Think ahead when spring planting

Red Switch Grass

By Janice Sroufe

The last year, spent by myself at home, caused me to consider my garden as almost my only companion. I was not looking forward to it going away for the winter.

My gardening goal became to be able to walk through the garden and find beauty and treasure at any moment — even in the coldest times of the year. 

In the new, mostly native garden in my front yard, constructed last spring and summer, I tried to keep in mind how it would look from all directions in all seasons. I did not want my neighbors to be upset with me for taking out one-third of my front lawn and letting it look like a weed patch in summer and a dead zone in the winter.

Using tons of dirt, lots of rock and old fence posts, the flat ground grew into a curving hill with terracing on all sides. Then I started planting.

I researched plants that would like lots of sun, not be too aggressive and be interesting in some way all year

Spring was spent planting everything I could find and pulling lots of weeds from the new dirt.

In summer, the weed problem lessened and the plants flourished and filled in beautifully.

In fall, again the plants were lush and beautiful.

Winter exceeded my expectations. Some plants remained green and the structural interest of the ones that turned brown and tan was amazing. The wood and rocks became more visible, and the garden actually looks like it has been there for years.

If you are interested in adding plants to your garden that you can enjoy in winter, listed below are a few of my new faves.

Grasses: Red switch grass, pink muhly, Mexican feather, blue fescue and especially Blond Ambition blue grama with its little flag-shaped blonde seed heads that last all winter. Purple fountain grass, which is an annual here, was the star of the garden and I dug up a few roots to try and over winter inside.

Asters: A friend in Utah gave me some seed for the desert native aster, which I planted inside and then moved to the garden. Sage green, fern-like leaves with little purple flowers on a wildly bushy plant that turns the color of driftwood in winter with little seed-ball decorations. 

Sedum: I planted as many hardy varieties as I could find. One turned an amazing shade of bright yellow in late fall and remained that color through the winter. Some turn red, some stay green, all look wonderful nestled into the rocks.

Yucca: I planted a native one that my neighbor dug up in western Kansas and it has remained green. Texas red, with its stunning red flower, turned brown but remained interesting. 

Lettuce, Swiss chard, ornamental cabbage and kale: A variety of leaf shapes and colors that grow, bloom and reseed readily are available. A purple lettuce with huge ruffled leaves and lovely yellow blooms is one of my favorites. I planted these pretty vegetables in the front garden because I had extra plants and needed to fill some space. They were so pretty that I think they will continue to find a home there.

Rosemary, sage, thyme: Some varieties stay green all winter. Snow falling on the rosemary is delightful and I was able to harvest it for cooking all winter. 

Pansies: Maybe my favorite little plant. Bright little faces on cute little mounds of leaves. Plant them in the fall to replace summer annuals. They lie down a bit when it is really cold, but sun and warmer temperatures lift their pretty faces. In spring they grow like crazy and provide masses of color until summer’s heat knocks them out.

Janice Sroufe is a Sedgwick County Master Gardener. She welcomes comments and questions. Contact her at
Janice.sro@gmail.com.

print