Southern Indiana Living

JAN-FEB 2018

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Jan/Feb 2018 • 11 T he phrase "dead of winter" be- comes preĴy much a mixed mes- sage as we all lean into the reali- ties of January and February. Sure, the season can be gray, cold, windy, dowdy, dull and expensive — Christmas bills and new snow tires — but none of those are necessarily fatal. And yes, "Dead of Winter" is also the title for a smash of a horror movie. But on the living side, the sky is nev- er bluer, the landscape whiter, the shrub profiles more lovely or the tree barks more vivid than in the dead of winter. Properly planned and planted, you can also enjoy those stunning shapes and colors peering out the living room window with the ther- mostat set at 72 degrees. Indeed, all you see pictured here can be seen from our house. But you have to think ahead and plant such in spring. First up on my hot list for winter color is the Japanese maple (Acer palma- tum) 'Sango-kaku' or 'Coral Bark' maple. Hidden Hill has a bunch. Its vase shape is already plenty aĴractive in late spring, summer and fall as its leaves emerge yel- low-green with red margins, turn light green in summer and yellow-gold in fall. But the real treat is in winter as the bark turns to coral-pink, with the stron- gest of colors on the younger twigs and branches. The effect is absolutely stunning — a coral tower (The loose translation of 'Sango-kaku') in the winter landscape. I did a fair amount of research trying to learn why the bark turns reddish-coral in winter without much success. My best guesses are it provides some sort of win- ter protection, or they are all Jimmy Buf- feĴ fans. Gentle warning: It is primarily the younger limbs of Sango-kaku that show the most January and February color. As the tree ages, the older bark winters over in a less interesting and muted color. If you need more proof of that, go look in the mirror. Next up on my Favorite Japanese Maples for Winter Color List is the acer palmatum 'Bihou,' which translates to "beautiful mountain range," a whole lot of description in five leĴers (and three of them vowels at that). Our Bihou is not far out the kitchen window, just a liĴle off to the right, an easy and welcome target for the winter sun. Its fall leaf color is a delicious yellow, but it really earns its landscape spurs in the winter with a golden yellow bark that will honor a tree that grows to about 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide. If you want to get all geographic about winter-color, in Japanese maples there is 'Pacific Fire,' which has an even darker red look than Sango-kaku, and 'Japanese Sunrise,' which has multicol- ored bark in red, yellow and even a liĴle orange. It will offer the same in an Indiana sunrise, too. As a general rule — if not a specific rule — Japanese maples want protection from the sun either through filtered light or sited in afternoon shade. In the dead of winter, of course, the leaves are all gone. If it's some winter-color in plants a liĴle closer to the ground, if not the pock- etbook you seek, the easiest solution is the red-twig dogwood, which now comes in about 10 different colors from actual red to yellowish to almost orange. They are very easy to grow, can take a weĴer area and make great "welcome home" plants along the driveway or high traffic areas. Other than the variegated cultivars and the white spring flowers, they are not real showy until winter, but then the music cranks up. 'Cardinal' and 'Arctic Fire' are, as the names suggest, some kind of red. 'Arctic Sun' goes yellow, orange and coral, and could make a good buddy with your Jap- anese maples. They are easily cared for — just prune heavily in late winter when the fires go out to keep the new, colorful branches coming. Another sure bet for late winter col- or — if not to cover your spiritual bases — is "Sacred Bamboo," more commonly known as 'Heavenly Bamboo' or Nandina domestica. This nandina, as opposed to many of the newer cultivars that are smaller, tight- er and have almost no berries, is covered with big bunches of bright red berries in the fall. It can be 5 to 6 feet tall, bloom with inconspicuous white flowers in spring, but go all heavenly with its berry displays that will last at least as long at your Christ- mas bills. Left to its own devices, it can get to 6 to 8 feet tall, but it can take drought and does very well in the shade. It is a congenial plant — it offers more berries when grown in bunches of three or five. It also has a bit of reputation for being invasive, but I've not had any of those problems in Hidden Hill's 8 land- scaped acres. There are even places where it would be welcome to fill in the gaps. Finally, if you're wondering about space issues, there is a dwarf nandina named 'Flirt' that has purple-red foliage about nine or 10 months a year. It doesn't berry as much, but so far no members of Congress have had to resign for trying to grow it. • Bob Hill owns Hidden Hill Nursery and can be reached at farmerbob@ hiddenhillnursery.com. For more information, including nursery hours and event information, go to www.hiddenhillnursery. com About the Author The sky is never bluer, the landscape whiter, the shrub profiles more lovely or the tree barks more vivid than in the dead of winter.

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