouse grown hellebores can be planted outdoors immediately. If temperatures are dropping below freezing it’s best to keep them in the garage until milder temperatures return. This year they’ll be planted in half sun, if I can find the right spot with good drainage, to encourage early flowering in years to come.
Hybrid mahonias (Mahonia x media, below) are very dependable bloomers, beginning their cycle in early November with flowers often lasting into the new year. In the recent mild winters, the first of the late winter, early spring flowering leatherleaf mahonias (Mahonia bealei) have shown color as the hybrids are fading, though the flowers of the two are often separated by a month or longer in more typical winters.
In two years I have been unable to coax a bloom from ‘Marvel’ (Mahonia x media ‘Marvel’, below), but this mahonia with only a single spine at leaf tips now shows signs that it is budded, and flowers might only be late arriving this year. I know that ‘Marvel’ was moved earlier this year to a spot with more sun to encourage flowering, though I don’t recall where it was moved from. To excuse my faulty memory, a lot goes on here, and my memory is probably only slightly worse than thirty or forty years ago. Ask my wife.
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Where do you have your azalea ‘Autumn Amethyst’ sited? How much sun does it get? Do you think it’s in a warmer microclimate?
This azalea is planted beneath a shallow rooted, wide spreading beech. There are other azaleas nearby that melted in the freeze, so there is something about the flowers of Amethyst. Otherwise, it’s not a great azalea, but it flowers late and sometimes very early in spring.
Thank you for your blog.. I have been enjoying it for years. I’m an avid gardener for 40 years, but always pick up something from you. Do you mulch or rely on leaf drop? I love my gardens, but they require spreading 50 yards of mulch in the spring or the weeds take over. Any suggestions?
I decided long ago that I would only mulch a few prominent areas, and then only once when it was first planted. In an acre and a quarter there are three small areas of lawn, so that’s a lot of mulch and money I can spend on plants instead.
In shaded areas there are thick piles of leaves that are left in place and occasionally shredded, and in sunny areas I plant densely enough and with a ground cover layer beneath shrubs and trees that there is not much room for weeds. One sunny area has been replanted in recent years so it’s been a bit of a weedy mess, but I think next year the new plantings will fill in to make this more manageable.