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Let It Snow

Make your garden shine, even in winter.

Make your garden shine, even in winter.

People tend to focus on how their garden looks in spring, summer, and fall, but do not put that same emphasis on the garden in winter.  I am just as guilty of this as anyone.  However, it is possible to add interest for the winter by utilizing plants that are also attractive at other times of the year.  There are several types of winter gardens as well as several ways for plants to add winter interest.

Types of Winter Gardens

There are four types of winter gardens.  First, are gardens in northern climates where there is consistent snow cover all season.  Second are middle tier gardens where there is snow and ice throughout the season, but the landscape will tend to alternate between snow covered and bare throughout the winter.  The third type of winter garden is similar to the second type, but snow is rare and it is generally too cold to expect plants to grow in the winter - although pansies might do fine.  The last type of winter garden is the sunbelt type garden where some plants can be kept growing and blooming through the season.


Evergreen trees and shrubs are what most people think of when they consider plants for winter interest.  Evergreens are often considered the backbone of the garden.  They are a presence in the garden day-in and day-out not to mention year-in and year-out.  Evergreens tend to be a long-term investment and placing them correctly is one of the best things you can do for your garden.  It may be worth having a professional help you place the plants correctly in the landscape for best impact.  Evergreens are great choices to add winter impact in all types of winter gardens, see photo of Castle Spire® Ilex on right.

Another way to use evergreens is in large pots.  These plants can be moved, as needed and are great accent plants for entries, decks and patios.  As with any perennial type plant in a pot, you will need to make sure the plant is at least two zones hardier than the zone within which you live to ensure survival for the winter.  The interest from evergreens comes in the form of color (blues and greens mostly), texture and form.  They can work great as a backdrop for other plants with winter interest.

While evergreens are certainly a great place to start, they aren't the only way to add interest for the winter months.

Interesting Bark

Trees and shrubs can also show-off colored, patterned or textured bark in winter.  Impactful plants with interesting bark are usually deciduous which allows the bark to be showcased after the leaves have fallen in autumn, see photo of Arctic Fire Cornus at left.  Interesting bark has many of the same attributes as evergreen plants.  It is a presence day-in and day-out, as well as year-in and year-out.  Most plants with interesting bark are long term investments and care should be taken when placing them in the landscape.  Plants with interesting bark can be quite variable, from large trees, like Paperbark Maple, that become a focal point to smaller shrubs, like dogwood, that add impact when they are poking out of the snow or showcased against a backdrop.   Interesting bark is usually most effective in winter climates with persistent snow.  However, interesting bark can also work great in winter gardens where it can be contrasted against evergreens, walls or fences.

Berries and Flowers

Berries are another of the main ways to add winter interest in all climates.  Hollies are probably the classic winter berry bearing shrub.  What could be more Christmas than holly berries?  I've also found that the birds rather enjoy the holly berries.  Keep in mind to get good berry set with most hollies you need to have a male pollinator planted to go with the berry bearing female plants.  Some hollies are evergreen and some are deciduous.  The berries will be most visible on deciduous hollies, but are quite impressive on the evergreen version as well.  Viburnum and Coral Berry are two other top choices for berry bearing shrubs.  Shrubs that have winter berries will add interest in all kinds of winter climates.

There are few plants that will flower in the winter in most areas of the country.  Pansies and Violas will have the widest flowering range, although Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) and Hellebores (Helleborus) will provide blooms in climates as cold as zone 5 and in some cases zone 4.  For those in the sunbelt or in other very mild winter climates, there is actually a fairly varied plant list available.  This list includes, but isn't limited to, Diascia, Nemesia, Osteospermum, Chrysocephalumand Snapdragon.

Persisting Foliage, Seed heads and Seed Pods

Many plants will turn brown and dry as fall progresses.  In many cases it is best to cut back the plants and compost them.  However, some plants can look quite nice through the winter.  In some cases the interest is in the dried flower heads, for instance some ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus, and shrubs, such as Hydrangea, have great dried flower heads, as you can tell from the photo of White Dome® Hydrangea at the right.  Perennials can also sometimes have showy dried flower heads, such as fall flowering Sedum.  Seed pods and foliage can also be attractive in winter.  Dried seeds, flowers and foliage looks best in gardens with persistent snow coverage in winter, but will also work in any garden where you can contrast them against a backdrop.

Paint, Statuary and Pottery

Don't think that plants are the only way to add winter interest to your garden.  If you have a wooden fence or wall in your garden a coat of brightly colored paint can be a quick and inexpensive way to add color to your garden.  Brightly painted benches, chairs, arbors and lattice can all add a pop of color to an otherwise sleeping garden.  Statues and brightly colored pottery can do the same.  If you are using garden art and pots, make sure the pieces can withstand the cold weather experienced in most gardens.  Paint and garden art, work to jazz up any garden any time of year.


White Dome® 'Dardom' US PP14,168; Arctic Fire 'Farrow' US PP18,523; Castle Spire® 'Hachfee' US PP14,310; Can. PBR 2314

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