Favorite plants in March

Lady Banks in bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

March is a fabulous month in the South whereas it’s cold, gray, and dreary in northern climes. Appreciate this month as soon you’ll look back on it with longing when the July temperature is perking along with its high humidity.

My favorite plants this month tend to be plants that I never pay much heed to for eleven months of the year, shrubs that I forget even exist in my yard. One such plant is Loropetalum, of a nameless heritage—in fact I didn’t even know I had one, much less two specimens until they burst forth into fabulous redness.

Now I have long had a contentious relationship with this species, simply because, regardless of the described dimensions, my individual loropetalums always have insisted on dramatically outgrowing their assigned spaces. Inadvertently, I planted one behind the back fence and another along a wall of shrubs, giving the horses their reins, so to speak. For my forgotten efforts, I have two patches of a loving blazing red that dazzles me on our clear, blue-skied March days.

This Chinese native has much to recommend it if you quietly allow it to do its own thing. Plant it in a sunny area to provide for abundant blooms, give it some well-draining soil, and only prune it (if it needs it) after it’s finished blooming.

Winter Hazel. Photo by Kit Flynn.

Winter Hazel is an interesting addition to the garden. Corylopsis pauciflora bears yellow flowers for several weeks in March—yes, the bloom period is relatively short. However, if carefully pruned, it provides for an interesting shape for the remainder of the year.

Roses capture my eye in March — not because they’re in bloom as that occurs in April — with their flawless foliage. Now unblemished rose leaves are greatly sought after. Ten years ago, I made a conscious effort to only plant sustainable roses as I was tired and bothered by the never-ending spraying program.

Blackspot, a fungus in our soil, will cause some black spotting on the leaves. The difference between sustainable roses and those requiring spraying in order to survive is this: One can withstand the rigors of blackspot whereas the other — primarily 20th century hybrids — cannot. Hence, the reverence rosarians display when confronting flawless rose foliage.

My one species of rose, Rosa banksiae, is scheduled to bloom this month—and this is a big deal. The Lady Banks rose blooms only once a year but do not let this preclude you from owning her. Her canes are lovely even when she isn’t in bloom. And — this is an important point — we sometimes appreciate a plant more when it doesn’t bloom for half of the year.

Last year, temperatures fell to 23 degrees Fahrenheit just when she was about to bloom, thereby nullifying the yearly bloom cycle. This is a problem for March bloomers, leaving me to appreciate all the more their valiant efforts. Consequently, I waited with some fear and trepidation, closely watching the temperatures in hopes that I would see her perform this year.

When temperatures fall to 28 degrees, the flower buds tend to survive. It’s when they fall to 23 degrees for an extended number of hours that the damage is done. Fortunately, as the photo demonstrates, the lady and I lucked out this year.

The large Japanese maple is leafing out in its springtime red halo. Gradually the leaves will turn their summer green before reverting back to the red color in the fall. Judging from photos taken in 2022, the leaves (and pollen) are two weeks ahead of schedule this year, potentially a worrisome feature of our changing climate.

Eastern redbud. Photo by Kit Flynn.

The real treasure of this month — yes over Edgeworthia chrysantha, and my two Camellias japonica, ‘Jacks’ and ‘Lavender Prince’ — is the redbud. Essentially, we have two species that grow well here, the eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis and the Chinese redbud, C. chinensis. It’s worth noting the difference between these two species.

Our native is basically a small tree whereas C. chinensis is usually a small, multi-stemmed shrub. The latter has a more regular form whereas the eastern redbud can easily take on a sculptural shape that many gardeners savor. The eastern redbud blooms on old wood whereas the Chinese redbud produces flowers all along its stem.

If they are to bloom well, both species require sunlight. Seeding is rarely a problem as the seed requires an acidic soaking before bedding down in moist peat for two months. Among the two different redbuds I must admit my preference for the sculptured form of our native redbud.

I have a nameless, colorful viburnum that emits a delicious aroma for three weeks. At first, I accused it of being V. x bodnantense but now I’m convinced its V. burkwoodii—this is a good reason to carefully label your plants in the beginning so that in twenty years you’ll be able to rattle off the names knowledgeably. Nothing is more ignoble than when asked about a particular plant, the gardener is forced to mumble, “I don’t know.”

Viburnum Burkwoodii. Photo by Kit Flynn.

This viburnum is a treasure for three weeks when it’s in full bloom with colorful flowers resembling those of a lacecap hydrangea. The aroma captures the garden, especially in the morning. Small red buds appear only to disappear into white petals of the flowers as they open up. Then as suddenly as it appeared, it will retreat into anonymity until next year.

The garden is filling up with returning friends. The skies are blue and the weather is still cool and comfortable. Yes, March is a great month in the garden.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howyourgardengrows@icloud.com.

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1 Comment on "Favorite plants in March"

  1. We were so fortunate this year to have a wonderful March. I’m a big fan of the viburnums and have quite a Spring show from ‘korean spice’, ‘burkwoodii’, ‘spring bouquet, ‘ mariesii’, Chinese ‘snowball ‘ and ‘prague ‘, to name a few. Like you I thought my ‘lady banks ‘ rose was history from the harsh freeze we had in December but it sprang back and produced loads of yellow blooms. My ‘karen’ and ‘encore ‘ azaleas also bloomed beautifully. As a former Chicagoan I am deeply appreciative of our long gardening season here and I’m pleased to say I have something in bloom every month of the year.

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