Reblogging a great article on planting for harvesting winter greens:

 A Winter Harvest Garden

12/03/12 at 9:36am by Bennett Dowling
 
 
 
 

      If you are like me, now is the time of year you begin coveting all the beautiful cut greens and berry branches in markets, and perhaps in your neighbors’ yards.  However, many of these winter accents are costly, and the spirit of the season does not include poaching materials from others’ gardens.  So what’s a frugal decorator to do?  Perhaps the answer lies in planting your own harvesting garden.
     There are a number of different dogwood shrubs that sport vibrantly colored branches in winter.  On the grounds, we have Cornus stolonifera, with intense crimson stems and a cultivar with electric yellow stems near the Serenity Garden. Others, such as C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ have gold and coral branching.  These shrubs prefer full sun to light shade and light to heavy soils, provided they are consistently moist, even wet.  To ensure vibrant stems for viewing and harvesting, it is important to thin older branches down to the ground on a regular basis; these stems will generally have lost the intense color found on younger stems or they may be thick and heavily branching.  Also, dogwood shrubs are prone to cankers that kill branches and as such it is important to remove these stems annually, sterilizing your pruners between cuts.
     Also popular in winter decorations are the native winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata).  These large shrubs are deciduous and display a profusion of intense red berries on delicate silver branches.  They are tolerant of light to heavy soils, and like the dogwoods, prefer consistently moist or wet areas. Incorporating compost at planting and then top-dressing every few years ensures greater moisture retention and nutrients for fruiting.  I. verticillata ‘Winter Red’, at 6-10’ tall and wide, is ideal for larger spaces, while ‘Red Sprite’, at 3-6’ tall and wide, is more compact, but with larger red berries.  Unlike other hollies, these ladies are choosy about their males, and as such ‘Southern Gentleman’ is a commonly available suitor for ‘Winter Red’, while ‘Jim Dandy’ is appropriate for ‘Red Sprite’.  Look for orange berried varieties such as ‘Afterglow’.  In placing the males and females, greater proximity will give greater yields, and I would recommend at least one male for every three females for heavy production.
     Lastly, my winter decorations are incomplete without Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica).  This large, semi-evergreen shrub prefers well drained soils but tolerates heavy clay and likes average to dry moisture levels.  Like the hollies, female bayberries produce all the icy-pale blue fruits in clusters along the stems.  The berries, leaves, and twigs are intensely fragrant on this shrub that suckers to form a colony 6-8’ tall and wide.  There are no common cultivars named by gender, so I always look for fruiting and non-fruiting (female and male respectively) specimens at the nursery.  Also the males retain their foliage more consistently through the winter.
     There are many plants that can liven up your winter garden and your home decorations.  Stop by the grounds of the Civic Garden Center this winter to see these and many other options in their winter glory.

—Bennett O. Dowling, Civic Garden Center Horticulturist

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About christinedarnelldesignstudio

Christine Darnell Design Studio is a landscape and garden design studio in Chester, CT. Imaginative plant combinations characterize the work with an artist’s eye towards texture and color. A strong commitment to environmentally considerate design runs through the practice, the support of local nurseries, and guidance towards the most environmentally sustainable materials and products. Adjunct Professor, Horticulture Dept. of Naugatuck Valley Community College, Waterbury, CT , Wetlands Commissioner for the Town of Chester, Vice President, APLD, Connecticut Chapter.
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