Winter Interest in Cold Climate

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It’s days like this that make me miss ANY warm day. I do appreciate seeing snow on the ground. . . on a mountain top. . . off in the distance. . . way far off in the distance.

As children, we loved snow for all the good things it brought to us. Building snowmen, snow angels, snow forts, and especially for that most awesome of bonuses: “Schools are Closed!”

A monochrome landscape can have its appeal, but these days, as a home owner and more importantly a gardener, I am desperate for something green. . . and yellow. . . and blue. . . and red.

What I need are shrubs all dressed up in bright red during the winter. The first ones that come to mind are Cornus sanguinea ‘bloodtwig’, or Cornus sericea ‘redtwig’. Both are dogwoods but I hear they are part of an ongoing identity crisis. Scientifically, they are all called Cornus sericea, although the name Cornus stolonifera is currently in use too. No matter which name the experts finally end up calling them, just ask for the shrubs with the red winter stems and chances are you will be pointed to one of these.

I don’t have any real winter-interest plants in my yard, but I have vowed to change this and so began researching the possibilities. I was not prepared for the variety or all the other considerations. There’s a lot more than just dogwood out there!

There are plants with interesting branching patterns that will make great winter silhouettes. Placing lights under plants can increase their impact. Branches that catch the snow, shrubs with colorful berries that attract birds, or evergreens with varying colors all can be very exciting in winter. Trees and shrubs with bark of silvery gray, white, green, red, smooth, or pocked by a peeling surface are always a plus. Even those common dogwoods can vary from bright red to yellow, purple or green.

One type of plant I crave to find a place for in my yard is ornamental grasses. I never truly considered them for winter-interest but it turns out that’s another bonus for having them. If you don’t cut them down in the fall they can have a huge winter impact. The golden wheat color usually associated with dried up grasses along with tall thin shafts topped with fluffy seed heads can stand out dramatically against a dark evergreen background.

It seems almost every plant in your garden can in some way provide some level of winter interest, but the most promising ones I have found so far are:

TREES: pretty much any tree with some height to it or twisting interlacing branches; look around after a snow storm and notice which ones catch your attention. Notice the contrasting black of the limbs and the bright clean white of the snow. And if those trees have shredding or multi-colored bark, like Paperbark maple, river birch, shagbark hickory, sycamore, lacebark elm, sweetgum, cherry, Japanese tree lilac, then even better.

SHRUBS: Hydrangeas, sumac (Rhus glabra), summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), firethorn (Pyracantha), button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), viburnums, American cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), rugosa roses, firethorn (Pyracantha), red stem dogwood (Cornus sericea), yellow twig dogwood (Cornus serivea 'Flaviramea'), burning bush (Euonymus alatus), glossy abelia (Abelia x grandflora), boxwood (Buxus species), euonymus (euonymus fortunei), Aaronsbeard St. John's wort (Hypericum calycinum), American holly (Ilex opaca), Oregon holly grape (Mahonia aquifolium), sweetspire (Itea virginica), deutzia (Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’), Cotoneaster Coral Beauty, Magic Carpet Spiraea, Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei), Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), witch-hazel (Hamamelis sp.) and Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia).

PERENNIALS: 'Autumn Joy' sedum, yarrow, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum'), Echinacea, caryopteris, Nandina Dwarf Firepower, winter clematis, (Clematis cirrhosa), Wintercreeper (Euonymous fortunei), Cyclamen coum, Lenton Rose (Hellebores orientalis), Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea), winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). Leaving perennials uncut over the winter can also provide seeds for the birds and rodents.

GRASSES: Pampas grass (Erianthus ravennae), dwarf maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio'), red switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Shenadoah'), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’), Karl Foerster Grass, Miscanthus Adagio Grass

EVERGREENS & CONIFERS: Spruce, pines, junipers and yews come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. A more unusual evergreen would be Sawara false cypress, Yuccas, Junipers and the burgundy-leaved Loropetalums.

Woody plants with interesting fruit also help feed wildlife: Chokeberry, holly, crabapple, sumac, roses, viburnum, Cotoneaster Coral Beauty, Wintercreeper Purple or wintercreeper euonymus (Euonymus fortunei) , Firethorn (Pyracantha sp.)

Plants with interesting dried flowers: Black alder, catalpa, red bud, honeylocust, sycamore, Japanese pagoda tree, linden.

Look around your neighborhood and then visit your garden center in winter to see what is blooming, anything interesting, write it down and plant it at the best time.

More to come as I find them.

Oh, and if you need any extra encouragement to add some color and texture to your winter garden, just remember that landscaping can add 10 to 40 percent to the value of your home. But hey, we don’t care about money, right? :)    Enjoy.


© 2007 -2011 - Utah Valley Gardens - All photos and content copyrighted by Utah Valley Gardens unless otherwise attributed. The use of photographs posted on this site without permission is forbidden and is protected by copyright law, as is all original text.

Blogger templates made by

Back to TOP