Happy New Year! This marks our third year of producing Garden Zone, a monthly pub for anyone interested in gardening. ​​We encourage you to share it with friends and neighbors! They can subscribe here.  

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Make your gardening life easier!

A lot of things can happen to challenge your plants (too much sun/shade; not enough water; deer, deer and more deer). Make your gardening life a lot easier by simply choosing the right plant for each spot in your garden.  

The whole concept behind 'right plant, right place' is that if you choose plants that are well-suited to the location where they are planted, they will perform well with limited additional input. Basic questions to ask yourself:

✳️ How much sun does the location receive? 6 or more hours of sun is considered full sun. 4 to 6 hours of sun is considered partial sun/partial shade. Less than 4 hours of sun is considered shade. 

✳️ Does the soil tend to be wet, dry or normal? Are there drainage issues that need addressing? Is the bed close to a water source? Plants that need regular watering should not be in the far corner of the garden.

✳️ Are there structures near the planting bed that might affect it? For example, a planting bed against a brick wall that gets sun all day will be hotter than a similar full sun bed that isn't. 

✳️ Do you know your USDA hardiness zone? This is important for planting perennials, shrubs and trees. Knowing your zone will help you identify the plants that will be winter hardy for your location. To find your zone, enter your zip code here.

See this great checklist developed by Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Mecklenburg County to help with 'right plant, right place' questions. 

If a perennial or shrub doesn't thrive where you have planted it, try and evaluate why it’s unhappy and then move it to a better location. Spring and fall are the best times to transplant perennials and shrubs.


Photo: Quiet Nature

January in the garden

Start off the new year by making a list of gardening tasks you need to accomplish. Here's a list to get you started:

Perennials, annuals & bulbs

✳️ Don’t forget to water! Winter drought can be just as severe in the winter as it is in the summer.

✳️ Pay close attention to newly planted shrubs and trees. The roots need to stay hydrated so they do not become brittle over winter, leading to a shock for the plant when spring showers come and roots are not able to take up the needed water for new growth. Check the soil by digging or probing the bed.

Lawns & landscaping

✳️ Eliminate hard-to-mow spaces, like sharp angles or bed borders, to decrease lawn maintenance.

✳️ Avoid heavy traffic on dormant lawns. Dry grass is easily broken and the crown of the plant may be severely damaged or killed.

Trees, shrubs & groundcovers

✳️ Prune fruit trees and woody ornamentals that bloom on new growth, such as althea, buddleia, crepe myrtle, hydrangea and vitex. Don't prune spring-bloomers until just after they’ve bloomed.

✳️ Protect broadleaf evergreens with blankets or burlap during periods of extreme cold. Fertilize them in winter or early spring before growth begins.


✳️ Don’t over water; wait until the soil surface is dry. Keep winter fertilizing to a minimum as plant growth has slowed considerably.

Don’t forget the birds!

✳️ Feed them regularly. See this list of the top 10 foods for winter bird feeding. 

✳️ Keep birdbaths free of ice; here are tips. Continue adding fresh water every week. 

See our complete list of tasks for January.


What's blooming?  

Winter months can be a bit dreary and drab, but there are many plants that bloom in winter. Here are three of our favorites: 

Edgeworthia chrysantha, commonly called paperbush or edgeworthia, begins blooming in December when it’s nothing but a bare silhouette in the garden, and continues through the winter. The individual florets are tiny, but a few dozen make up a 1½- to 2-inch cluster that will simply knock you sideways. In spring, after the blooms pass, it sports lovely bluish foliage with silvery undertones. In the summer, you might mistake it for rhododendron. And in autumn, the foliage turns rich shades of yellow. It thrives in partial shade. Hardiness zones 7-9. Size: 4-5 feet high and wide. More info...

Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) are one of the first flowers to emerge in winter. The blooms look like bowed heads with pearl-colored oval petals surrounding a green-tipped center. The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) grows only 3-6" tall. The giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) looks very similar, merely larger, growing from 14-16" tall. Snowdrops prefer part shade to full sun. Hardiness zones: 3a-9b. More info...

Gelsemium sempervirens, commonly called the Carolina jessamine, is a native vine for Carolina landscapes. This vine puts on a show from February to April, depending on the weather. The golden funnel or trumpet-shaped blooms are 1½" long and seen in small clusters, with narrow, glossy evergreen foliage. The foliage bronzes in winter. Carolina jessamine is winter hardy in zones 7-10 where it’s best grown in full sun. This plant will become 20 feet or taller when allowed to grow untrained. More info...


Edgeworthia chrysantha. You can find one at our Freedom Park Demo Garden. Photo: Oregon State U


Galanthus elwesii is currently in bloom at our Freedom Park Demo Garden


Carolina jessamine. Photo: NCSU

Beware of the camellia bug

When Bill and Ellen Archer got married, Bill got more than a life-long partner. He caught the camellia “bug" from his father-in-law.

Today in his Charlotte garden, Bill has over 100 different varieties of camellias. Some are the result of air-layering plants from his father-in-law's garden. Others are from rootings, graphs and seeds from Bill's garden.

When asked what sparked his passion for camellias, Bill says it's the spectacular blooms that occur when other plants are dormant during the winter.

It's a truly amazing garden, as is Bill's expertise of camellias. Below are three of the camellias we recently spotted in Bill and Ellen's garden.

Interested in growing camellias? Here’s a great overview covering care and maintenance, with a list of several varieties. 

Did you know:

✳️ Stagger plantings of early, mid- and late varieties and you can have flowers from November through April or May. C. sasanqua tends to bloom earlier, mid-fall to early winter. C. japonica blooms from mid-winter to spring. Hybrid bloom times will vary depending on the variety.

✳️ The camellia is the state flower of Alabama. 

✳️ The camellia is sometimes called the "rose of winter."


Egao Corkscrew (C. Vernalis)


October Affair (C. Japonica)


Frankie Winn (C. Japonica)

Growing native wildflowers from seed

Now is the time to plant native wildflower seeds you have gotten through seed sharing. Most native seeds require cold stratification in order to germinate. That is, they need to be out in the moist cold through the winter, freezing and thawing, in order to germinate in the spring.

One way to do this is to scatter them on bare dirt in the late fall or early winter where you would like them to grow, step on them to tamp them in, and hope they survive the critters and come up in the spring.

Another option is to plant your seeds in a seedling mix in ventilated containers of your choice and place them on the north side of your house, or another shady area, and wait for spring. You could use salad containers or even plastic milk bottles cut in half and taped back together. You can also plant the seeds in open pots and cover them with chicken wire to keep the squirrels out and make sure they stay damp but not wet.

Dr. Larry Mellichamp (former director, UNCC Botanical Gardens, and native plant expert) says “40 days at 40 degrees” are required for most seeds to germinate. They can overheat in their mini greenhouses, so too much sun on warm days can be damaging. Cold and freezing is fine.

Extension Master Gardener volunteer Jean Wilson experimented last year with cold stratification by putting seeds between damp paper towels in a storage container and zip-up bags in her refrigerator for their 40 days and then planting them outside. “That seemed to work OK, too, especially if you are late starting the process,” she said.

For more information.


Jean's mini greenhouses in the winter. Vent holes are made on the top and bottom with a hot glue gun or soldering iron.


Jean's wildflower seeds usually germinate in March and she tries to pot them up when they get their second leaves or soon after.

Top seed catalogs

Some of you have asked about seed companies. Here are our top 10 picks, including website information. 

Some companies, in order to save on paper and money, no longer print hard-copy catalogs. Their catalogs are online only. While it's fun to look through a stack of catalogs on a cold winter day, you can help the environment! Consider checking all that wonderful seed information from your tablet or laptop. 

Take note

  • Wing Haven's 2021 Virtual Lecture Series -- If you haven't checked out the programs, do it today! The speakers are outstanding! Individual programs are $20 for members; $30 for non-members. Registration includes admission to the gardens. For details...
  • Online Winter Sowing -- Learn how to start seeds using recycled materials (no grow lights, greenhouses or sunny windows required)! Jan. 12, 6-8 p.m. Sponsored by UNCC Botanical Gardens. $25 for members; $30 for non-members. For details...
  • It's 2021 -- Start a garden journal; here are suggestions to consider. Document progress with plant photos. 

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The Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (EMGV) program operates under the Mecklenburg Center of the NC Cooperative Extension Service (NCCES), a part of NC State University and NC A&T State University. 

NCCES is a part of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.

NC State University and N.C. A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity and prohibit discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identify, genetic information, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation and veteran status. NC State, N.C. A&T, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.