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Midwest Natural Gardening: Adding Winter Interest To Your Garden With Bark

Updated on June 29, 2011

In the Midwest, when cold weather lasts for 6 or more months a year, it’s very important to design your garden so it is beautiful in winter as well as summer.

One way to add winter interest to your garden is to choose deciduous trees and shrubs with beautiful bark.

There are almost as many different bark textures as there are trees and shrubs in the world. Smooth bark, ridged bark, bark that looks like puzzle pieces, peeling bark, shaggy bark…

And though most people think of bark as brown, bark is just as likely to be white, black, red, yellow, orange, or even striped!

Trees and shrubs with extraordinary bark that are native or naturalized to the Midwestern United States include:

The beauty of Red Osier Dogwood in winter. Photo by Nol Zia Lee.
The beauty of Red Osier Dogwood in winter. Photo by Nol Zia Lee.
  • Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), also known as red twig dogwood, has beautiful bright red bark. A cultivar known as yellow twig dogwood has bright yellow bark.
  • River birch (Betula nigra) is a native tree with beautiful peeling bark in shades of cream and cinnamon. Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), European White Birch (Betula pendula), Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), and Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) are among the other birch species that do well in the Midwest.
  • Several varieties of willow (Salix) have bright red bark, including the hardy Eurasian native Redstem Willow (Salix alba) and its cultivars Flame Willow (Salix alba ‘Flame’) and Scarlet Curls Willow (Salix matsudana x S. alba ‘Scarlet Curls’).
  • Residents of the southern Midwest may be able to grow the beautiful Japanese Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’), which is hardy only to zones 6-8 but offers especially beautiful color and form. Another tree with lovely red bark that is hardy only in zones 6-8 is the Cinnamon Clethra (Clethra acuminata).
  • A native maple with interesting bark is the Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum), which has a green and white striped trunk.
  • Another native Midwestern tree with unusual bark is the Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) which has gray bark that appears to have gone through a shredder. The tree also has an edible and delicious nut, popular with both humans and wildlife.
  • Paperbark cherry (Prunus serrula), also known as Tibetan cherry or birch bark cherry, is a native of western China that is hardy in zones 5-8 in the United States. It has stunning mahogany colored bark that peels in older specimans. Another Eurasian cherry, the Amur Cherry (Prunus maackii) is also well known for its extraordinary mahogany colored bark. The Amur cherry is hardy from zones 2-9.
  • Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is a native tree with beautiful smooth white bark that looks particularly beautiful against a backdrop of evergreens. Many relatives of the aspen, including poplars and cottonwoods, also have attractive bark.
  • Another native tree with beautiful smooth bark is the American Beech (Fagus grandiflora) which develops ripples around branches that are reminiscent of elephant skin.
  • Similarly, the American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is also known as musclewood because the smooth bark grows over the twisted trunk and branches of the tree in ways that resemble muscle and sinews.
  • The Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), a Eurasian native hardy from zones 4-8, is an attractive small tree with reddish peeling bark.
  • The American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) has intricate bark that resembles puzzle pieces in shades of gray, green, white, and tan.

The unique bark of these trees and shrubs will add color and texture to your garden, creating a landscape that is beautiful year-round.


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting hub and comprehensive. Thank you.