Holly plant in a back yard

Winter Gardening: Plants that Provide Beauty All Year Round

Just because your garden is dormant for the winter doesn’t mean you should snooze, too. Experienced gardeners do their dreaming — and planning — when the snow flies. So while you’re thinking of blossoms and butterflies, be sure to add trees and shrubs that look great even in snow.

Holly bushes will produce a lot of berries if you plant male and female varieties together. Image: Ken Hewitt/iStockphoto

Winter gardens don’t have to be wastelands of dead plants and snow drifts. A little advance planning will give your yard curb appeal during the coldest months of the year.

“Winter is not going to be a riot of color; it’s more little jewels,” says Alison Caldwell, buyer for Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, N.Y. “It’s not as flamboyant as May. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be winter interest.”

It’s all about structure

Three-season landscapes concentrate on blooms and foliage, but winter gardens need structure to provide visual interest.

When you choose plants and trees in spring, consider varieties that provide a pop of color in winter — shrubs that set berries, and trees that reveal interesting bark when the leaves are gone.

“The bark on crape myrtle looks like statuary,” says Caldwell, “and the way the weeping form of Japanese maple holds snow is beautiful.”

Not only do ornamental trees look great, but for a $50 to $100 investment, they’ll add to the value of your property.

Berry bushes also attract birds, which give your yard flashes of color and movement. Ornamental grasses, with tall, slender stalks that sway in the wind, put on a winter ballet. (Note: You can leave them all winter, then cut them down in the spring to promote new growth.)

Plant these for winter wonder

Here are some popular varieties that provide a winter show. (Make sure you check the plant’s Cold Hardiness Zone before buying.)

  • Ilex (holly): Shiny green leaves and berries that change color with the temperature make Ilex a winter favorite. Plant male and female shrubs together to produce lots of berries. Some popular varieties are Winter Gold, which sets cluster of yellow berries in fall, and Jersey Delight, which sports bright red berries. (Zones 4-8)
  • Cornus (dogwood): Branches of some dogwood species have wonderful colors that dazzle in winter. The Red Twig dogwood is a compact shrub that sports dark red stems in winter; the Yellow Twig dogwood shows off bright yellow stems. (Zones 3-7)
  • Camellia japonica: This shrub maintains dark green leaves year-round, but some species delight home owners in winter with a profusion of blossoms. The Alba Plena variety has white winter blossoms, while the Bob Hope sports magenta blossoms with yellow stamens. (Zones 8-10)
  • Hamamelis (witch hazel): A wide range of blossoms appear on bare twigs throughout winter, making this plant a dazzling sight in hedges. A lovely fragrance makes witch hazel a good shrub to plant near doorways. (Zones 5-9)
  • Miscanthus: White plumes of this 5-foot ornamental grass sway in the wind throughout winter, peeking above snow blankets and giving your landscaping varied height and visual interest. (Zones 6-9)
  • Helleborus: This compact plant delivers blossoms above green, lance-shaped leaves from January to March in many regions. Some popular winter varieties include: Winter’s Bliss Lenten Rose (cream), Mardi Gras Bicolor Mix Lenten Rose (shades of pink), and Pine Knot Select Strain Lenten Rose (purple and lavender). (Zones 4-9)

Last-minute color

If you didn’t think about winter color when you planted in spring, here’s how you can add some 11th-hour pop to your winter landscape.

  • In beds and containers, plant hearty ornamental heirloom vegetables, such as varieties of Swiss chard, kale, and cabbage
  • Hang bird feeders to attract wild birds that stay around throughout winter. Birds are always searching for water during cold months, so add a heater to bird baths, too.