Hopefully, the current election cycle hasn’t pushed you to the brink like George Bailey contemplating a plunge into the icy water in the classic 1946 movie. Political silliness aside, we do have a wonderful life here in southeastern North Carolina just as George comes to understand.

While I’m certainly not trying for my wings as your guardian angel, I do have some suggestions for simple, low-cost things you can do in the garden that won’t require signing your life away at the Building and Loan.

Even ornery Mr. Potter might crack a smile if he saw the bright yellow trumpets of daffodils on a cool morning in February and March. Old standbys like ‘Dutchmaster’ and ‘King Alfred’ perform well and are easy to find. Thanksgiving is a good time to plant daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs. Choose a site that is well-drained and receives plenty of sunlight. Soil amended with lots of organic matter and “bulb-booster” fertilizer will improve the performance of bulbs that will hang around for many years like the daffodils. Tulips are basically annuals in our climate, so the amendments aren’t necessary. Daffodils also contain a toxic substance that keeps them from being eaten by deer, voles and other critters – a distinct advantage here and in Bedford Falls.

Plants that put on a show at unusual times are great garden investments.

Lenten rose is a tough perennial with evergreen foliage that blooms in mid to late winter. It has a bit of an identity crisis sporting blooms of many different colors – white, plum, pink, magenta and lots of pastel shades in between. Decent drainage and some shade are the only requirements. Lenten rose and other hellebores tend to be slow starters in the garden, so patience is necessary. Your patience will be rewarded with interesting flowers and foliage that aren’t typically bothered by critters or diseases and insects.

Bert the policeman might battle with a drunken George Bailey, but there’d be no quarrel over the breath-taking beauty of Japanese flowering apricot in bloom. This small tree in the cherry family sports blooms in shades of pink and white during warm spells in January and February. There are even weeping forms available if you’re looking for that special garden specimen. While not readily available in garden centers, this tree isn’t fussy only requiring decent soil with good drainage and lots of sunlight. Stop by the New Hanover County Arboretum in Wilmington and you’ll see several older plants and some newer ones that have just been added in that last year or so.

One of the things that provides the most joy in my garden is the landscape lighting — especially during the winter when the interesting forms and bark of crape myrtles and Japanese maples are so prominent.

While it’s obviously not the least expensive garden improvement, you won’t have to steal Uncle Billy’s mortgage money to get started. Spend wisely by purchasing a transformer with a timer and photocell in a stainless steel case and buy the higher quality aluminum, copper or composite fixtures. These won’t succumb to rust and corrosion like the cheaper components.

Improving your garden with interesting bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees and landscape lighting is great.

But, remember that sharing it with friends and family is what will help you have that wonderful life.

If your plant life isn’t doing wonderfully stop by our Plant Clinic, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 6206 Oleander Drive in Wilmington. Be sure to check out our websiteces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610. You can also find great local information at nhcarboretum.com and on Facebook. Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.”


Al Hight is the extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in New Hanover County. Contact him at 910-798-7666.