Winter landscaping in Atlanta

Holly covered with snow

As the weather cools down, you may think it’s time to put your landscape on hold until spring. But gardening enthusiasts, take heart! There’s plenty you can do in the winter months, including planting new things. “Most all trees and shrubs benefit from planting in the late fall and winter months,” says Todd Guilmette, of Unique Environmental Landscapes, in Mableton. “The mild to cold temperatures as well as winter precipitation allow them to establish root systems before growing out their spring foliage and flowers.” And if you need some color to brighten up the cooler months, there are ways to incorporate plenty into your yard. “There are some very colorful and exciting plants that can be introduced into the winter landscape,” says Rick Kaldrovics, of Outside Landscape Group,  in Alpharetta.

Cold-weather survivors
While color may not be as plentiful in the winter as it will be come spring, there are still plenty of ways to incorporate special touches into your landscape, along with interesting textures. Because of the warm climate in Atlanta, many things can be planted safely in the winter, including hardy trees and shrubs. Bark color and texture add interest, as do grasses, groundcovers and winter flowers. Here are some of the plants you can enjoy throughout the winter months:

•    Evergreens can be an anchor in the garden when the perennials are resting. Hollies and Pyracantha provide berries against lush green foliage.
•    Some good trees to plant in winter are red maples, elms, oaks, American Hornbeam and ash. Coral Bark Japanese Maple has brilliant red stems and branches, and Okame Cherry will bloom in February with fantastic pink blooms. Red Twig Dogwoods are nice for stem color against a gray sky or snowy backdrop.
•    Natchez crape myrtles have an interesting cinnamon-colored bark.
•    Winter Daphne Odora is a popular choice for winter blooms and amazing fragrance.
•    Flowering Quince is an early bloomer.
•    Cold weather causes Dwarf Firepower Nandinas to turn fire red.
•    Lenten rose or hellebores have abundant, long-lasting blooms when much of the rest of the garden is dormant in February.
•    Some other plants to consider are Loropetulumn, Indian Hawthorn, spirea, holly, viburnum, butterfly bush, juniper, Maiden Miscanthus grass, yellow knockout roses, pansies, snapdragons and dusty miller.
•    Some shrubs to consider are Winterberry Holly, which offers bright-red berries, and Cleyera, whose leaves turn a dark burgundy/bronze color in winter months. Mahonia offers purple grape-like fruit in late winter, followed by brilliant yellow flowers in February. Other winter-blooming shrubs include the paper bush (Edgeworthia) and witch hazel, which has bright, curly, frilly flowers that bloom on bare wood in late winter.
•    Sasanqua and Japonica Camellias are flowering shrubs that are available in many varieties and colors. They’ll start blooming in late November and can bloom through March.

Growing grass
Because it’s often the first thing people notice about your yard, grass is another important landscaping feature to keep in mind in winter. If you want to use this time to install new grass, fescue is a good choice. “As a sod supplier, fescue sod is the most popular grass to install during the winter months,” says Claire Kimbell, of North Georgia Turf, in Whitesburg. “October and November are the optimal months to install fescue, but it can be installed in other months as well.” Kimbell also points out that many sod varieties can be planted in the winter, and all warm-season grasses that you plant in winter should be guaranteed to green up in the spring.

For those who have grass already planted, maintenance is important to help it look its best when warmer weather rolls around. “For warm-season turf grasses, such as Zoysia and Bermuda, set a mower on the lowest level and ‘scalp’ the grass to remove as much thatch—dead, straw-colored grass—as possible just when new growth is beginning to show from the roots,” says Dixie Speck, of Solterra Landscape, in Sandy Springs.

Getting ready for spring
Winter can actually be the best time to get some prep work done for spring. And as a bonus, you’ll be able to work without sweating away in the hot sun! First, if you want to do a little rearranging of your shrubs, or you want to move a small tree from the backyard to the front, now’s the time. “Winter is the best time for transplanting, and early winter is even better,” says Shane LeBlanc, of Selective Designs, in Peachtree City.

Pruning also is one of the most important winter maintenance tasks. “Deep, renovation pruning is best done this time of year,” says John Kenna, of Water, Color & Stone Inc. “Prune overgrown shrubs, and plant trees and perennials.” Pruning your trees and shrubs will help tame your garden and keep it in shape. You can trim back evergreens and remove dead branches from trees. Don’t prune azaleas or other early-spring bloomers, though—that may keep them from blooming come spring.

It’s also a good to time to apply pre-emergent weed killers to your lawn. “Pre-emergents will help suppress the winter weeds and fescue in warm-season grasses,” says Mark Schisler, of Legacy Landscapes Inc., in Marietta. Just be sure to buy the proper kind for your lawn, and read the label carefully! One of the most important things to do in winter: Don’t forget to apply mulch for the upcoming spring. Mulching keeps moisture in the ground and around the roots of your plants, which are always growing, even when the above-ground part of the plant might not be. 
“If you are not planting winter annuals and want to protect the existing perennials, simply add a little bit of fresh topsoil around them and mulch the beds with two to three inches of shredded pine bark, pinestraw, etc.,” says Neil Kain, of Kain Landscape Inc., in Chamblee.

Just because it’s cold out, you can’t forget about watering! “Since irrigation systems are shut off during the winter, one important maintenance item that most do not consider during the winter season is plants’ water needs—especially evergreen plants,” says Speck. “If the winter season is dry and a plant that has been in the ground for less than three years experiences more than two weeks with no rain, it’s roots can dry out and kill the plant. Watering with a hose in this situation could be critical to survival of newly installed plants.”

And if you’re just plain tired of winter, take advantage of the colder months to plan a new spring landscape! Once spring rolls around, you can have an interesting, well-maintained yard that’s ready to burst into color.

“An often-forgotten shrub is Wintersweet, an absolutely wonderfully fragrant shrub that will knock your socks off with its rather inconspicuous blooms in mid-winter.”
—Mark Schisler, Legacy Landscapes Inc.

Winter doesn’t mean saying goodbye to your edible garden! Some popular edible winter plants include kale, colorful cabbages, mustards and chards. And don’t rule out herbs, either! “Rosemary has surprising flowers that adorn the plant in winter, and it is an excellent herb, of course,” says Todd Guilmette, of Unique Environmental Landscapes, in Mableton.

Don’t forget about hardscapes for winter fun! Patios, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and even an outdoor hot tub all add interest to landscapes year-round and will help draw you into the great outdoors. “Consider a deck or patio space with a covered arbor and accent exterior curtains that offer some protection from a cool winter breeze,” says Rick Kaldrovics, of Outside Landscape Group, in Alpharetta. “We have built wonderful winter spaces that our clients use to celebrate a New Year’s Eve party in the garden.”

Winter is also a good time for hardscape maintenance. “Winterizing is also very important for hardscapes, such as a stone path or walkway, which can be relatively simple,” says Neil Kain of Kain Landscape Inc. in Chamblee. “Whether it is dry laid on aggregate, sand or soil, or if it is laid in a bed of concrete and mortar, it is best to pressure wash the stones prior to the first freeze. Be careful with the pressure washer around the edges where delicate plant material may be. This will get the algae or moss off for the winter.


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