Plants for winter interest

Jan 15, 2019

With many plants going dormant, lots of gardens lack interest in the winter. Good garden designs will have a balance of evergreen and deciduous plants, providing some green year-round and ensuring your garden isn’t bare and twiggy in the coldest months. Evergreens with variegated foliage such as Gold Dust aucubas and Goshiki osmanthus provide an extra element of interest and can be quite showy year round.

It is unnecessary however, to rely solely on evergreens to keep your garden looking good in winter. Certain deciduous plants can also be quite attractive in the winter garden. Contorted filberts have twisted and spiraling branches that show best once leaves have fallen. Along with its structurally showy form, contorted filberts have pendulous yellow flowers that bloom late winter before leafing out. Red-twig and yellow-twig dogwoods are another deciduous shrub that looks best in winter. Their erect, brightly colored stems provide striking color once leaves have fallen.

Hollies have showy berries that appear in fall and persist through winter that not only add to the garden, but provide food for the birds in winter months. Winterberry hollies in particular are nice because they lose their leaves leaving exposed branches bearing an abundance of brightly colored orange or red berries.

There are several trees and shrubs that bloom in late winter before leafing out and signal that spring is soon to come. Star magnolias are perhaps one of the showiest, with large white or pink flowers. Quince, though not always attractive the rest of the year due to its tangled mass of branches, are quite eye catching with brightly colored pink, orange or red flowers on arching stems. Many varieties of witch hazels also bloom during winter, with flossy-petaled flowers in red, yellow or orange.

Perhaps the most beloved winter perennial is the hellebore, known also as Lenten rose because many varieties bloom around the time of Lent. Hellebores have distinctive large evergreen leaves that are occasionally marbled with the added advantage of being deer-resistant. Another popular winter perennial are snowdrops. Also deer-resistant, snowdrops are easy to grow bulbs that will naturalize over time.

As far as winter annuals, nothing beats pansies. Pansies come in a wide variety of colors and are best when planted in the fall. Pansies are relatively maintenance free, though they will benefit from occasionally being dead-headed. One important note however, is that pansies are especially prone to being eaten by both deer and rabbits. Pansies last usually until May, or until the weather warms up and causes them to wither.