Winter is a quiet time in the garden. Many plants are slumbering away until the warm spring days call to wake them. Meanwhile, your yard can be kind of ho-hum, too, like the gray skies that linger. Adding color here and there can brighten your garden and, likely, your spirits as well. I’ll show you some great winter garden ideas.
Contrast creates interest
There is one thing to keep in mind when you’re planning a new winter garden or adding to what you already have. You want to add contrast wherever you can — especially against a snowy white or gray sky backdrop. When the green is gone, add other colors in its place. Red branches or berries and yellow flowers or dried grasses stand out. Some plants have fruit that stays on in winter, after the leaves have fallen. Berries not only add color, but some may feed the birds, as well.
Flowers in winter
Pretty flowers are the things that are missing most from a winter garden landscape. You may be surprised to know that you can have flowers now, too. There are some early-blooming bulbs, trees and shrubs that withstand a little cold and snow. Let’s take a look at what you can add in your garden. Here are six combos guaranteed to lighten up gray days — there’s something for almost any yard.
Early border blooms
What’s the earliest thing that will bloom in your neck of the woods? Here, snowdrops and hellebore pop up in the middle of winter to remind us that spring is on its way. This combo is great for a shady border that includes perennials that emerge and fill in later in the season. Snowdrops are small, but naturalize easily. They show up best when planted in clusters and fill in a space over time. Once established, a clump can last for decades.
A) Hellebore Helleborus hybrid
Type Evergreen perennial Blooms Pale yellow single flowers with red spots midwinter to spring Light Part to full shade Size 18 to 24 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9
B) Common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis
Type Bulb Blooms Small nodding white flowers in late winter to early spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 4 to 6 in. tall, plant 8 to 12 bulbs per sq. ft. Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9
Enjoy foliage all winter
Flowers, pops of color, interesting bark, evergreen foliage and contrast — this winter plant combination has it all! By grouping several plants that bloom in late winter with evergreens and ornamental grasses, you can create a lively scene that sets the stage as the season opener. Ground cover shrubs, such as the heaths, bloom early and then remain green the rest of the year. They are pretty easy-going once established, as long as you provide well-drained acid soil (pH 4.5 to 5.5). Tucking plants among the rocks and planting at the edge of the bed for them to cascade softens the cold, hard look of the wall.
A) Mugo pine (Pinus mugo)
Type Evergreen shrub Foliage low and slow-growing Light Full sun Size 6 to 8 ft. tall, 12 to 15 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7
B) Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’)
Type Tree Blooms Large golden-yellow to pale green leaves spring through fall; white conical flowers in summer followed by beanlike seedpods Light Full sun to part shade Size 20 to 35 f t. tall, 20 to 30 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9
C) Silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’)
Type Evergreen shrub Foliage Leaves have dark green centers and yellow margins Light Full sun to part shade Size 8 to 10 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11
D) Heath (Erica x darleyensis ‘Furzey’)
Type Evergreen shrub Blooms Rose-pink flowers in winter Light Full sun Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 24 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8
E) Potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Katherine Dykes’)
Type Shrub Blooms Yellow flowers spring to fall Light Full sun to part shade Size 2 to 3 ft. tall, 3 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8
F) Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’)
Type Evergreen perennial Blooms Brown panicles in summer Light Full sun Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9
G) Euphorbia (Euphorbia rigida)
Type Evergreen perennial Blooms Green flowers with showy yellow bracts in late winter Light Full sun Size 1 to 2 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10
H) Heath (Erica x darleyensis aureifolia ‘Mary Helen’)
Type Evergreen shrub Blooms Pale pink flowers in late winter Light Full sun Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8
Perennials that hang on through winter
Cleaning up and cutting back perennials is an autumnal rite of passage for gardeners. It’s also practical for tidying up the garden and having a head start once spring arrives. But hold off on whacking down plants with interesting stalks or seed pods.
Cut them back in early spring before new growth appears, so you get to enjoy another season of interest throughout winter. See how the ornamental grasses and sedum in the photo add color and texture to the landscape? They stay attractive all winter long, with their seedheads dancing in gentle breezes, and give a landing spot for snow. Animals can take shelter here from winter winds, too.
A) Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’)
Type Perennial Blooms Silvery to brown-pink panicles in summer Light Full sun Size 6 to 8 ft. tall, 4 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9
B) Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)
Type Perennial Blooms Beige flowers in summer Light Full sun Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9
C) Tall sedum (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’)
Type Perennial Blooms Pink to copper-red flowers in late summer to fall Light Full sun Size 18 to 24 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9
Brighten up winter with bark and berries
Colorful and texturally interesting bark is an underutilized element and a landscape bland-breaker. Here, the shaggy, white bark of paper birch stands out among evergreens. Its bark is red-brown on younger trees and then develops a papery texture as it ages. Red berries on the skimmia contrast against the evergreen leaves. Most skimmias are dioecious, meaning that a male and a female plant are necessary to produce seed, so plant at least one of each if you want berries.
A) Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)
Type Evergreen shrub Foliage Dark green evergreen foliage Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 8 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9
B) Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)
Type Tree Foliage Yellow to orange leaves in fall Light Full sun to part shade Size 30 to 70 ft. tall, 25 to 50 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 6
C) Skimmia (Skimmia japonica)
Type Evergreen shrub Blooms red buds open to white flowers in late winter to early spring; red fruit in winter on female plants Light part to full shade Size 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9
D) Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Type Evergreen shrub Blooms White, purple or red flowers late fall through spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 4 to 24 in. tall, 5 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 7