From the Desk of Ed Hume: Winter Flowering Heather

It’s time to be thinking about your winter garden!  What can you use that will provide color and interest during the cloudy dark days of winter?  I think the perfect solution is heather!  The beauty of Winter flowering heather is that they not only flower at that time of year, but most flower for several months.

During the cool, dark days of late fall and early winter, the garden often tends to looks a bit drab.  Winter flowering heather can be counted on to change this situation in a very colorful way.  The wide color range of this fascinating plant family includes shades of pink, rose to red, light purple, lilac, lavender, and orchid.


Winter heathers offer quite a bit of versatility too, because they grow in either spreading or upright forms.  The lower, spreading types are grown as ground covers, in rockeries, containers or for spot color in flower and shrub beds. The upright varieties, on the other hand, are best suited for borders, spot color, massing, or as container plants.  The flowers of both types are ideal for small winter arrangements.


Because color varies by variety, it’s best to select them when they are in bloom. Then you can determine the flower color and select them for the desired growth habit.  Heathers are often available in a range of plant sizes.  Many garden outlets feature small plants in four inch pots, as well as larger ones in one and two gallon containers.  Some varieties of winter heather will begin flowering now, while other do not start blooming until January or later, so you may want to select ones that flower at different times during the Fall and Winter.  Since they start flowering now, this is generally when you will find the best selection of plants.


What I like about heather is that they are easy to grow, providing you observe a few cultural requirements.  First, they must be planted so the root-ball is level with the soil surface.  They will not tolerate being planted too deep.  Second, be careful not to pile mulch up over the root system. In fact, it is best not to mulch them at all.  Third, heather must be planted in soil that is well drained.  They will not tolerate continual wet feet.

They can be planted anytime the ground is not frozen.  As you prepare the soil for planting, mix peat moss, compost, or processed manure with your existing soil.  The addition of a little non-burning fertilizer mixed into the planting soil will encourage new root growth.  Then be sure to set the plant at ground level.  Firm the soil around the plant and water-in.


In order to keep heather looking really nice, the plants should be pruned each year immediately after they have finished flowering.  For the Winter flowering varieties, that generally means pruning in late April to mid-May.   Prune or shear just below the old spent flowers.  Pruning is essential if you want to keep the plants bushy and compact, otherwise they tend to open up in the center and look rather ragged.  The biggest advantage in pruning is that it will result in additional flowers the following year.


My experience is that heathers do not need a lot of fertilizer.  If the soil is prepared properly to begin with and the plants are kept groomed and the drainage is good, they seldom require feeding.  Poor foliage color or stunted growth would indicate the need for feeding.  So if either occur, feed heather with a rhododendron-type fertilizer.  The best time to feed them is in late Winter or late Spring.  Apply the fertilizer at the drip-line of the plant, then water-in thoroughly.


Heathers have a compact, fibrous root system, so small-to-average-sized plants are quite easy to move.  Large, old, well-established plants are more of a challenge to move.  If a plant needs to be moved, the best time is during the Winter dormant season months of November through March.


Heather can be started from cuttings or by layering outer branches in the soil.  Cuttings are taken from new, mature tip growth.  Take only two inches of the tip growth, dip the cut-end into a rooting hormone and start in a media of 50% sand and 50% peat moss.  Cuttings are best taken in July and August.

The method used to layer outer branches is to simply scrape the lower stem of an outer branch, rub a little rooting hormone on the cut, and bury that part of the branch in soil.  It should root in 3 to 6 months.


Mediterranean Hybrids – two popular varieties are Darleyensis flowers with lilac-pink flowers, and Alba with white flowers. What I like about these two is that they flower from about early October to early May, when not much else is in flower. My wife likes to use the short-stemmed flowers in Winter arrangements.  Eventual growing height is about eighteen inches with a spreading growth habit.  My plant is about 5 feet across.

Springwood White and Springwood Pink – these are two excellent ground cover types.  As the names imply, one is pink flowering the other white.  They only grow about six to eight inches high, but eventually spread several feet in width.  They flower January to mid-April.

Vivellii – this another of my favorites because of its dark green, tinged bronze-red foliage color and deep carmine-red flowers.  A compact, slow growing plant, it reaches about eight to ten inches in height.  Flowering season is January to April.

King George – another old-timer with a nice compact growth habit.   November to late February flowers are rosy-crimson.  Growing height is about one foot high.

Ruby Glow – ruby-red flowers from January through April.  Low spreading growth habit, compact to about eight inches in height.

Needless to say, these are only a few of the Winter flowering varieties, so be sure to check with your local garden outlet to see which ones are available.  In addition, you may want to take a good look at some of the newer varieties so you can evaluate their many attributes.

For a bright spot of color in the winter garden it’s hard to beat the Winter flowering heathers.


November 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM Leave a comment

From the Desk of Ed Hume: November Garden Projects

Planting spring flowering bulbs, feeding the lawn, and fall garden clean-up head the list of things to do in the garden this month.  What you can accomplish now should help to improve the appearance of the lawn and garden and hopefully cut down on garden maintenance next spring.

Remember, if you want to enjoy the beauty of the spring flowering tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, and other spring bulbs they need to be planted this fall.  Actually they should have been planted in September or October, but there’s still time to get them into the ground this month too!  Prepare the planting soil by mixing bulb fertilizer and compost or some other form of organic humus with your existing soil.  Plant the bulbs at a depth of three times the width of the bulb.  For example, a tulip bulb that is 2 inches wide should be planted 6 inches deep.  Crocus bulbs that are seldom an inch across can be planted at 2 to 3 inches deep.

When I plant bulbs I simply dig a hole about 12 to 15 inches wide, then place 10 to 15 bulbs into the planting hole.  Be certain to space the bulbs so they do not touch each other.  Then in spring when the bulbs come into bloom, I have this beautiful cluster of bulb flowers.  And if my wife wants to pick a few for an arrangement, it’s OK because it doesn’t ruin the display in the garden.

If you haven’t fertilized the lawn with a fall or winter type of lawn fertilizer this is a good time to do it!  Fall feeding encourages good root growth and of course the better root system your turf has, the easier it should be to keep it looking nice.  Of course, read and follow application directions as outlined on the fertilizer bag.

Right now is also a good time to begin cleaning up the garden to get it ready for the colder winter weather ahead.  As you do this be on the look out for slugs.  This is the time of year when they are looking for their winter resting place.  The more you can eliminate the less slugs you’ll have to contend with next year.

Leaves that have fallen to the ground can be added to the compost pile or used to mulch tender plants.  If you have a vegetable garden, you can spade or till them into the soil for added organic humus.

If needed, later this month the stone fruits like peaches, apricots, and plums can be pruned. Wait until January or February to prune your apples and pears.

The dead and dying stalks of perennials can be cut back now.  Likewise, you can cut back the stalks of dahlias and glads.  You should dig and winterize (bring into a cool storage area) your dahlias and any other tender bulbs or plants.

Finally, take time to eliminate the weeds in all parts of the garden.  I’ve noticed that many are still flowering and going to seed.  If you don’t eliminate them now you will be fighting the germination of those weed seeds for years to come.

November 6, 2012 at 3:24 PM Leave a comment

From the Desk of Ed Hume: Laurustinus, an Evergreen that flowers for about six months

Every year the fall, winter, and early spring flowering Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) gains in popularity because of its six month flowering season.  It’s an especially popular plant in our garden because it flowers when not much else is in bloom in the garden.  It not only provides color in the garden, but the branches can be cut for indoor arrangements as well.  The clusters of shell pink flowers begin opening in our garden in October or early November and continue until about mid-April, at which time the plant comes into full bloom.

The two most common varieties are Robustum and Spring Bouquet.  Robustum grows upright, 6 to 12 feet high and 3 to 6 feet wide.  Spring Bouquet is more compact, growing only 4 to 6 feet high and wide.  In addition, there is a variegated leaf variety, which has green leaves with white and yellow markings.  However, it is not as readily available as the other two varieties.

I have them planted in both our home garden and in our Educational Garden.  The medium green leaves make an excellent background for the attractive clusters of flowers, which have a slight fragrance.  All of our plants have a nice dense growth habit and bloom prolifically.  Metallic blue berries form on many plants after flowering.  As a bonus, the mature berries serve as food for birds.

Our plants never need pruning because Myrna (my wife) cuts the branches for arrangements during the winter and early spring when they are in bloom.  However, if pruning is required, it can also be done immediately after they have finished flowering.  If possible, try to make your pruning cuts within the green foliage parts of the plant.

It is said that this variety of Viburnum grows and flowers best in full sun.  However, I want you to know that we have plants growing in full sun and also in part sun and shade, and they seem to grow equally well in both locations.

One important requirement is good drainage.  Also, late in summer and early fall you’ll want to begin hardening the plants by withholding some water.  In other words, do not water them quite as much as you would most other plants in the garden.

Here is another point that you need to know about their care: If you walk by the plant when it’s in bloom and your nose picks up a smell like dirty rags, it’s the decaying leaves that have fallen to the ground. So simply rake up the leaves and add them to your compost or send them away in the recycle bin.

If needed, the best time to fertilize is in mid-May.  Use a Rhododendron or Evergreen type fertilizer.  Of course, read and follow application directions on the fertilizer package.

For more information on winter and spring flowering plants log on to our website

October 24, 2012 at 2:55 PM Leave a comment

From the Desk of Ed Hume: Shrubs That Have Attractive Autumn Leaf Color

Have you noticed how many shrubs have really colorful autumn leaf color?  Autumn leaf color varies in shades of red, rose, pink, orange, and even bright yellow.  Although most of these colorful autumn leaf plants lose their leaves, there are a few like nandina and some azaleas that are evergreen.  Right now, when autumn leaf color is best, is the time to select and plant them.  Here are a few of my favorites:

NANDINA – Several varieties like Gulf Stream, Moon Bay Plum Passion, and Woods dwarf have striking autumn leaf color.  My two favorites are Moon Bay and Woods dwarf nandina.  We have five nandina Moon Bay in our garden and a couple Woods dwarf.  We think they’re attractive and colorful year-round, but they’re especially so in the fall and winter.  Moon Bay grows about 2 feet high and Woods dwarf grows only about 18 inches tall.  Plant them in full sun for best color.

HINO CRIMSON AZALEA – This evergreen variety of azalea has brilliant red leaves during the autumn and all winter.  In spring the plants are covered with attractive, brilliant crimson red flowers.  This variety is quite hardy, and in cool climates it will tolerate considerable sun exposure.  Height varies by location, but usually it’s in the 2 to 3 feet range, and a bit higher if crowded.

WINGED EUONYMUS (Euonymus alatus) – This has flaming red autumn leaf color.  This deciduous shrub comes in several varieties that range in height from 3 to 15 feet.  The medium 4 to 8 feet tall varieties are the most popular for home garden use.  When grown in the shade fall color tends to be pink with a tinge of white.  It’s easy to grow; you may have seen them growing in landscape plantings along freeways.

BLUEBERRIES – Yes, I am talking about the berry varieties.  They are really beautiful landscape shrubs and their autumn leaf color is outstanding.  Of course, they are deciduous so you may want to include them in plantings with evergreen shrubs.

GREEN-LEAF JAPANESE LACE-LEAF MAPLE (Acer dissectum viridis) – There are several varieties, but most grow about 6 to 8 feet high and wide.  Autumn leaf color varies by variety, from brilliant yellow to bright red.  I think these are one of the most over-looked varieties of lace-leaf maples because of their delicate, soft green spring leaf color, followed by its brilliant autumn leaf color.

ENKIANTHUS campanulatus – This has clusters of yellow to orange bell-shaped flowers in late spring.  Autumn leaf color is brilliant red.  This plant has an interesting, attractive slender, upright habit of growth.  Eventual height can be up to 10 feet.

One of the best vines for autumn leaf color is the Virginia Creeper.  And one of the most colorful large shrubs or small trees are the sumacs.

Most nurseries, garden centers, and plant departments will feature the largest selection of colorful autumn leaf plants at this time of year, so don’t delay!

For additional information on fall gardening, visit our website

October 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM Leave a comment

From the Desk of Ed Hume: Fall-Flowering Plants

As summer comes to an end, it always amazes me that most home gardens come to an end too!  That’s too bad, because there are some really colorful plants that one can add to the garden that will extend the seasonal flowering season.  You know that goes for the vegetable garden too!  Why don’t we grow more fall and winter vegetables?

The advantage of many of the autumn and winter flowering plants is that they are permanent perennials and deciduous or evergreen plants.  That means they’ll provide color year after year.  I highly recommend that you shy away from dark flower colors in the autumn garden, as they usually do not show up very well on cloudy, dark days.  Here are just a few of my favorites:

HEATHER – The fall and winter varieties of Heather are evergreens.  They are covered with a mass of flowers for weeks and in some cases the varieties bloom for months.  There are a wide variety of flower colors and varying growth habits.  I especially like the winter varieties, as they are showy now because of their flower buds, followed by prolific flowers later.  I won’t mention varieties here, because you really should visit your local plant place to determine which varieties you like the best.

FALL MUMS, MICHAELMAS DAISIES, SEDUMS – These are all colorful early autumn flowering perennials.  The fall chrysanthemums come in a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes, and many make excellent cut flowers.  Michaelmas daisies also come in various growing heights and often in shades of lavender, purple, and deep red.  The smaller flowers cover the plants and are ideal for cutting.  Autumn Joy is my favorite variety of the fall flowering sedums.  Autumn Joy and the taller varieties of Michaelmas daisies and mums may need staking support because of fall rains or seasonal wind storms.

WINTER PANSIES – These can be quite showy during most winters. Severe cold will effect their flowering, but plants usually re-bloom as weather moderates. (Our winter pansies from last winter are still flowering in this year’s garden.) Winter pansies come in a wide range of flower sizes and colors.

SASANQUA CAMELLIA, LAURESTINUS, STRAWBERRY TREE – All three of these evergreens bloom during the autumn season.  The Sasanqua type camellias come in a shades of red, rose, pink, and white.  Growth habits vary by variety.  Flowers are smaller then the spring flowering camellias.  Laurestinus (Viburnum tinus) begins flowering in October or November and continues until late April.  Light pink flower clusters stand out above the evergreen foliage. This is an especially nice flowering evergreen because of the six month flowering season.  Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) has clusters of white flowers during the autumn and early winter.  This large evergreen shrub/tree also has a reddish autumn fruit that looks a bit like a strawberry, hence the name Strawberry tree.

Needless to say, these are just a few of my favorite flowering plants.  There are a lot more!  Later this week I’ll discuss some of the colorful plants that have marvelous autumn leaf color.  Some are a “must” for seasonal leaf color.  Right now is the ideal time to select and plant these and other autumn flowering plants.

October 15, 2012 at 12:58 PM Leave a comment

From the Desk of Ed Hume: October Garden Projects

While out working in the garden this past weekend, I noticed a bunch of stuff that needs to be done to get the garden ready for the fall and winter months ahead.

After the light rain some of the flowers of dahlias, mums, and other perennials and annuals have started to look pretty sad.  Right now would be a good time to cut them and add them to the compost pile or recycle them.  Likewise, some leaves of both flowers and vegetables are covered with mildew (the white powdery residue), and in many cases these effected leaves should be cut too.

You’re probably tired of me mentioning this, but the fall slugs are out in full force, so steps should be taken to eliminate them.  Remember this is also the time of the year when they lay their fall eggs. The eggs are in clusters of up to fifty or more, and each egg is about the size of a b.b.  You will often find them in moist areas or along the edge of the lawn.  By eliminating them now, you will greatly reduce the number of slugs to be found in next year’s garden.

This is the month when you will want to begin winterizing dahlias, glads, geraniums, fuchsias, and any of the other tender bulbs or annuals.  For more information on this topic, please refer to the library section of our web site

If you put any houseplants outside this summer, they should have been brought back indoors in late August or early September.  Likewise, Christmas cactus and poinsettias should be indoors, or you are apt to lose them.

After just a little moisture (rain), the weeds will once again be popping up everywhere.  Take a little time to grub them out, before they set flowers and go to seed again.

If your rose bushes are getting a bit ragged and not flowering, they can be cut back to about waist height.  This is about the height most rose professionals cut back a rose bush for their fall pruning.

Right now is a good time to plant new shrubs and trees into the garden.  However, I would wait until late October or November to transplant established garden shrubs or trees.

When you think of bulbs, think spring!  This is the time of the year for planting out the bulbs of the spring flowering daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinths, etc.  As a rule these bulbs are planted three times deeper then the greatest diameter of the bulb.  In other words, if the bulb is 2 inches in size, plant it 6 inches deep.

This is also a great time for fertilizing the lawn.  Fall and winter-feeding stimulate good root development, resulting in a stronger root system and healthier turf.  Fall is also a wonderful time for over-seeding the lawn with new grass seed.  Reseeding helps to fill-in any bare spots and makes the turf thicker.

For more information on any of these topics log-on to  

September 25, 2012 at 1:59 PM 2 comments

From the Desk of Ed Hume: Winter Pansies

Happy Friday, folks!  Unfortunately following our jump back into the blog, wouldn’t you know we experienced some technical difficulties.  We’re happy to announce that everything is finally sorted out and we will be resuming our Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule.  Thank you everyone for your patience while we get the details sorted out, and we look forward to once again bringing you regular gardening advice.


Holland Hume, Webmaster


Maybe one of the most overlooked Fall and Winter-flowering plants is the “Winter Pansy.” They provide a nice spot of color during the autumn months, flower during Winter warm spells, and burst into full bloom in springtime. Not only are they colorful in the garden, the cut flowers are ideal for small flower arrangements.

Nurseries, Garden Centers, and plant departments offer several different types of Winter-flowering pansies including typical pansies with faces as well as those that look more like violas. Some varieties have large pansy flowers while others are quite small. Personally, I like the smaller flowering varieties because as a rule they have more flowers and as the small flowers turn brown and die back they are not as noticeable. I have found the dying flowers of the large varieties need to be picked in order to keep the plants looking nice.

Winter pansies vary in a wide range of colors from white, yellow, pink, blue, purple, and orange to almost red, with some that are two-toned. I think the lighter, brighter colors are the most effective in the Fall and Winter garden. The darker colors seem to blend into the surroundings on dark, cloudy Fall and Winter days. As a result, we tend to use the whites, yellows, and light pinks and blues in our garden. However, the darker colors can be used effectively in containers near the entry or on the patio.

For the best effect, plant them in groups of three, five, seven, or more. I recommend that you plant them informally in a V shape rather than in a row. Also, they provide a wonderful display when the plants are all of the same color rather than mixed colors.

Plant the Winter pansies about six-to-nine inches apart. Add some compost; use processed manure (the bagged stuff) or another form of organic humus with your existing soil. Although pansies will grow just about anywhere, they are best suited to shade or part sun and shade locations in the garden.

When possible, pick off the spent flowers before they go to seed. Likewise, if the plants tend to become a bit spindly, pinch back the leggy growth to keep them bushy and more clean-looking in the garden.

Our Winter pansies from last year are still blooming in the garden right now. Not only that, they have been flowering all Summer and will continue to bloom this Winter as well. So if you take good care of the plants you can, like us, enjoy them for quite some time.

September 21, 2012 at 10:12 AM Leave a comment

Older Posts


  • Recommended Sites

  • Feeds