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Plants for winter interest

Winter, whether you are in the Snow Belt or not, can be tiresome if you have nothing outside to look at except a blanket of snow or bare ground. Most, but not all perennials lose their top growth and spend the winter beneath the ground so interest has to come from trees, shrubs and grasses. Grasses that stay above the snowy ground look particularly attractive when they catch the sun in the seed heads and conifers that stay blue, or green, all winter take on a picture postcard look when they catch the snow on their branches.

Interest can also come from berries, flowers or seeds and a mix of them all will enhance your enjoyment of the garden, particularly in winter. Plant winter flowering shrubs where you can see them from inside the house and those with scented flowers should be places where you can easily visit and appreciate them.

Berries: Evergreen hollies and conifers are popular for winter color. The hollies, if you have a male and female, produce lovely red berries each fall which last into winter and fit into almost any landscape. The berries also hold up well in winter decorations. The unusual Casanova holly is a hardy blue holly that has a creamy edge to the leaf and produces new growth each spring that is pink giving this shrub a unique appearance.

Attractive berries can also be found on callicarpa, virburnum, and snowberry

Flowers: The flowers from the Pieris Japonica shrub are formed each fall and are held on the shrub until late winter when they open as tiny white bells along the branches. New growth on these shrubs is also bright red which fades to a mid green color as the season progresses. The unopened flowers hold up well in winter wreaths that are hung outside on your door for the holiday season. Alas they do not last long inside. Passion Frost is a variegated form that has red/pink flowers.

Witch hazels also bloom very early in the year. More southerly areas will find the bright yellow or orange blossoms arriving as early as December, and northern growers will have the bloom in January or February. Not only are the blossoms a bright beacon in the landscape but they are scented too! Southern gardens can also grow winter daphne. The daphne is quite a small evergreen shrub that produces pretty white and pink flowers in January or February that are delicately scented.

Grasses: Grasses produce elegant plumes and seed heads in summer or fall which attract birds and look terrific in the winter sun. Find grasses that are taller than your average snow depth to get the best winter effect. Grasses come in different heights, colors and seed heads so you can mix several together in your landscape. The bright red of Purple Love Eragrostis stands above the snowy ground and shines in the sun, whereas the draping form of Hakonechloa form casual mounds under the snow.

Mix some of these plants and shrubs into the landscape where you can see them and make a garden with year round interest, including winter.

Read the next Article: Cover Crops

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • If there is poison ivy on your property, late summer is an ideal time to treat it with a herbicide. The full-grown leaves of mature plants provide lots of surface for the spray to adhere for the maximum effect. Spray poison ivy before the plants have berries; otherwise birds will carry, drop and spread the nuisance.
    Use a non-selective herbicide such as Roundup, but be aware it will kill any plant the spray may contact. Spray on a windless day and follow all the directions on the product label carefully. Allow 10 days for signs of success. Very woody poison ivy vines may need a second spraying.