Prepare flower beds or containers with good quality soil and drainage. Quality soil prep yields good flowers. Ditto for quality plants … don’t look for bargains in this season as these plants will be subjected to tough conditions and expected to thrive. Dig holes that are twice the size of the root ball and the same depth as the plant’s container. Place the plant in the hole, cover, water the soil so it’s moist but not saturated, and mulch to hold moisture in and keep severe cold out. Continue to water these plants until they’re established, a few weeks, and then let nature take over.
The most carefree perennial choice for winter interest is the Lenten rose (hellebores) which blooms in January or February. It’s easy to grow and requires full to partial shade and occasional watering until it becomes established. It develops clusters of flowers 3 inches wide that range from white to maroon and last eight weeks or more before turning green with the development of inflated seed pods which will reseed, propagating additional plants. Their dark green leaves are attractive all year. Hellebores take a couple of years to mature to flowering, so if plants you purchase don’t have flowers on them it may take a year or two before they bloom and propagate; they’re worth the wait.
Bulbs are an easy choice for spring color and some, like crocus and daffodil, will pop up through a rare Cherokee County snow. Bulbs need to put out and spread their roots before sprouting upward, so get them in the ground before the soil cools. Some bulbs, like tulips, need a colder winter than we normally have here and need to be dug up after the plants fade, and then stored and cooled in the fridge before planting again. If you don’t dig them up they may compost themselves into the ground.
Purchase firm, healthy and unblemished bulbs. Choose for flower size, color, and sun/shade, and for whether you want your bulbs to sprout earliest (crocus, snowdrop); in very early spring (daffodil, grape hyacinth); or full to late spring (lily of the valley, amaryllis, tulip, lilies of all kinds).
Spring flowering bulbs can be “overplanted” with other plants that will bloom along with or after the bulbs, either annuals or perennials. Just let the bulb foliage die back naturally after flowers fade, and it will be hidden by the newer blooming flowers. Then mark where you want to plant your bulbs before you start to dig. Most bulb blooms look best in groups, with a minimum of three planted 2 or 3 bulb lengths apart; the smaller the flower the larger the group. Read the package for your bulbs regarding depth of planting; a rule of thumb for depth is 1 to 2 times the size of the bulb. After planting, cover with mulch such as pine straw, bark or fall leaves. Bulbs should be lightly fertilized in the fall and just after flowering to maintain full vigor. . Normal cold season precipitation usually provides enough moisture for spring flowering bulbs.
You can randomly scatter self-establishing bulbs on the ground before leaf drop in the fall and hope they will root and establish themselves under the leaves by spring. Or simply to dig shallow pits in the soil under wooded areas and lay the bulbs point side up and replace the soil. “Naturalizing” like this requires bulbs that spread freely and require little care such as hyacinth, daffodil, crocus, bluebells and others.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.