Piedmont Park in January.

While winter is not typically a time we think of for blooms, there are a few winter flowers I always look forward to including some of the camellias, snowdrops, and Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume).

I was first charmed by Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) when I lived in Pennsylvania and brought some with me when I moved to Atlanta many years ago. While they didn’t persist in my garden I have since added more and am rewarded with a few sparse blooms every year. 

These tiny hardy bulbs are best to transplant “in the green.”  In other words, if you know someone that has snowdrops growing in their garden and they are willing to share, move them while they have their foliage.  There is a small clump that grow in my neighborhood in a patch of ivy (please note I don’t recommend planting English ivy) next to the sidewalk. Seeing them pop into bloom always brings a smile to my face. 

Snowdrops.

Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) is a medium-sized tree that  blooms in January to February in Atlanta. While it produces small fruits that are edible, they are not known to be tasty. It is the fragrant flowers on green stems that make this plant garden worthy. There are selections with pink, magenta and white flowers, both single and double. 

While I am admittedly a lover of trees during every season, in January I appreciate their spare beauty, whether I’m hiking in the north Georgia woods or strolling through Piedmont Park. 

Japanese flowering apricot.

This month is a great time to plant trees in Atlanta. Before you get out your shovel, it’s ideal to know what type of tree or trees you will plant and the best technique for planting. It also is important to plant the right tree in the right place. This will help ensure that your tree thrives. 

If you took photos throughout the year of trees you admired, this is a good place to begin.  It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to start with large trees.

A container-grown tree (usually a 15- or 30-gallon) is easier to manage than a large balled and burlapped tree. It will also catch up in a few years with trees that are of a larger size when they are planted.  

White oak (Quercus alba) is a fantastic tree for numerous reasons, but it need lots of space and is ideal where a specimen tree is called for.  This is true for most of our native oaks as well as hickories and tulip poplar. All of these are large canopy trees.

Understory trees are smaller and include redbuds, fringe trees, dogwoods and Amelanchier species (also known as serviceberry or shadblow). 

Pignut Hickory in winter.

Tips for Planting 

Trees Atlanta has a great video that is worth watching in its entirety on “How to plant a tree.” The link is treesatlanta.org/resources. It covers in detail the steps listed below. 

  • Preparing the hole. Remove any grass, mulch or weeds before you dig the hole. The planting hole needs to be twice as wide as the container in which the tree is growing but only as deep as the container. It should be dug like a cereal bowl — flat on the bottom, with sides of the hole that flare. 
  • Preparing the root ball. Often the roots are wrapped tightly around the soil ball. Use a hand cultivator to loosen them. Expose the root flare (the part of the tree at the base where it transitions to the root system, occurring at the surface level of the soil). The soil should reach this level when the tree is placed in the hole. 
  • Backfilling the hole. Once you have placed the tree in the hole, fill with soil that you dug out, making sure there are no air pockets. It should be firm, but still allow water to get to the roots. 
  • Building a berm. Once the tree is planted, use the excess soil to create a berm of soil that surrounds the tree. It should start at the periphery of the root ball and be at least 4 inches high and about 8 inches wide.  This forms a basin to catch water that will then get to the tree roots easily. 
  • Mulching. Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch. This insulates the roots, protects the tree from lawn mowers and helps suppress weeds. Keep the root flare exposed and keep a wide area around the trunk where no mulch touches the trunk. 
  • Watering. Once the tree is planted, water it  well. This helps the roots and the tree get established. The water should stay inside the berm. Two large buckets of water applied slowly should do the trick.  

Other garden projects for January include ongoing cleanup. Cut back perennials that have long been finished and remove diseased, dead or damaged wood from shrubs that  will bloom next year.  You can also renovate overgrown shrubs by removing one-third of the oldest branches from the base of the plant. 

January is also a good time to edge beds or add a stone border to delineate the lawn areas from your planting beds. If your garden is tidy, and you have no chores left to do, (or even if you still have chores) be sure to take a stroll in your neighborhood, favorite local park or in the mountains and enjoy the beauty that January offers. 

Erica Glasener

Erica Glasener is the Community Involvement and Events Manager for the Piedmont Park Conservancy and serves on the advisory board for Trees Atlanta.