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story.lead_photo.caption Gingko trees put on a show in the fall, until the day they decide the show is over and drop every last leaf at one time. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)


It is a new day and a new year, and I think everyone is ready for a clean slate. It is a great time to take stock of last year's garden and make plans for the coming season. What worked, and what didn't?

Planning is a great way to jumpstart success.

With a focus on the homefront, many people rediscovered the joy of gardening this past year with a huge increase in vegetable gardening, but ornamentals were not left out. Nurseries reported selling more flowering annuals than ever before. The spark has been lit, and gardening will continue to gain momentum.

Our weather continues to be a roller-coaster, going from warm, sunny days to really cold, nippy nights. Some parts of the state have already seen significant snowfall. Who knows what is in store for the rest of the winter?

In the winter months, plants go dormant, similar to bears hibernating for the winter. Evergreen plants retain most of their leaves, but they basically shut down their systems. You will see no new growth, but moisture is in the plant to buffer the leaves from freezing weather.

◼️ When plants freeze, you may see some evergreens that look wilted or deformed. This is especially noticeable on larger leaved plants like aucuba, or gold dust plant, and on winter annuals like pansies. As soon as they thaw out, the leaves return to their normal shapes. When frozen, leaves are brittle, so you should try to avoid much contact with frozen plants because leaves or branches can snap off, causing permanent damage.

◼️ Evergreen plants can be more susceptible to ice and snow damage, because of the added weight of frozen precipitation on the foliage. Deciduous plants are those that lose their leaves in the fall or early winter. Bare branches can shed precipitation more easily than those with leaves or needles. You have all seen pine trees bending low with a heavy coat of snow or ice. If we do get snow, gently lighten the load from below with a broom or a rake, but don't get too vigorous or you can damage frozen limbs.

◼️ If you planted a winter vegetable garden, so far, plants are thriving. Some gardeners are using season extenders and covering plants during the coldest days, while others are simply mulching. You can continue to harvest greens, lettuce, broccoli and more as needed, and you can start planting English peas.

◼️ If you grow your own vegetable transplants, start seeds of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower indoors. Grow lights or LED light kits will give you sturdier transplants, but it usually does take six to eight weeks to grow them.

◼️ If you still have spring-blooming bulbs that you haven't planted, get them in the ground as soon as possible. Remember they need to be exposed to 12 to 16 weeks of low temperatures if they are going to perform at their peak.

◼️ A few gardeners have reported seeing daffodils and other spring bulbs showing leaves already. Don't be alarmed, and don't remove the foliage as they only make one set of leaves. They will continue to grow based on how high the temperatures get.

◼️ Camellias have never had as many flower buds as they do this year. Sasanqua camellias are in bloom and doing well. Hard freezes might nip a few open flowers, but new buds continue to grow and add to the display. Japonica camellias have larger blooms and foliage, and they can be more sensitive to cold. If you have flower buds showing color and a cold snap is predicted, you might want to cut some to enjoy indoors.

◼️ January is the middle of the dormant season. If you have hardy trees or shrubs that need to be moved to another part of the yard, from now through mid-March is ideal. Dig the new hole before you dig up the plant, and try to get the plant back in the ground quickly. The roots are sensitive to cold and drying winds. Water them after transplant and pay attention to water needs if we don't get ample rainfall.


Spindly when young, gingko trees fill out after they mature. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Female gingko trees produce malodorous fruits that make a mess. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

As a species, Gingko biloba is one of the oldest living trees in the world. Fossils of the leaves have been found dating to the time of the dinosaurs.

Native to southeastern Asia, gingko was brought to the United States in 1784.

It has interesting, fan-shaped, simple leaves.

There are separate male and female plants, and you want a male plant as the female trees produce fleshy fruits that are malodorous and messy. The fruit is highly prized in other cultures and is eaten and used for medicine. Due to the odor, I can't imagine eating any part of it!

The tree can grow to be quite large over time (more than 100 feet tall), but it is slow growing. In the first 10 years of life, it can seem like it hardly grows at all, with very thin, sparse branches. Once it begins to mature, it will start to fill in and have a unique shape.

The leaves turn brilliant yellow in the fall. A unique feature is that when it is ready to shed its leaves, it is almost as if Mother Nature flips a switch and they all shed at once.

It is a wonderful tree for all landscapes.

Read Janet Carson's blog at

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