Planting for Winter Interest

green evergreen with blue berries

The growing season is not the only time you can enjoy your garden! This winter as you plan on what to add to your garden, keep these tips in mind to introduce winter interest to your garden to allow it to be enjoyed even on the coldest days!

  • Select something evergreen. Whether it’s a needled evergreen like pine (Pinus), juniper (Juniperus) or yew (Taxus) or a broadleaf evergreen like boxwood (Buxus), these wonderful plants provide color even in the snow. Remember that not all evergreens are woody plants. Be sure to consider evergreen and semi-evergreen perennials like pig squeak (Bergenia), Lenten rose (Helleborus), or coral bells (Heuchera)
  • Look for colorful or interesting stems and bark. Whether it exfoliates like the bark of river birch (Betula nigra) or paperbark maple (Acer griseum) or has great color like the stems of red-twigged dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’) or flame willow (Salix ‘Flame’), selecting plants with these qualities can add much interest during cold months. Plant these plants in large clusters for maximum effect.
  • Be sure the plant has colorful, persistent, fruit or cones. Selecting plants that hold on to bright berries or fruit like many viburnums, crabapples (Malus), and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) not only provide interest but a winter food source of wildlife. Cones of many evergreens, especially pines look good all winter long.
  • Consider habit. The shape of the plant with or without leaves can be interesting. Weeping, upright, spreading or globe forms of evergreen or deciduous plants make for some fun, snow-covered additions to the garden.
  • Remember it doesn’t have to be woody. Many herbaceous perennials, in particular, ornamental grasses such as switchgrass (Panicum), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) or prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) can stand all winter shifting in the wind and providing shelter for wildlife. It doesn’t end at grasses – plants like purple coneflower (Echinacea) have great ornamental seed heads and the spent flowers of the tall sedums (Hylotelephium) can stand all winter.
  • Avoid too much fall clean-up. While it’s nice to get some of these tasks done in the fall, allowing much of the garden to stay in place over the winter not only provides more interest, but helps most plants overwinter better.
  • Plant it where you can enjoy it! Don’t forget as you plant for all four seasons to put the plants best suited for winter interest in a location that can be enjoyed from a winter vantage point. Planting near an often used door or centered in the view from your kitchen window means they won’t be missed even if you are not out in the garden.

Prepared by Aaron Steil, Assistant Director | photo caption: Juniperus chinensis ‘Sea Green’