February Excitement

Edgeworthia chrysantha in bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

February is a glorious month here in the Triangle. The gray skies of January give way to Carolina blue skies, old friends begin the return and the Camellia japonicas are in one word: glorious. In fact, I would submit that February is one of the most exciting months in the garden.

When November appears on the calendar, I’m ready for the garden to go to sleep as I’m tired of thinking about it. I relish the sasanquas that have begun to bloom but otherwise, I’m content to let the garden nap. By February, it’s an entirely different story as I am more than ready to think about the garden.

I relish the new growth sprouting, especially on the daylilies and the roses. The crinums made a vain attempt to spring forth during the several warmish days we experienced in January, only to have their hopes dashed by freezing weather. I used to clasp my hands in worry when I saw this new growth, knowing that it would be zapped back. Now, I have learned to take it all in stride during January and February as I now have confidence that those plants exhibiting early new growth will find the strength to try again.

Indeed, it is in March that we need to worry that a sudden foray into freezing temperatures will destroy the new blossoms; this is especially true of Lady Banks roses and Bletilia striata, the hardy ground orchids. Two years ago, a sudden hard freeze managed to destroy the flowers on both Lady Banks and my orchids – and I had no option but to wait another year to get my revenge.

Roses never go completely dormant, which is the reason they continue to put out new growth even in winter months. Most roses, being resilient, will continue to try to put out new growth until the weather cooperates. Lady Banks, a species rose is somewhat different. She puts out her new growth in one massive effort, beginning in February as she plans to bloom towards the end of March.

If you have the room – and she takes up a lot of space – don’t hesitate to plant her. Even when she’s not in bloom she makes her presence known. Simply plant her in full sun on a trellis in the spring, not the fall, as she’s technically a zone 8 plant. Other roses you may happily plant in the fall but she is an exception to the rule.

I adore looking at the wood on Lagerstroemia indica, the common crapemyrtle (the spelling Michael Dirr, noted horticulturalist and professor has settle on) in winter. The warm light brown of the wood, combined with its utter smoothness always makes me want to reach out to touch it. If left unmurdered, crapemyrtles add lovely silhouettes to the winter landscape. Murdered, they simply look as though they have suffered through a long bout of leprosy.

The Camellia japonicas are now dominating the winter scene. The difference between the C. sasanquas and the C. japonicas is quite noticeable. The latter, blooming in late January to early April have larger leaves, whereas the former, with their smaller leaves and blooms, are fall bloomers. All vary in size and shape so my suggestion is to do a bit of research before you purchase; impulse buys do not always work out. We’re blessed to have one of the foremost camellia nurseries in Chapel Hill, so visit the Camellia Forest website. Blooms from two of my favorites, ‘Jacks’ and ‘Lavender Prince’ are just beginning to peek out of their foliage, preparing for their March display.

My neighbor has a spectacular Daphne odora that is in bloom right now. This daphne is large and is at least ten years old – old for a daphne as in my experience, daphnes thrive on perishing. In fact, I sometimes think that all daphnes really want to die so I’m in awe of my neighbor who has a such a long-lived daphne.

If you pine for a daphne but dislike losing plants, plant one of its relatives, Edgeworthia chrysantha, as this shrub has so much going for it. As with daphne, Edgeworthia has a fabulous aroma that perfumes the air when it is in bloom. Mine tend to be in full bloom the last week in February with the blooms lasting a good three to four weeks. Deer leave it alone, an additional asset.

My Winter Jasmine mystifies me in that Jasminum nudiforum is supposed to put forth its yellow flowers before the foliage appears. My J. nudiforum has white flowers surrounded by leaves. Is this a rogue jasmine? Was it mislabeled? It certainly blooms at the correct time but the mystery remains. This is another reminder to please label the plants as they are installed. I always think I’ll remember – until I don’t.

February always cheers me up. In the first place, I like blue skies. In the second place, old friends are slowly returning, telling me that they haven’t spurned my hospitality and in the third place I relish the camellias that are in bloom this month. ‘Berenice Boddy’, never ceases to please me. The mother of so many of our cultivars, she is a large camellia with commanding presence.

My advice is to savor the months of February and March when you’ll find yourself gardening in a sweater or sweatshirt. These months sparkle, preparing for a gorgeous spring and the heat that will inevitably follow.

Addendum: Recently, I had an inquiry, asking whether copperheads are attracted to pine needle mulch. Because I have previously covered mulch in another article, I won’t discuss the various mulches available. Copperheads are attracted to cover, including mulch, tall grass, woodpiles, debris, and leaf piles. They are not attracted to pine needle mulch particularly but then, neither are they repelled by it.

Pine needle mulch is not a great mulch as you want the mulch to break down, thereby supplying the soil with organic matter. Pine needles take a long time to disintegrate and they are quite acidic. Rather I recommend pine bark nuggets instead – but be aware that pine bark nuggets will not alleviate the copperhead problem. For that you need good, sturdy boots, thick gardening gloves for protection and good eyesight. Copperheads are especially attracted to cicadas as a food source; because cicadas will hatch this spring, be prepared to see more copperheads than usual.

As I am someone who suffers from ophidiophobia, I wish I had a better answer to the copperhead problem.

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 "February Excitement"

  1. February is indeed one of the rewards for having a Piedmont garden for this Chicago transplant. The early-blooming Prunus ‘peggy clarke ‘ has just finished her January-February show, always a delight for the eyes. As I sit on my deck on one of its rare warm days I can smell the Edgeworthia and enjoy its cheerful yellow blooms. In my front garden the Camellia japonica is blooming as are the many colorful Hellebores and daffodils that line my driveway. The Daphne ‘odora’ I planted last year is blooming for the first time. I had a 10 year old ‘carol mackie ‘ in my Chicago garden and heard about the “sudden death ” syndrome that Daphne’s suffer in this area which according to a renown Georgia gardener is due to not planting it in the correct soil it requires. A neighbor planted one in a well-draining pot and it’s past it’s 10th year. Another early bloomer is Clematis ‘armandii’ with its beautiful white blooms and pleasant smell. I feel so fortunate to be able to garden year round and I’m pleased to say I have something in bloom or leaf for each month of the year.

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