Tips from pros help you DIY

With help from professionals, your yard can be a bright spot, full of foliage, among the gray and bare winter landscape.

“When planning a landscape, a lot of people think about plant material for spring, but it’s important to have something for all the different seasons,” said Chris Cordrey, co-owner of East Coast Garden Center in Millsboro.

For those not starting from scratch, first and foremost in preparing a winter landscape is trimming -- reshaping unruly foliage and getting rid of weak tree branches. Trimming will save you from unsightly dead material and falling branches and allow your deciduous plants to grow anew come springtime.

It’s important, however, not to get carried away. Peg Castorani, owner of Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin, warned against over-pruning and pointed out that there are exceptions.

“Don’t trim azaleas or rhododendrons now, because you’ll cut off the buds,” she said. “Wait until spring, after they bloom.”

Annuals, which are determined to be such in part by an area’s climate, die when the temperature reaches a certain level. Delaware lies in United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone 7, which means the state has an average annual minimum temperature of between 0 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you want annuals, such as palms, bromeliads and lilies, in your yard, you’ll have to wait until spring to plant them.

Evergreens, however, have foliage year-round, and allow for an attractive landscape through all four seasons.

“Evergreens aren’t just Christmas trees or holly,” Cordrey said. “There’s a whole range of yellows, greens and blues, and also berries.”

Winterberry, for example, produces red berries like holly, but without the prickly leaves. Camellias produce beautiful, bright flowers in winter that pop against white snow. Certain types of junipers and spruces produce green and blue foliage.

One of Cordrey’s favorites is red twig dogwood, which loses its leaves during winter to reveal bright red bark. It’s an eye-pleasing plant year-round, producing flowers in spring and green leaves in summer. Castorani prefers osmanthus, a shrub that blooms white flowers in springtime and boasts yellow and green leaves year-round.

As for your lawn, now is a good time to plant grass.

“When you’re putting down chemicals to kill weeds in the spring, that also kills new grass,” Cordrey said. “You don’t have to worry about weeds now.”

Castorani pointed out that this time of year provides nature’s best fertilizer: leaves. She doesn’t recommend raking.

“You want to chop them up with the lawn mower, because big, wet leaves will cause grass to die,” she said.

And don’t forget about fall bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Burying these bulbs now means they will bloom in the spring.

“You can layer them in the bottom of a pot,” Castorani said, “And put decorative trimmings on top.”

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