Gardens should have four seasons of interest. Of course, a lot of emphasis is placed on a spring and summer show. Even fall can be beautiful by picking trees and shrubs with fall color. What about winter, you may say? Winter interest can be added to the home landscape in many ways, such as the use of plants with winter berries, exfoliating bark, colorful twigs and even winter flowers.
Plants with winter berries provide a colorful addition to your winter garden, but they also provide much-needed food for wildlife, especially birds. And, if you are the crafty type, berries add interest to fall and winter flower arrangements!
One of the most familiar plants with berries is the holly. There are many different species of hollies, ranging greatly in size. My favorite holly is the Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata). This is one of the deciduous hollies. The leaves shed in the fall to reveal a magnificent display of brilliant-red berries. This species will need a non-bearing male plant to produce berries.
Another one of my favorite shrubs for berries is the beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma or C. americana). This shrub puts on a show of vivid purple berries in the autumn, after its leaves have shed. Due to its growing habit, the beautyberry is better suited to the informal, natural garden than the formal garden.
There are many other plants that produce berries for winter enjoyment including firethorn or pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea), certain cultivars of crabapple (Malus spp.), and junipers (Juniperus spp.).
Deciduous trees with attractive bark can be beautiful year-round. Some bark exfoliates exposing colorful layers of bark underneath and creating unique patterns. Examples of trees with exfoliating bark include some cultivars of crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’, L. indica ‘Apalachee’, etc.), Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’), kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) and paperbark maple (Acer griseum).
Some bark is smooth or has a unique texture that would stand out in a winter landscape. Examples of textural bark include American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).
The Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea) and the Tartarian dogwood (Cornus alba) are both used for their brightly colored stems. The younger twigs on these dogwoods are yellow or brilliant red and stand out if set in front of an evergreen. Often, these plants are pruned to within 2-3” of the ground each spring to provide the most colorful display in the fall and winter; however, flower and fruit production will be sacrificed if maintained in this fashion.
There are plants that flower in the winter and very early spring that are worth noting. My favorite is the witchhazel. There are two species that are commonly planted: the native witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a yellow-flowered, fall-blooming species, and the vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis), a yellow-, orange- or red-flowered, winter-blooming species. Both are stunning if set in front of an evergreen shrub or tree to highlight the flowers.
Other winter-flowering plants include winter daphne (Daphne odora), which has extremely fragrant blossoms, Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and buttercup winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora).
With a little planning, you too can incorporate a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials that will create a stunning garden with interest in all four seasons. For more information on plants with winter interest, contact our Center at (919) 775-5624.
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