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Beautiful Winter Plants

By: Garden Gate staff
The weather may be cold and uninviting but these tough winter plants can still bring color and beauty to your garden.

Enjoy beautiful plants even in winter

Whether it’s unique bark, jewel-bright berries, interesting seedheads or amazing late-winter flowers, there are plants out there that will make the most of even the bleakest winter weather. Some, like paperbark maple and skimmia, are big, solid plants that give a winter garden structure. Others, like yellow-twig dogwood, witchhazel and maiden grass, are big, too, but they seem wispy and light, so you’ll need to mass them together or display them against a dark backdrop to set them off. Still others, like the winter aconites above, are the tiny finishing touches that will make your garden feel complete.

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Create a subtle winter plant palette

Although it may take a while to adjust to the subtle palettes and textures of winter gardens, you’ll come to welcome this calm, peaceful time in the garden year. Against a background of gray fog or white snow, this color and texture will make you catch your breath. These few tough plants keep the garden beautiful while you rest and get ready for spring.

Great winter plants for your garden

Yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’)

Small spring flowers are followed by white fruit that attracts birds, but in winter, bright yellow-green twigs make this dogwood stand out. Prune out one-third of the oldest wood each spring for best bark color.

Type Shrub Best Winter Feature Bright yellow-green stems Light Full sun to part shade Size 5 to 8 ft. tall, 5 to 9 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8

Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Huron Sunrise’)

This beautiful grass is a bit more compact than most maiden grass cultivars, and its plumes hold up well through winter. Cut it back to a few inches tall in early spring.

Type Perennial Best Winter Feature Sturdy flower plumes last through winter Light Full sun Size 4 to 6 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica)

Japanese skimmia's small white spring flowers are followed by bright-red fruit on the female plants in late fall to winter.You'll need one male plant for every six females to get lots of those pretty berries that attract birds but deer pass by. It's a great shrub for shade gardens big and small. Once the berries are gone, its evergreen foliage will be an eye-catching asset to your winter border.

Type Shrub Best Winter Feature Red berries and pink flower buds in winter Light Part shade Size 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9

Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’)

Blooming on bare branches in mid- to late winter, ‘Diane’ witchhazel’s tiny red tassel-like blossoms open on warm days then curl up when the temperatures dip again. This shrub needs consistent moisture to avoid scorching its green summer leaves that change to bright red in fall.

Type Shrub Best Winter Feature Red tassel-like flowers in mid- to late winter Light Part sun Size 8 to 12 ft. tall, 10 to 15 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

In late winter these small yellow flowers hint that spring is on the way. Plant the tubers in early fall in a spot that get plenty of sun while they're in bloom. Under deciduous trees is a great choice since winter aconite goes dormant by late spring. Group in clusters of at least 8 to 10 for the most impact.

Type Tuber Best Winter Feature Yellow flowers in midwinter Light Full to part sun Size 2 to 3 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)

Paperbark maple is small enough to fit into almost any garden. The dark green leaves turn orange and red in the fall, although the peeling, cinnamon-brown bark is the real show-stopper in winter months.

Type Tree Best Winter Feature Peeling, cinnamon-brown bark Light Full to part sun Size 20 to 30 ft. tall, 15 to 25 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’)

Small spring flowers are followed by white fruit that attracts birds, but in winter, bright yellow-green twigs make this dogwood stand out. Prune out one-third of the oldest wood each spring for best bark color.

Type Shrub Best Winter Feature Bright yellow-green stems Light Full sun to part shade Size 5 to 8 ft. tall, 5 to 9 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8

Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’)

Blooming on bare branches in mid- to late winter, ‘Diane’ witchhazel’s tiny red tassel-like blossoms open on warm days then curl up when the temperatures dip again. This shrub needs consistent moisture to avoid scorching its green summer leaves that change to bright red in fall.

Type Shrub Best Winter Feature Red tassel-like flowers in mid- to late winter Light Part sun Size 8 to 12 ft. tall, 10 to 15 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Huron Sunrise’)

This beautiful grass is a bit more compact than most maiden grass cultivars, and its plumes hold up well through winter. Cut it back to a few inches tall in early spring.

Type Perennial Best Winter Feature Sturdy flower plumes last through winter Light Full sun Size 4 to 6 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

In late winter these small yellow flowers hint that spring is on the way. Plant the tubers in early fall in a spot that get plenty of sun while they're in bloom. Under deciduous trees is a great choice since winter aconite goes dormant by late spring. Group in clusters of at least 8 to 10 for the most impact.

Type Tuber Best Winter Feature Yellow flowers in midwinter Light Full to part sun Size 2 to 3 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica)

Japanese skimmia's small white spring flowers are followed by bright-red fruit on the female plants in late fall to winter.You'll need one male plant for every six females to get lots of those pretty berries that attract birds but deer pass by. It's a great shrub for shade gardens big and small. Once the berries are gone, its evergreen foliage will be an eye-catching asset to your winter border.

Type Shrub Best Winter Feature Red berries and pink flower buds in winter Light Part shade Size 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)

Paperbark maple is small enough to fit into almost any garden. The dark green leaves turn orange and red in the fall, although the peeling, cinnamon-brown bark is the real show-stopper in winter months.

Type Tree Best Winter Feature Peeling, cinnamon-brown bark Light Full to part sun Size 20 to 30 ft. tall, 15 to 25 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Published: Jan. 14, 2021
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