The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Colorful plants to light up our cold landscapes

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Once the fiery colored leaves fall from the trees, autumn can be a dreary time. Cold weather colors our landscapes using the blah colors remaining in the crayon box, as though all the other seasons wore down the brightly colored crayons to mere nubs.

Fortunately some plants offer leaf colors beyond the blahs of fall and winter. With strategic plant selection and placement, the landscaped areas we pass by as we race from car to door can be the beacons that light our autumn days.

In September when mums are typically the gardener's choice we could also add flowering kale, flowering cabbage or red mustard to our landscapes or containers to extend iridescent colors well into winter. With many shades of purples, pinks and reds these colorful cold hardy relatives of our vegetables just get more brilliantly colored once temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Their vivid colors endure well into winter, as long as temperatures stay above 20 degrees.

Some perennials offer year around color. Yuccas may look more accustomed to deserts than decks, but they can be perfectly at home in our backyards. The 30 some species of yucca are native to different parts of North America. Their upright sword shaped leaves offer great structure to a garden in all four seasons. The green-leafed yucca is occasionally listed as a garden thug as it produces many offshoots. Fear not. The newer cultivars with yellow striping in the leaves such as 'Color Guard' and 'Bright Edge' are not as prolific in the landscape and offer even more color in a winter garden. Adam's needle (Yucca filamentosa) is native to much of southeastern U.S. including Illinois and is winter hardy and drought resistant. In addition yucca perseveres through winter since deer and rabbits prefer to munch on other plants. Wet soils are yucca's only enemy.

Some of the stalwarts of a shady perennial garden such as coralbell (Heuchera), foamflower (Tiarella) or bugleweed (Ajuga) show off their colorful variety of purple, green or silver leaves well into the cold days of winter. With their ridges and ruffles some have more frills than a square dancer's petticoat. As edging plants, groundcovers or container plants these colorful characters are valuable throughout all our seasons.

The bluish colored stems of one of our native grasses, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) progress into dark red to purple to bronze colored through the fall and winter. The two to three foot tall perennial grass is a great back drop in a sunny flower border or useful as a groundcover in a naturalized garden.

'Angelina' sedum (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina') is one of my favorite groundcovers in sunny areas. At three to six inches tall it is a great filler plant. During cold weather the chartreuse leaves tinged with purple are striking when little else is notable.

It may be cold outside but it's the perfect time to discover plants that add color to all our seasons. Take a hike to a public garden near you including the Champaign County Master Gardener Idea Garden on south Lincoln Avenue in Urbana to note cold-loving colorful plants.

If you are ready to learn more about gardening and want to volunteer in your community, the Master Gardener program may be for you. Training for Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties starts the end of January 2015 in three locations; Champaign, Danville and Onarga; however, applications are due November 28, 2014. Check out our web site for more information and to apply online Questions? Our great horticulture team is here to help: in Champaign (217.333.7672) Ava Heap; in Danville (217.442.8615) Jenney Hanrahan; or in Onarga (815.268.4051) Trent Hawker

For information about other county programs, check with your local UI Extension office.

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