Winter landscapes can often seem a bit drab when compared to spring blooms and fall foliage, but they needn’t be devoid of color. A good landscape should show interest and color in all seasons. While winter is not a prime gardening season, there are a variety of plants that provide interest now. From foliage and berries to blooms and bark, there are several attractive options.
Consider where you plan to put winter-interest plants. You probably don’t spend much time on your outside patio or deck in the winter, so don’t spruce up that area. Concentrate on areas that are viewed by those passing by your house and from vantage points indoors.
The showiest of the blooming winter plants are Camellias. The Tea Camellia, Camellia sinensis, bloomed in late October through mid-December, while Camellia sasanqua has been blooming since early December and, depending on variety, can bloom through January. Then Camellia japonicas, which do best with morning sun and afternoon shade, will kick in. Mahonia, or Oregon grape holly, will bloom with bright yellow, fragrant flowers in the shade in February, and robin’s egg blue berries will follow.
Winter jasmine, with its yellow blooms, fools everyone into thinking forsythia is in bloom. Tea olive and several other Osmanthus species will bloom in winter as well. Flowering quince will follow with red, pink, white or orange blossoms. Two winter-flowering plants that won’t stop traffic with their flowers but will add fragrance are winter honeysuckle and witch hazels. Plant them where you can enjoy their pleasing aroma.
Some plants have variegated or colorful foliage year-round. Evergreen plants provide constant color in a landscape, and more and more variegated options are coming out in a wide array of evergreen shrubs, like hollies, aucuba, loropetalum and more. Some green plants take on a different color in the winter landscape. Nandina has deep red foliage in winter, while many junipers take on hues of purple or blue in cooler months.
Berries and bark
Last year, if we didn’t have colorful berries, it would have been a dismal winter landscape. When we think of berry-producing plants, hollies top the list. Remember that there are male and female hollies, and only females have berries. Some hollies are prolific berry producers, including Foster holly, standard Yaupon holly, Burford holly and wonderful deciduous hollies — their berries really stand out on bare stems. In addition to hollies, other berry producers include: red chokeberry, hawthorns, pyracantha, cranberry cotoneaster, some viburnums and beautyberry.
Gardeners often overlook bark as an interesting plant attribute, but in some plants, it is the showiest part. Lacebark elm has stunning mottled foliage, and the peeling bark on Paperbark and Trident maples is outstanding. If not for the peeling bark, why would anyone plant a river birch? And one not to be missed is the crape myrtle. Its winter bark can rival its flowers, depending on the variety. Some have peeling bark in a variety of grays and tans, while others have a deep cinnamon-colored bark.
Don’t overlook the deciduous form of some plants. Japanese maples’ natural growth habit is interesting in form and texture in the winter landscape. And the contorted Filbert — commonly called “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” — is a mass of twisted stems, which is a great focal point without its leaves.
Trees and shrubs are the backbone of a landscape, and having a variety of plants increases interest in every season. Don’t forget to add some icing to the cake with annuals and perennials. Interest continues to grow in a wide array of hellebores, which are evergreen perennials with winter flowers in shades of white, pink and red. And what winter landscape is complete without some pansies, violas or flowering kale and cabbage?
Winter is normally a slow season for gardening, but there are plants that thrive in colder temperatures. If your garden needs a winter pick-me-up, visit your local garden center, and see what is available. There is always room in the garden for another plant or two!