Tips for a Spectacular Winter Garden

See how to make your garden look good even in winter when nothing is blooming


Gardening is not all about flowers and color, it’s also about foliage, texture and structure. Every winter I look out into the yard and think about how the view can be made better by the addition of plants that can provide winter interest.

Some plants have beautiful seed heads or winter berries that provide food for the birds and look beautiful with a layer of snow on them. And then there are other plants that have colorful stems or peeling bark that adds to the winter interest. I encourage you to take a look at your gardens this winter and make notes as to what you can add to them to make them more interesting in the future. Following are some of my tips on how you can make your winter gardens more interesting.

  1. Garden Art - Good quality metal art pieces can usually survive even the worst winters, no matter where you live in the world. Whether it be salvaged art or metal obelisks or trellises, there is certainly something for every type of garden. Metal art pieces can be expensive, but luckily, just one or two signature pieces in your yard is all that you require to make a winter scene a little more interesting.

    If you live in a warmer climate, you may be able to leave mosaic garden spheres, concrete garden art and glass garden totems out all year round, but if the temperatures frequently fall below freezing you may want to bring those items inside for winter.
  2. Shrubs – There are several shrubs that have beautiful colored stems or that have interesting shapes that can be added to your garden to make it a little more interesting in winter. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Arctic Fire™ Red-Osier Dogwood Cornus stolonifera grown by Proven Winners is an excellent choice for a smaller shrub that grows about 3-4 feet tall and wide. It’s hardy in zones 2-7 and likes partial shade with moist, well-drained soil.

   

  • Arctic Sun™ Dogwood Cornus sanguinea, also grown by Proven Winners has lovely yellow stems with red tips and is hardy from zones 4-7.
  • Black Lace™ Elderberry Sambucus nigra has a beautiful shape, similar to a Japanese maple, with winter berries. Generally this shrubs grows less than 8’ tall and is hardy in zones 4-7.
  • Berry Heavy® Winterberry Holly Ilex verticillata is a small shrub that gets beautiful bright red berries on the stems in winter. The birds usually leave the berries on the stems until late winter and then suddenly they are gone. This winterberry grows to be about 6-7 feet tall and is hardy in zones 3-9. They really like boggy wet soils and must have a male winterberry nearby for pollination. If you don’t have a male nearby, you will not get berries. A popular male variety is known as Mr. Poppins™.

  • American Witch Hazel Hamamelis virginiana L. is a lovely shrub or small tree with delicate yellow blooms that stay on the plant from late fall into early spring. Witchhazel will grow in partial shade, but will bloom better in full sun. They are hardy in zones 3-9 and prefer average to fertile soils that drain well. When happy, they will grow to 15-20 feet tall.
  • Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ is a wonderful shrub with corkscrew type branches that grows to about 8 feet tall and wide. This plant prefers mostly sun and well-drained, alkaline soils and is hardy in zones 4-8.
  • Evergreen Shrubs are a wonderful addition to a winter garden because they do not lose their leaves or needles. Some good ones to try are holly, boxwood, camellia (for warmer climates), false cypress and juniper.

  • Pussy Willow are shrubs that thrive in wet soils and will have small fluffy little catkins in late winter and early spring. Pussy willows are hardy in zones 4-9 and grow up to 25 feet tall, depending on variety. I personally grow the Giant Pussy Willow Salix chaenomeloides and Black Pussy Willow Salix gracilistylus ‘Melanostachys’. Both are exceptionally beautiful plants.
  • Hydrangea are so beautiful in the winter. Their blooms tend to turn a papery brown or tan color and the climbing variety have exfoliating bark on their gnarly stems. Try ‘Limelight’ and ‘Annabelle’ for gigantic blooms that can even be preserved for indoor floral arrangements. Try ‘Lady in Red’ for more delicate blooms and Hydrangea anomala petiolaris for the climbing variety.

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