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Landscaping Plants with Year Round Interest for Colder Climates

Updated on January 22, 2015
chezchazz profile image

Chazz is an Interior Decorator/Consultant/Retailer, amateur photographer, cook, gardener, handyman, currently restoring an 1880 Victorian.

Scroll down for information about the Lenten Roses (Helleborus) shown above.
Scroll down for information about the Lenten Roses (Helleborus) shown above.

Interesting Hardy Plants for Four Season Gardens

When designing a garden you want to plan for year-round interest. In colder climates, when the garden is dormant and often covered by snow, some carefully chosen perennials, shrubs and trees can provide structure, interest, and color throughout the winter.

Evergreens are popular and look beautiful dressed in snow coats, but you have many other options as well to add variety and supply food for birds. From ornamental grasses to perennials and deciduous plants with unusual branches, be sure to include some of these plants for winter interest in your garden.

Because you are neither likely to sit on your back porch or patio nor spend a lot of time in the garden during winter, think also in terms of what can be seen from the inside of your home.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) © CJS. All Rights Reserved.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) © CJS. All Rights Reserved.

The photo above shows a snow covered swan topiary form (covered with alyssum in season) and the lingering purple berries from an amethyst coral berry shrub. The helleborus will bloom soon and the month after that we'll have fragrant witch hazel to tide us over until the crocus and snowdrops begin to peek through the snow.

The plants featured here are by no means inclusive. There are many more from aconite to snowdrops. My hope is that this will entice you to take a closer look at the winter wonders of nature and take time to enjoy them.


The Most Popular Plants for Four Season Interest

Evergreens are the backbone of the four season garden. Available in a variety of colors, textures and sizes, evergreen trees and shrubs are often what people think of when looking to create a garden that looks as good in the winter as it does in the warmer months. They are the stalwarts that pull the landscape together and provide a backdrop that allows other plants their turn in the spotlight.

Evergreens definitely deserve a place in the year-round garden -- just don't limit yourself to evergreens alone. Pines, firs, ilex (hollies), yews, rhododendrons, junipers and the like are the meat and potatoes of garden design, but don't forget to add some other other types of plants to round out your winter garden.

Blue Spruce evergreen tree
Blue Spruce evergreen tree

Hardy Evergreen Blue Spruce Trees

Blue Spruce trees add color and texture to your garden year round. The Colorado Blue Spruce is one of our favorites - and the birds like it even more than we do.

Colorado Blue Spruce
Picea pungens 'Glauca'
Tall, stately and symmetrical, these trees will grow to about 30 to 50 feet high but only 10 to 18 feet wide. This classic evergreen is extremely hardy (from zones 2 through 7) and adaptable. If that isn't enough to convince you to include at least one in your landscape, here are two more reasons blue spruce is such a popular tree: Birds love the thick needles and dense branches and deer are not fond of it at all.

Northern Charm Boxwood
Northern Charm Boxwood

Hardy Evergreen Shrubs

Winter Hardy Boxwoods (zone 4) are a cold hardy and versatile addition to the garden.

Winter Hardy Boxwood
As an individual accent or a row of hedges, pruned as desired or left to grow naturally, the hardiest boxwoods will retain their bright green color throughout the winter when other boxwoods turn yellow. Winter Hardy Boxwoods adapt to most soil types and are pest, deer and disease resistant.

Look for Northern Charm Boxwood, a dwarf edging shrub about 2 feet x 2 feet when mature or the larger Inglis Boxwood which has a 3 to 4 foot globular shape and needs little if any pruning. If zone 5 is cold hardy enough for your area, you can also consider Green Velvet and Wintergreen Boxwoods. The link above (Winter Hardy Boxwoods) will provide additional information.

Evergreen Dwarf Pine Trees

Mugho Pine adds a striking architectural accent on a smaller scale to your landscape. It is very hardy and will tolerate poor, rocky, windy conditions.

Mugho Pine
Pinus mugo

Mugho Pine, also known as Swiss Mountain Pine, is virtually a no-maintenance dwarf plant that grows to 2 ft tall and spreads up to 5 feet wide. This shrubby ornamental pine is native to Europe and cultivation dates as far back as the 1700s.

Add Year-round Architectural Interest - with Evergreen and Deciduous Trees and Shrubs

The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs
The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs

From traditional to modern, standard to quirky, this book will help you create year-round architectural interest in your garden.

Drawing on European and Japanese techniques, learn how to add style and interest to evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. From simple to complex, you'll find the skills you need to suit your style and tastes.


For Winter Blooms - From January through April

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)

In addition to colors including shades of yellow, red and (my favorite) amethyst, witch hazels have a lovely scent. Nothing brightens the mid-winter landscape more than the precocious blooms of Hamamelis.

Lenten Roses provide extraordinary blooming power during winter months while most of your other perennials are hibernating! Beginning in January, Hellebores will be covered with 2" cup-shaped flowers.

Lenten Rose(Helleborus)

The colors of the Lenten Rose are simply wonderful: rich shades of purple, black, burgundy, red, yellow, green, and white flowers make the drab days of winter cheerier. Best of all, they continue blooming until April. Self-seeding plants multiply over time in ideal conditions. Definitely not invasive. Evergreen to boot! Deer resistant.

Photo © 2013-15 CJS. All rights reserved.
Photo © 2013-15 CJS. All rights reserved.

Mother Nature's Architecture: Form and Structure

For the Four-Season Garden

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick
(Corylus avellana Contorta)

Every Harry Lauder's Walking Stick was propagated from a single plant discovered in an English hedge- row in the mid 1800s. It is named after Harry Lauder (1870-1950), a popular Scottish entertainer. His trademark was a crooked cane or walking stick that he always carried. Hence the eponymous moniker.

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick bears catkins in the spring, followed by softly crinkled leaves that turn yellow in the fall. But it is in winter, when the twisted branches are in full view, that Harry Lauder really takes center stage. The gnarled, contorted, spiraling branches are truly fantastic! Sub-zero hardy. Grows well in sun or shade. Reaches 6-8 feet at maturity. A wonderful speciman plant with year-round interest.

Paperback Maple
Paperback Maple

Trees with Textured or Decorative Bark

In addition to shrubs with colorful branches, consider including trees with textured bark or branches such as paperbark maple (Acer griseum), and river birch (Betula nigra) in your landscaping plans.

Fox Valley River Birch Tree - Betula - Outside or Bonsai - 4" Pot
Fox Valley River Birch Tree - Betula - Outside or Bonsai - 4" Pot

A dwarf selection of river birch with cinnamon and cream exfoliating bark. A great little tree for smaller landscapes.


More Color in the Winter Garden - Fruit and Berries

© CJS 2012. Rights Reserved.
© CJS 2012. Rights Reserved.

Plants that retain their fruit into the winter are a great way to add a touch of color to your yard -- and to attract birds that will feed on them. Serviceberry, crabapple (shown above), and similar shrubs and trees also provide structure to the winter garden.

Berries and some fruiting plants can add a wide range of color to the otherwise drab winter landscape. An added plus is that they will also provide food birds love and attract an array of feathered friends to your yard.

Just about everyone is familiar with the dark red fruits of flowering crab apples and the bright red berries produced by many evergreens, but did you know that you can easily grow plants with berries of orange, yellow, and even pink and purple?

Colorful Dogwood Shrubs

There are many varieties of colorful dogwood shrubs to brighten your winter landscape, including dwarf varieties. In addition to shades of red and yellow, there are orange stemmed dogwood shrubs as well.

The Red Twig Dogwood is an outstanding year round hedge!

Red Twig Dogwood

Some shrubs have beautiful flowers; others provide nice foliage in the summer. The Red Twig Dogwood does both plus they put on a striking show of color with their bright red stems contrasting against the snow.

I am especially fond of the Arctic Fire Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera 'Farrow'). It reaches only 3 to 4 feet in height and features dark red winter twigs and a compact, nonsuckering habit.

Perennial Pleasures

Sometimes adding winter interest to the garden is as simple as not cutting down some perennials until the spring. Dried Astilbe blooms and blooming grasses look good and provide texture throughout the colder months. Whether frosted with snow or au naturelle, they survive beautifully until spring.

Plants like asters, coneflowers (Echinacea pallida and purpurea), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) can also be left standing as they have seed pods that birds love. The same goes for false indigo (Baptisia australis) and sedums.


Outstanding as a background or as an accent plant in corners or in rock gardens.

Pampas Grass

Pampas Grass is readily available in both white plumed and pink plumed varieties. Each type has dozens of large thick stalks that grow about 3' topped with silky, soft plumes soaring above them, often to a height of 6 to 10 feet! Leave the plumes through the winter for a great addition to the winter garden. This variety of Pampas Grass is hardy and will grow in most parts of the United States. Drought and deer resistant.


Left to right: Astilbe Amethyst (Astilbe arendsii), Astilbe Deutschland (Astilbe japonica), and Astilbe Straussenfeder (Astilbe thunbergii)
Left to right: Astilbe Amethyst (Astilbe arendsii), Astilbe Deutschland (Astilbe japonica), and Astilbe Straussenfeder (Astilbe thunbergii)
Photo © 2012-15. All rights reserved.
Photo © 2012-15. All rights reserved.

Harbingers of Spring: Early Blooming Bulbs

Crocus, snowdrops and early blooming daffodils often poke their heads through the snow here in my zone 5-6 garden. A welcome sight indeed!

Photo © 2014-15. All rights reserved.
Photo © 2014-15. All rights reserved.

Don't Forget the Winter Interest Birds Provide Us

If we provide suet, birdseed, and a source of water

A lot of birds in Northern climes fly south for the winter, but many remain throughout the winter. Cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, and even robins -- although you may not recognize them in their more subdued winter colors.

As the supply of rose hips and berries are depleted, and without summer's abundance of insects, birds depend on us to provide shelter, food and water. In return, you'll get to watch and listen to birds year-round.

Do You Grow Roses?

Be sure to leave some late blooms on rugosas and other types of roses that develop hips.

Not only are rose hips colorful, they are rich in nutrients birds crave.

Mixed Seed Protective Globe Cage Feeder for Small Birds

The polycarbonate tube feeder is surrounded by a powder-coated steel cage that is just the right size for finches, chickadess and other small birds, but keep out jays and other feeder bullies. The top has a latch that keeps it firmly in place and, along with the cage, helps prevent squirrels from accessing the seed. Drainage holes at the bottom keep seed dry and fresh. 11-3/4" diameter. Holds 3 cups of seed.

Please leave us a message, share your thoughts, or just say hello and let us know you were here.

© 2013 Chazz

Thanks for Spending Time with us

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    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting lens, great winter gardening ideas. Had to smile when I saw the pampas grass, in New Zealand it is consider a weed and we have to remove it by spraying.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      5 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Great winter gardening ideas!

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 

      5 years ago from Montreal

      Beautiful lens!


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