Winter Growing Perennials

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Everyone knows that such things exist. We see it, we talk about it, we just don’t take time to think about it too much.

When I point out these plants to people, they have an “aha” or “light bulb” moment.

“Oh, winter growing perennials? Those are perennials that grow in the winter! Now I get it!”

Growing Perennials in Winter

Winter growing perennials are in full flush right now. Some have flowers but most just masses of leaves. The flowers come in spring, then the entire plant dies down. I’m not talking about hellebors, sure they’re in flower now, but really the leaves flush a bit later and hang around all summer. I’m talking about true, cool season ephemerals that come up in fall, flush, flower in spring, then die back to dormant roots for the summer.

We pair them up with summer growers that do just the opposite. Honestly, it’s not like I have a full on winter perennial garden anywhere. I just mix them in.

Angelica pachycarpa

Yesterday, I was planting masses of my favorite Angelica pachycarpa. It looks like parsley for giants. (I remember the name easily as pachycarpa refers to an obsolete scientific name for giant mammals like elephants—the word is pachyderms.) Cut leaves, emerald green just like flat parsley, the only difference is the leaves get about 2 feet across. In May, 5 foot tall, thick and ribbed stalks hold golden green flowers just like parsley. Insects love them.

I paired that one with daylilies and baptisia.

In cooler climates, people grow Angelica gigas. It hates the deep South, always looking like an deflated tire.

Corydalis heterocarpa

My other favorite winter perennial, of the moment is the ferny leaf Corydalis heterocarpa. Blue gray leaves look sort of like Dicentra. Yellow flowers are actually coming on right now. I pair this with purple heart, crinum and it’s tough enough to grow in open groundcovers like vinca. In fact, it will seed itself around a lot. (In the photo, it’s on the bottom, under a golden maple – that pic is from May)

This is a time to think about them, enjoy them, look for them in gardens. As they start to go dormant in April, hold on to the “a ha” moment and to some pictures you’ve taken of them, and go back then, dig them up and divided them.

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