Blackwelder column: Try hollies, hellebores

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2012

SALISBURY — In the dead of winter, many residential landscapes often lack color, with plantings supplying little or no interest. Homeowners who want color need to make an effort to install winter plants, which have flowers, colorful berries and even unusual tree bark textures. These attributes lift drab landscapes with a hint of winter interest.
Even though daffodils are blooming much earlier this year because of the warmer weather, there are other landscape materials providing non-traditional winter interest.
Lenten rose (H. orientalis) which usually blooms in early spring, is now in bloom. Many hybrids are available with a large variety of colors and bloom size. They can be divided in late spring or early fall. Hellebores are recommended as shade plants, but a little sunlight is beneficial to the plants’ health.
Witch hazel is an under-used deciduous shrub now in bloom, dotting landscapes throughout the county. The colorful flowers are formed by multiple 1-inch long “threads” of color. They resemble little ribbons dangling from a central nodule. The branches flower before the leaves appear, making the blooms all the more vivid in a sleepy winter garden. A deciduous shrub, witch hazel likes moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic.
There are many deciduous holly cultivars providing bursts of color landscape. In the spring and summer, the plant is rather non-descript, but deciduous cultivars such as Sparkleberry or Winterberry are excellent choices for winter color accents for the home landscape, especially with contrast against an evergreen backdrop. Salisbury’s Hurley Park has a splendid collection of deciduous and evergreen hollies well worth the visit.
Bark texture is a design element commonly overlooked in landscapes. The papery bark of a river birch or the corky, alligator-like texture of a mature sourwood beckons one to look closer to feel the bark.
Deciduous and evergreen vines soften corners and hold down vertical lines of buildings, fences and arbors. The twinning effect, with an occasional bloom or berry, creates added winter interest. Winter berry (Celastris scandens) produces a yellow-orange berry often used in holiday decorations. Yellow jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens Rankii) blooms in late fall and early spring. These are excellent vines for fences or arbors.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at