- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Few things bloom in the winter, but that doesn't mean gardeners need to hang up their shovels, pruning shears and rakes and wait through long, dark months for spring to arrive."In fact, this is the favorite time for some people to garden, especially those who don't like the summer heat," says Scott Aker, horticulturist at the U.S. National Arboretum.
There is plenty to do in the fall and winter garden, whether it's an acre in size or a couple of hundred square feet.
This is a good time to plan landscaping changes, make sure shrubs are adequately watered and do some cleaning, pruning, planting and mulching.
"Winter is a great time to analyze your garden," says Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. You can really see what's "missing" in the garden because when things die down in the winter, they leave empty or negative spaces, Mrs. Shimizu says.
In the winter, a garden will never have the bright colors and potent fragrance of a spring or summer garden, but there are many plants that are appealing to the eye, perhaps in a different way.
"The key word for winter is form, form, form," Mrs. Shimizu says.
You can do a lot with pruning. Instead of just cutting branches back until they become unattractive stumps, however, Mrs. Shimizu recommends pruning with flowing shapes in mind. She trims from the center of the tree or shrub out to the tips, allowing the knotted, crooked branches to remain long and sometimes dramatic.
It isn't advisable to remove more than 10 percent of a healthy plant through pruning, Mr. Aker says, so Mrs. Shimizu's method is not only more attractive, but better for the plant than the "stumping" approach.
You also can work with colors, even if the colors are not always in the blooms, as in summer flowers.
"You want to get trees with beautiful trunks, like the crape myrtle, which has bark that looks kind of like snakeskin," Mrs. Shimizu says. When the gray "snakeskin" peels back during the winter, it reveals a cinnamon-colored bark.
"It's just beautiful. You want to place a tree like that in such a way that you can enjoy it from your window," she says.
Among plants that bloom in winter are witch hazel, which has yellow or red flowers, and Japanese apricot, whose flowers look like cherry blossoms.
Another key word is evergreens, Mrs. Shimizu says. "They really enhance the garden" because they well stay green, she says. Some of her favorites are weeping junipers and weeping cypresses.
"I prefer the weeping forms of these plants because they have movement. You want to create contrast in your garden, some pyramidal forms, some rounded forms and some flowing forms," she says.
The red berries on juniper bushes and holly also are a source of color in the winter garden.
Sherry Mitchell, a sometime gardening instructor and author of "The Townhouse Gardener" and "Creating Sanctuary," says about 40 percent of the plants at her Centreville home are evergreens.
"The backbone of my garden are the evergreen shrubs. They create a screen between properties, and they're a wonderful winter interest," she says.
The evergreens serve a purpose in summer, too: They provide nice, deep-green backdrops to colorful flowers, she says.

Though people and certainly some animals want to hibernate during the winter and wait for brighter, warmer days, the garden needs more attention and maintenance than some people may think, Mr. Aker says.
November does not mark the end of grass trimming, for example. As long as the grass grows and the ground isn't frozen, the lawn needs to be mowed.
"It's a common mistake that people put the mower away too early," Mr. Aker says. If you don't mow the lawn, it will start looking shaggy, he says.
Winter also is a good time to use a fertilizer on the lawn, says Gordon Sheridan, general manager at Johnson's Flower and Garden Centers in Northwest.
"Grass builds up strength during the winter months, so keep up with the watering and fertilizing even if you just have a small patch of grass," Mr. Sheridan says.
A basic rule about watering, Mr. Aker says, is "keep it up unless the ground freezes."
Another aspect of lawn care is making sure leaves don't cover the grass. Accumulating leaves block sunlight from the covered areas, and grass and other ground covers can suffer, even die, and you can end up with bare patches, Mr. Aker says.
Other plants, such as rose bushes, which are especially susceptible to diseases, also need to have leaves cleared from them; the leaves may contain damaging fungus.
Fall is a prime time for mulching. Mrs. Shimizu recommends a fine pine-chip mulch, which consists of small dark-brown chips that help moderate the temperature in the ground and create a neat and tidy look.
It's also not too late to plant flowers, such as tulips or pansies.
"Pansies are my favorites," Mrs. Mitchell says. "If you're feeling bad, just buy a couple of pots of pansies, and you can't help but cheer up."
The small flower, which comes in bright colors such as yellow and purple, is so durable that it often blooms through Christmas and even survives snow cover and blooms again in March.
"The snow melts, and there they are, alive and well. They're so nice and so easy to take care of," Mrs. Mitchell says.

Being a successful winter gardener may require a bit of rethinking for some people, several professional gardeners agree.
"Winter gardens are very often overlooked," says Judy Tiger, executive director of Garden Resources of Washington. "We associate the garden with flowers," Ms. Tiger says, but it is possible to have something aesthetically appealing 365 days of the year, if you plant it right.
For those who are new to the idea of a winter garden, Ms. Tiger suggests going to public gardens such as the National Arboretum in Northeast, Green Spring Gardens Park just west of Alexandria or Brookside Gardens in Wheaton to get ideas.
She says that although most people go to gardens and nurseries during spring and summer to get ideas, "it's interesting to see how the same gardens look in the winter."
Also, as with any new planting, ask a nursery for help, read books or hire a landscape designer before planting winter interests in your garden, the professional gardeners agree.
"We tell everyone to plan before they plant," Mr. Sheridan says. "You're going to waste a lot of time and money because if you don't plan, you end up with stuff you don't need."
He says his staff is happy to look at customers' hand-drawn plans and say whether a given plan is a good idea.
Mrs. Shimizu says one may need a different interpretation of beauty altogether. The shapes of plants may become more important than the colors, and you may have to condition yourself to see shades of brown, normally associated with wilting leaves, as beautiful on a tree trunk or in branches.
"It's such a fun challenge to figure out how you can get year-round interest and beauty in the garden," Mrs. Shimizu says.
"Make every plant earn its place in the garden, especially if you don't have a lot of space. You want something that offers four seasons of beauty, not something that looks good three weeks out of the year. That way of thinking makes a big difference."


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