bouquet of large red blooming flowers

As I write this article, the view outside is of a winter wonderland. Yes, folks, I am looking at a snow-covered landscape in Sidney, Ohio. It has been many years since I have found myself up north during the winter months; it is much easier to invite family and friends to our Coastal Georgia home. However, this year it was decided that we would drive north to visit my husband’s mom over Thanksgiving. Family has been very careful to keep her isolated and safe; rather than a large Thanksgiving dinner, there were only four of us around the table and we were so glad we could safely be there for her. As a newly semi-retired individual, I had the opportunity to stay for a longer visit, so I did!

When we first arrived, we were given a list of gardening chores that are not the usual fall ones we do in coastal climatic zone 9a. I found my short list included digging up the tuberous roots of dahlias and the rhizomes of canna so that these perennials could be replanted into the garden next spring. Tuberous roots are simply thick and fleshy roots. Rhizomes are horizontal underground stems with lateral buds and adventitious roots that grow from the underground stem at intervals. As I dug both of these plants out of the sticky clay soil, rinsed them off and allowed them to dry, I was very aware of how much I appreciate our relatively mild winters as well as the sandy soils of the Georgia coast when it comes to digging!

In warmer regions, where the soil does not freeze in the winter months and air temperatures don’t fall below 20°F, these underground storage structures can remain in the garden. However, both plants do benefit from being cut back after the top foliage has died and every other year, being dug up so that the garden bed can be weeded and renourished with organic matter. Diseased/exhausted parts can be removed and healthy parts dusted with a fungicide before replanting. The fungicide will prevent the spread of pathogens to new plants or to healthy roots of the older plant. The flower colors and long-lasting blooms of both species make a spectacular display. Canna offers ornamental leaf color as well, depending on the cultivar chosen. Plant both in full sun and moist, well-drained soils for best results in flowering and root health.

Amaryllis is another popular tender flowering perennial. Its underground storage structure is a bulb. Tucked inside decorative kits, the naked bulb (with pot included) often shows up in stores during the holidays. In seasons past, my brother sent one every year to our mom, who loved to see the flower emerge indoors. She was also an Ohio resident and knew that amaryllis could not be planted year round in her garden. So, after the plant flowered, she would pass it along to me so that I could plant it into our southern garden. Amaryllis do well in full sun, blooming with exotic trumpet shaped flowers in solid or bicolor shades of red, pink, white, salmon, apricot, rose and deep burgundy. The blooms unfold on 1-2 foot leafless stalks (scapes) in early spring; green foliage emerges from the base of the scape after blooming. A bonus for those of us with foraging deer is that the deer won’t eat this plant and consequently, it returns faithfully for many years. My collection of bulbs has survived three garden transplants due to moves made over the past 37 years. I always left a good five to seven plants for the next homeowner to enjoy. Hopefully, when the flowers appeared in the early spring following their home purchase, the new owners appreciated them as much as I did. Amaryllis can be kept year round indoors. My Colorado sister-in-law has quite a few in a narrow rectangular pot placed under a bright sunny window. Keep in mind that blooming only occurs once each year with the remaining months offering just green foliage. Out in the garden, my bulbs are planted in a mass with long blooming perennial salvias as the background plants so that there is ornamental value in the spot from early spring to late fall. Every spring as the flower stalks appear and the flowers unfurl, I am forever grateful of the memories of my mom and her pass-along plants.

As the temperatures reach a balmy 35° F and the sun finally appears in the sky, I plan on bundling up to take a walk down the gravel road to the barn and fields beyond, counting my blessings (no gnats or mosquitoes or any sightings of weeds). I encourage all of you who can do so to take a moment to go outdoors for a change of scenery, a bit of exercise and some fresh air!