February 2020 Park of the Month: Theodora Park

With the new year comes our annual garden clean up and winter pruning in our Charleston Parks. Plants are dormant now and the leftover flowering stalks and debris are cut back in anticipation of new growth to begin in early March. One of our parks undergoing its winter cutback is Theodora Park in downtown Ansonborough. Our Zonal Horticulturist Patrick Dollason shared his expertise on the seasonal maintenance required for this particular park.

__From our Zonal Horitculturist – Patrick Dollason __

Pruning in general promotes strong, healthy growth; the reduction of wood allows the plant to divert more of its energy into healthy new growth. Pruning also encourages fruiting and flowering; it eliminates growth from the past year that may possibly be diseased or damaged. Finally, we also prune for aesthetics to keep plants growing at a certain size and habit. During most winters, our perennial plants will “die back” due to freezing temperatures. This cold-damaged growth will be pruned both for aesthetics and to allow energy to be put into new growth.

At Theodora Park, we cut back the Liriope muscari (monkey grass), the Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern), and the Cyrtomium falcatum (holly fern). We prune these back close to the ground, taking care not to cut any new growth on the plants. If we prune them early enough (January to early February), the new growth usually hasn’t emerged yet.

This year is different; mild temperatures and lots of rain have caused the plants to flush earlier than usual. We may do some pruning to the Camellia sasanqua and the Rhododendron indicum (southern indica or evergreen azalea), mostly to maintain size and overall health. It’s important to prune these after they bloom in the spring. They set flower buds on the previous season’s growth, so pruning them too early will remove these buds and prevent flowering. Finally, we’ll prune the Trachelospermum jasminoides (Confederate jasmine) after they bloom in the spring. This is a plant that will need to be trimmed on a bi-weekly schedule during the growing season in order to keep them confined to their bedspaces.

Theodora Park is home to quite a few “southern favorites.” It has a grand, mature tree canopy produced mainly by three large specimens of Quercus virginiana (live oaks) and two Magnolia grandiflora (Southern magnolia). Both are native trees that dominate the traditional southern landscape. The south side of the park is home to a row of Sabal palmetto (palmetto, cabbage palm, or palm tree). These native trees do a good job of softening the neighbor’s brick wall and providing a sort of ceiling above the sasanqua camellias.

This time of year, the camellias are just starting to bloom in the southeast corner of the park. They’ll be relatively short-lived, so get out and see them soon. The Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) is among the first to bloom in the spring. The azaleas will most likely be blooming a little earlier than usual this year. Look for them to be blooming in late February to early March. The Confederate jasmine will bloom a little later in the spring. Most people are used to seeing this evergreen vine climbing on fences, telephone polls, and arbors, but we’ve planted it as a groundcover. Look for a blanket of white flowers beneath the live oaks. As a foliar interest, be on the lookout for the new fern growth, called “fiddleheads.” Stoop down low to really appreciate this natural work of art.

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