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Adding Winter Interest to Your Garden

Updated on October 17, 2008
Holly, by Mini Ozzy
Holly, by Mini Ozzy

Here in the Upper Midwest, where lawns can be brown for as much as 6-9 months of the year, gardeners have to get a little creative if they want a garden that's beautiful all year 'round. Fortunately, there are many beautiful native and naturalized plants that can help add interest and color to your garden through the long, cold winter.

Cedar Waxwing among the crabapples, by BobMacInnes
Cedar Waxwing among the crabapples, by BobMacInnes
Coneflower, by ms. Tea
Coneflower, by ms. Tea
Winterberry, by ms. Tea
Winterberry, by ms. Tea

Planning the Winter Garden

Choosing plants that look good means forgetting about flowers and (mostly) about foliage. In the winter garden, bark, berries, and form become much more important.

Evergreen trees add that all-important splash of color to the winter garden, and offer many other benefits as well. In snow, evergreens tend to turn into living Christmas postcards, and a small grove of them will have you quoting Robert Frost in no time. Evergreens are also an important source of winter food and shelter for birds, and if you plant them on the northern side of your house, they will reduce your energy bills by sheltering your home against cold northern winds.

Evergreen shrubs, such as American holly (Ilex opaca), Firethorn (Pyracantha), and many junipers, also keep their green foliage all year, and many provide bright, beautiful berries that add color and interest to your garden while providing an important food source for birds.

Many deciduous shrubs, such as Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus stolinifera) have beautifully shaped or colored stems. Others, such as Winterberry (Ilex verticilatta), cotoneasters (evergreen in warmer climates), viburnums, barberries, chokeberries, coralberries, and beauty berry, have beautiful red or orange berries that linger into winter.

Deciduous trees can be chosen for their attractive silhouette, and some also have berries or seeds that linger into winter. A few of my winter favorites include Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), crabapples, and Japanese Maple (must be planted in a sheltered area in most of the Midwest). Some deciduous trees, such as River Birch (Betula nigra) and Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), also have interesting textured or colored bark.

Ornamental grasses offer interesting form and foliage in the winter months. Planted in large swathes or stands, they can also provide shelter and seeds for birds. A few of my favorites include Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), a native prairie grass that turns a beautiful coppery red in winter, and several varieties of Miscanthus.

It may come as a surprise to learn that perennial flowers can add winter interest to your landscape. Their blooms are long gone, their leaves dormant. However, many perennials have interesting seedheads which can last well into winter, providing beauty for you and food for birds. A few of my favorites include Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Autumn Joy Sedum (S. 'Herbstfreude').

Evergreen groundcovers, such as Vinca, are great for adding a splash of color under bare-branched deciduous trees in winter.

Other Ideas

The architectural beauty of a branching oak or a drooping fir can be matched by human skill as well. Another great way to add interest to the winter garden is with trellises, archways, gazebos and other man-made structures.

Statuary and other garden art is another great way to add winter interest.

A pond will be welcomed by wildlife in need of a drink, and can also provide an icy beauty of its own. Waterfalls add the relaxing sound of running water, and some pretty spectacular icicles during especially frigid weather.

Red Twig Dogwood, by Noël Zia Lee
Red Twig Dogwood, by Noël Zia Lee

HubMob Project

This hub was written for the HubMob challenge, week six: Green Thumb Hubbers: Landscaping, gardening and loving your yard.

Come join in the fun!


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    • howcurecancer profile image

      Elena@LessIsHealthy 6 years ago

      I love the winterberry photos. Awesome hub!

    • Anna Marie Bowman profile image

      Anna Marie Bowman 9 years ago from Florida

      Great hub!!! Reminds me of home!! I sometimes miss having seasons.

    • profile image

      crazylife 9 years ago

      That red twig is gorgeous. Great info here!

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 9 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      I liked the photos too. Congrats!

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 9 years ago from USA

      Thanks, Patty! I had a lot of fun choosing them. I'm not crazy about the cold, honestly, but I just love winter landscapes.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I really liked the photos you used on this Hub - it all makes me feel like it is a breautiful winter's day. :)