Located in USDA hardiness zones 7 and 8, Alabama has a short, mild winter compared with northern states. The timing of winter-blooming shrubs varies. In the mildest counties near the Gulf Coast, the flowering begins much earlier than in the cooler inland counties along the Tennessee border.
As the last of its golden leaves drop away in late autumn, the common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) may start December still in bloom. Its yellow, ribbon-like flowers are fragrant. December is also a month to enjoy camellias; it is the end of the flowering season for sasanqua (Camellia sasanqua), and the beginning of bloom for the common and tea-oil camellias (Camellia japonica and Camellia oleifera, respectively). Other shrubs that flower in December in Alabama include Japanese fatsia (Fatsia japonica), fragrant tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) and perhaps winter Daphne (Daphne odora), if temperatures are mild.
The first of the early spring flowers bloom in January in Alabama's mild winter climate. Camellias, fragrant tea olive, winter Daphne and Japanese fatsia also continue blooming this month. Other shrubs starting their display includes winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and Japanese paperbush (Edgeworthia spp.). With bouts of warm weather, the first of the buds on flowering quinces (Chaenomeles spp.) and more witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia, Hamamelia vernalis) begin flowering. The first viburnums (Viburnum x bodnantense and Viburnum tinus) begin a healthy blossoming as well.
Although technically winter, February welcomes warmer temperatures in Alabama on the way to spring. As the flowering of camellias, fragrant tea olive and other shrubs reaching their peak in January wane this month, February finds more witch hazels coming into their floral prime, including Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), and increasing flowering quince flowers. Look for the tag alder's (Alnus serrulata) rusty orange catkin flowers as well as the tiny white blooms of fragrant sarcococca (Sarcococca ruscifolia). Commonly called Oregon grape or mahonia (Mahonia bealei, Mahonia japonica, Mahonia x media), the tops of these shrubs will bear their spikes of yellow flowers this month. Look for heath and heather (Erica spp.) to begin blooming profusely as the days lengthen.