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Winter advice for gardeners

November 25, 2012

David Nagel
MSU Extension Service

Wayne Wells
MSU Extension Service

Leila Kelly
MSU Extension Service

Do you have a Camellia sinensis K. bush in your landscape? Would you be willing to donate a hardwood cutting for research purposes? C. sinensis is the bushy tree that provides the leaves for making tea. The easiest way to tell it from sasanqua or japonica camellias is by the sepals at the base of the flower. Tea flowers keep their sepals after blooming, the others’ sepals dry and often fall off. Tea camellias bloom in fall and the small flowers are generally white with five or so petals. C. sinensis is not as showy as its cousins and is not very widely planted, but it was often grown in older landscapes for its fragrance. Please provide your name and telephone number or email address to your local MSU Extension office if you would be willing to donate a cutting later this winter.
 
Vegetables

Tomato harvest is continuing for many Mississippi gardeners and we may be able to have vine ripe tomatoes for Thanksgiving. Our typical fall weather pattern of a night or two near freezing followed by a warming to daytime highs in the seventies is happening again this fall and although there are scattered reports of foliar damage, many gardeners are still harvesting. Fall tomatoes may need to be added to your garden plan next year.

The mostly dry fall has allowed many of us to grow our cabbage family crops with little or no disease pressure. Be sure to scout your plants for spots and necrotic areas a few days after wet cold fronts pass and treat the plants with the appropriate fungicide when you notice the first signs of problems.

Wild garlic (also called wild onion by many of us) is making its annual appearance in gardens now. Allium canadense is the dark green, somewhat scaley appearing member of the onion family that is native to Mississippi. We also have wild onion, but it is much rarer, is light green and smooth. Either of these two plants can be used like scallions in recipes after being washed. Using the plant is also a good way to remove it from spaces where it is not wanted. Just be sure to pull up the root system when you harvest.

Seed catalogues are starting to arrive. Go on line and order a few to give you some ideas for future gardens. Next year has been declared the year of the watermelon by the national garden bureau. Watermelons grow very well in Mississippi and can grow in a backyard garden if you have plenty of space. Garden Baby, Bush Jubilee and Bush Charleston Gray are bush type vines that require as little as ten square feet.

Winning Combination for Late Winter Color

Nobody would put flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) high on a list of underused trees. But one type of dogwood, cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), merits much more acclaim. Named for its bright-red fruits, this 20 foot tall tree bears clouds of soft-yellow blossoms in late February and early March. For two weeks or more, its shaggy-barked limbs appear dusted with sulfur.

 Similar in shape to flowering dogwood, cornelian cherry accepts a wider range of growing conditions, enduring both drought and poor, slightly alkaline soil. But given its druthers, it opts for moist, fertile, well-drained soil and light shade. For particularly handsome winter combination, try underplanting cornelian cherry with a sweep of Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), an evergreen ground cover. The white and rose blossoms of the latter open at roughly the same time as the trees. Lenten rose, like cornelian cherry prefers a slightly alkaline soil.
Plants don’t bloom to please you and me. They do so to reproduce. So you may wonder why any plant would bloom in winter, consider that insect pollinators are absent then. The answer is that insects aren’t absent. Many lie dormant through the cold, waiting for a mild spell to provide a midwinter meal. On a sunny January day, they awaken briefly and head for the blooms that await them. Insects appreciate the flowers of winter; for different reasons, so do we.

Kelly, Nagel and Wells are affiliated with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Article provided by the Oktibbeha County Extension Service; for more information call 662-323-5916.

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