Sow winter blooms to chase away the gray

By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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In mid-winter, when skies are gray and it has rained for what seems like weeks, nature provides reminders that spring will be here eventually, This time of year, bright green shoots are peeking through the soil as bulbs began to blossom and camellias are coloring the landscape. Actually, there’s a variety of early bloomers out there. Some can be planted immediately for instant pop, while others take some advance planning. Heaths and heathers (calluna and erica) They’re a good choice, says garden expert Lyn Bristol, manager at High Hand Nursery in Loomis. “They’re a low-growing perennial,” Bristol said. “They’re native to the moors of Scotland and basically create a carpet of color in pinks and lavenders through the cooler weather, starting in fall and going through April.” They’re mounding plants and very cold tolerant. “You can plant them now, you can plant them year round,” she said. “But now is a good time because you can see what colors they are in bloom.” African daisy (arctotis) “They’re a low-growing, mounding perennial,” Bristol said. “The leaves are a grayish color. Colors range from orange (pumpkin pie) to a lavender called strawberry fields.” It’s also a very versatile plant. It is storm tolerant and can handle a lot of water. “They’ll grow anywhere,” Bristol said. “We use them in the landscape quite often. They’re great for cool-season color.” Camellia sasanqua They’re the early-blooming camellias that flower from now until April. “If they’re in a location where they don’t get much sun, they’re happy,” Bristol said. Don’t confuse sasanqua with its larger, more spectacular cousin, the japonica that blooms in early spring, “It is the one Sacrament is famous for,” Bristol said. Lenten rose (hellebore) “They’ll bloom now through May,” Bristol said about Lenten roses. “They come in colors from white to lime green to dark purple, almost black. They’re in the same family as daffodils, so deer won’t eat them. It is an overlooked plant. They’re very long-lived perennials.” Daphne odora “(Daphne) does well in the foothills,” said Peggy Beltramo, a master gardener and former president of the Auburn Garden Club. “It has a heavenly scent. Everyone should have one of those in the garden.” Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) “They aren’t spectacular blooms but a fragrance is attached to them,” Beltramo said. Primrose (primula) “Primroses are blooming now,” said Rena Webb, Donner Garden Club member. “Most people are buying prim roses now to put in their garden.” Primrose blooms in yellows, oranges, browns and white. Pansy (viola) “They cannot survive our hot summers, but some may self-sow,” Beltramo said. “I always have a few Johnny-jump-ups in my pathways.” Nandina and Pyrachantha These evergreen shrubs provide year-round color. “Pyrachantha often is quite pretty, especially where it snows,” said Myrna Yurfest, president of the Meadow Vista Garden Club. Also common to the foothills, Nandina is small and delicate. “It looks like the bad weather would just knock it over.,” Yurfest said. “It just held the snow beautifully during December. It seemed to thrive — all those beautiful little berries were there.” Citrus Citrus can be a challenge in the foothills. “A hard freeze can damage them,” Bristol said. “Most people know that if it gets below 30 to cover them. They’re a great ornamental tree because they just look good all year.” Daffodils, crocus, tulips The early bulbs that may be appearing now are the result of fall plantings. They need to overwinter in order to bloom. But early crocus, snow drops and tulips — the beauty queens of the bulbs — don’t do very well in the valley and foothills. “They need chilling that you don’t really get on the West Coast,” Bristol said. Daffodils will bloom a little later. “The nice thing about daffodils is they will naturalize,” Bristol said. “They’ll grow in number year and after year if you leave them in the ground.” Gloria Young can be reached at