Our Tennessee winters are wonderful things. Mild weather usually means we can garden, to some degree, year round. Vegetables can be grown under the cover of poly tunnels or cold frames and some do well just fine outdoors, but what about the landscape? In the winter the deciduous trees have no leaves and the color around us tends to be varying shades of gray and brown. That's when plants with features other than leaves come into play. Stems and bark can become and integral part of your garden and bring color even in the most drab of weather conditions. Today lets look at the red twig dogwood for winter color!
Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea, Cornus alba, Cornus stolinifera) sports bright red branches and stems on young growth. To keep the plant producing the red stems periodic pruning of older branches and stems is a good idea. In the spring and early summer red twig dogwoods produce clusters of white flowers similar in appearance to some viburnums. The flowers will eventually produce berries that really don't have much visual interest. The berries are not why we grow this plant! The red stems look fantastic when placed in front of an evergreen backdrop of arborvitae or native juniper trees. If you want some sort of interest in the warmer months tree Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' which not only has the characteristic red stems but sports variegated foliage throughout the warmer months.
Once you have a red twig dogwood or two it is easy to make many more. I have propagated red twig dogwoods simply by sticking hardwood cuttings taken in the late fall and winter in a garden bed. The bed should be kept weed free and moist but not soggy. Propagating red twig dogwood in pots with tents or a plastic bottle over it works great too. Just make sure it never dries out completely and you don't over water.
If you're someone who enjoys making arrangements of evergreen foliage at Christmas time the branches of the red twig dogwood will fit right in! If you don't have a red twig dogwood yet for your garden and you need a little bright color to cheer it up make it down on your list of plants to plant. You'll enjoy it next year after the leaves have fallen!
If you were to ever visit my garden you would quickly notice that salvias are one of my favorite plants. There's a salvia of some kind in nearly every ornamental garden bed. It's easy to see to why I like them. Salvias are beautiful plants that bloom prolifically throughout the summer but it's not just their looks that I like. Salvias are wildlife resistant and are great for pollinators.
In our garden you will find several different types of salvias including both annuals and perennials. There are purple colored salvias like 'May Night' (Salvia nemorosa) or 'Caradonna'. There are blue salvias (Salvia farinacea) near our blue garden shed. Red salvias like Salvia coccinea (an annual) reseed themselves each year. Another red salvia that is usually an annual is pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), which came back this spring due to our extremely mild winter. There's even a shrub like salvia called Autumn sage (Salvia greggii). Autumn sage blooms briefly in the spring then comes along in the fall with a profusion of red blooms.
One of the best performing salvias in our garden is salvia 'Black and Blue' or Salvia gauranitica. 'Black and Blue' can grow fairly large, spreading 5 feet wide or more through its root system. It's a fairly easy salvia to spread around if you need it in new areas as it divides very easily! Like many other salvias it is well loved by hummingbirds because of the tube like flowers.
Salvias like many other perennials are very easy to propagate through stem tip cuttings or through division. Deer and rabbits generally leave salvias alone, but keep in mind that in order to decide they don't like something animals need to taste it first!
The frosts chances have almost passed for us here in Tennessee. In fact we just had one this morning, but in just a few days we'll be able to safely plant outside in our gardens all the summer vegetables we desire! Of course the most planted vegetable of all (really a fruit) has to be the tomato. I'm going to share with you one secret of planting tomatoes that will make your plants much more healthy this year. It's all in the planting. This little technique has been around for a while but its so useful it really needs shared. The secret to planting tomatoes is to plant as much of the stem under the soil as you can when you first plant it!
The tomato plant is excellent at creating roots along the stem. Have you ever noticed that shaded areas of the tomato grow roots along the stems? This ability is what gardener's put to use in developing plants that grow strong, healthy, and that are more water-wise. When planting the tomatoes dig a hole as nearly deep as the tomato plant. Then remove all the leaves from the plant except for the top two leaves. Plant the tomato in the hole and fill in with soil so that the top two leaves remain above the soil's surface. The tomato will grow roots all along the stem which gives it a larger root system much faster than simply planting the already established roots!
Another way to do this is to dig a shallow trench as long as the tomato and lay the tomato plant horizontally in the trench. The top leaves are left above the soil while the rest of the plant is covered. This works great too but if you want to plant companion plants close to the tomato plant you may have to be careful not to cut into the tomato roots and stem. I like the first method better but sometimes the soil isn't as easy to dig as deep as you need to get the tomato plant planted.
This easy tomato trick really is an awesome way to plant tomatoes!