January, the beginning of a new year, is filled with hopes, dreams,

and opportunities. We are refreshed, albeit a bit tired and a bit antsy from sitting and eating too much during the holidays and winter hibernation. However, if one wants to get control of our gardens, now is the time to engage before the growing season reaches full speed! Seed catalogues will be arriving daily, and the sky is clear, blue, and sunny—beckoning us to shop at nurseries for the latest new hybrids or hard to find natives. It is time get out of our comfy chairs to clear the fallen leaves, dead plants, and other garden debris in order to provide a clean palette for our spring gardens!

Even though Georgia has relatively mild winters when compared to those in the northern states and mountainous regions, we do have our share of cold weather with concurrent periods of plant dormancy. I look out onto my front yard and pastures with views of massive grey Oak tree trunks, barren hydrangeas, and islands of greenery from ferns, azaleas, and camellias. Overall, it seems more drab until one makes the effort to walk through the fallen oak leaves to seek out the winter blooming plants surrounded by barren skeletons of dormant plants and tender shoots of bulbs preparing to greet the spring — it is a beautiful kaleidoscope of art full of hope, awe and the anticipation of so much more to come!

From now until June my gardens will offer surprises daily — if not by providing a full regalia of blooming azaleas, I also may happen upon a single, small spring ephemeral braving the harsh cold making its debut to announce the new season! Even now some of the lenten roses are in full bloom! The most promising and guaranteed early blooms will include daffodils, and cyclamen. Their shoots and leaves have already broken through the hardened soil.

With sadness I will soon begin addressing the lingering skeletons of last year’s bounty by removing dried stalks, seed heads, dead leaves, and other remains from last season’s garden! Who knows what 2022 will bring? For certain, my first wave of flowers will include dutch bulbs: daffodils, tulips, and crocus. Native spring ephemerals also are early bloomers — it is a necessity for them to bloom early to take advantage of access to sunshine during their short lived appearance before the leaves on the trees render their habitat in shadows. Georgia has an abundance of spring ephemerals, which attracts hikers and plant lovers to their favorite paths to seek the ever fleeting blooms of the Trout Lily, Bloodroot, Trillium, Podophyllum, Toothwort, Virginia Bluebells, Claytonia virginica, Cardamine and Woodland Phlox. Fleeting as they are, these plants provide early flowers for early emerging pollinator insects (and flower-deprived, winter weary humans).

We also enjoy plants that bloom in the areas with mild southern winters, and although they may not be native, they make an attractive addition to the garden. By having a rich and abundant source of native plants I feel confident that native bees and other insects will be well supported by my gardens, irrespective of my planting a few non-native plants. As I consider my main priority in creating gardens is to support our native pollinators my plantings are pollinator friendly, and I manage it to allow for pollinator habitats. I do not spray herbicides or insecticides. I limit the number of hybrid flowers I plant as many do not produce nectar to feed the pollinators. I also provide habitats for pollinators — my excuse for not having the tidiest of gardens.

As more people learn about the value and importance of native plants in support of our pollinators the demand for native plants has increased. As a result nurseries and terminology has adapted to this new market. The term “cultivar” has increasingly been used to specify that a native plant cultivar is a native plant found in the wild, then propagated and trademarked for sale by nurseries. It is not a hybrid (a cross of two different species), but rather a unique native plant that has been identified and cultivated for sale. There are several reasons for selecting a plant to be a cultivar, including the expression of desirable flower traits, leaf color, leaf shape, plant form, and fruit characteristics, among others. Additional preferred characteristics could include more or less pollen or darker leaves. It is important to note that the more the cultivars are manipulated, the less attractive they became to pollinators.

The following considerations should help you determine whether you should choose cultivars over native plants:

1. Will it have flower traits that reduce nectar and pollen, then do not use it.

2. If the plant has dark leaf forms, then do not use it.

3. If the plant has other modified traits such as form and fruit size, then probably okay.

4. If the plant species are NOT regionally appropriate for your garden then NO.

5. If you will be planting some of the straight species as well for diversity, then it is probably OK.

Every time a plant is modified, the risk of diminishing its primary role of providing food and nectar for birds and insects occurs. For example, native coneflowers are excellent food sources for pollinators, however, the jury is still out on whether hybrids are as beneficial. It is known that hybrid echinaceas with multiple blooms are useless to pollinators because the extra petals block nectar and pollen access — although some single flowered hybrids are as attractive to pollinators as the parent plant. Also, some hybrid varieties are sterile and do not produce viable seeds to support seed eating birds and wildlife. As genetic clones, hybrids do not contribute genetic diversity for the species gene pool. Less genetic diversity transmitted to the next generation of plants leaves a species at risk for disease and decay of their genetic line. In considering your decision to plant natives or hybrids, it really all comes down to whether your goal is to increase biodiversity and improve habitat for nature, or to improve the aesthetics of your gardens by adding a splash of color or form.

Additional information/publications on horticulture can be found at the University of Georgia’s Extension Website, http://extension.uga.edu/. In addition, the local UGA Douglas County Extension Office is available to assist: uge2097 @uga.edu or 770-920-7224. For suggestions for future articles, you may also email douglasaskamastergardener @gmail.com.

Additional information/publications on horticulture can be found at the University of Georgia’s Extension Website, http://extension.uga.edu/. In addition, the local UGA Douglas County Extension Office is available to assist: uge2097@uga.edu or 770-920-7224. For suggestions for future articles, you may also email douglasaskamastergardener@gmail.com.

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