Your ULTIMATE Guide to Making Your Yard Look Better in Winter
Let’s face it: even with the magic of snowfall, the garden can look pretty boring in winter. It doesn’t have to be! Try planting some of these unique plants for winter garden beauty and color. (Bonus: many of these plants offer fabulous visual appeal during the other 3 seasons too!)
Benefits of a Winter Landscape
Gardening with winter in mind is tough when you’re surrounded by spring flowers! But planting for winter color and texture is well worth the forethought. Benefits of a winter garden include:
- Simply pretty. You’ll actually be inspired to look out your window during the winter.
- Wildlife-friendly. Many of these winter plants double as valuable food and shelter for backyard wildlife.
- Effortless. Unlike flashy summer flowers, a winter garden looks great without the need for work: no weeding, pruning or pests to worry about.
- Home decor. From holly to dogwood, most winter garden plant cuttings make wonderful and long-lasting indoor decor (especially during the holidays!)
Read on to see a list of 7 unique plants that help you bring beauty to your winter yard.
Dogwood is a garden classic, and for good reason. These tough shrubs can withstand extreme cold, are one of the first plants to bloom in spring, have pretty fall foliage, and best of all: their bare stems practically glow with color in winter.
Most dogwoods have red-orange stems, but we’re partial to yellow dogwood (Cornus alba 'Bud's Yellow’). It’s bright-gold stems draw the eye and make the winter garden seem more sunny and cheery.
Like all dogwoods, ‘Bud’s Yellow’ looks great standing alone, in mixed borders, and even grown as a flashy hedge. Hardy in zones 3-7.
Most people think of large bushes when they think of growing holly, but ‘Sky Pencil’ (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil') is a little different. This vertical holly grows straight up, like a fancy topiary.
Don’t let its flashy looks fool you though -- ‘Sky Pencil’ is a true holly, with the same ease of care and evergreen leaves. Its column growth is perfectly natural, and no pruning is necessary to keep it looking neat.
Grow ‘Sky Pencil’ along your driveway, as an accent plant, or even in planters on your patio. Hardy in zones 5-9.
Ornamental grasses are a must-have for your winter garden, and ‘The Blues’ little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues') is no exception. Like many grasses, it boats fabulous four-season appeal, with pretty blue foliage spring-summer, followed by bright orange-burgundy foliage in fall that fades to a pretty silver in winter.
Thanks to its compact size, ‘The Blues’ is perfect for smaller spaces.
For best results, don’t cut back in fall - wait to prune it until early spring so you can enjoy it all winter long. Hardy in zones 4-9.
Feather Reed Grass
Another great ornamental grass, Feather Reed (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') is a wonderful addition to the winter garden. The tall, flowing foliage looks great all winter long, and sways gently in the breeze. In fact, this grass is also known as ‘motion grass.’
Able to grow up to 5 feet tall, this pretty grass is perfect for adding structure and movement to the garden. Feather reed grass is widely adaptable and very easy to grow as long as it gets plenty of sunshine. Hardy in zones 4-9.
Dwarf Mugo Pine
Most pine trees can get up to 20 feet or much more, but the Dwarf Mugo Pine matures at a compact 3-5 feet. With pretty light green needles and a definite mountain vibe, this little pine shrub makes a fabulous accent to your winter garden.
Like all mugo pines, this dwarf variety is extremely tough and requires very little care. It thrives in poor, rocky soils, and looks great with or without pruning. Hardy in zones 3-7.
Dwarf Japanese Cedar
Featuring soft, dense foliage, Dwarf Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'Globosa Nana') is a truly unique landscape plant that really stands out in winter. Even though it’s technically a cypress, this little shrub has an almost moss-like texture and appearance.
‘Globosa Nana’ is a real conversation starter, especially in winter with its lush, soft look. Plant it anywhere you can enjoy it year-round - ‘Globosa Nana’ is a delight in every season and can live 30 years or more. Hardy in zones 5-9.
Red Sprite Holly
It’s hard to imagine a more colorful winter show than the bright red berries of a holly bush! ‘Red Sprite’ takes it up a notch with outstanding displays of red fruit that stands out against the snow. Birds adore the holly berries, but deer stay away.
Take a few sprigs into your home for a natural and long-lasting holiday display and enjoy the rest through most of the winter. Like our other winter favorites, ‘Red Sprite’ holly is exceptionally hardy and easy to grow. Hardy in zones 4-9.
The best garden designs plan to include plants which deliver a colorful winter garden. Don’t succumb to the winter garden blues: invest in a couple of winter landscape plants instead. Not only will these unique plants brighten up the snowy garden, they will also look great all year long.
Use Winter Interest Plants for the "Bones" of your Landscape
Winter is an excellent time to assess your winter landscape. Landscape architects will always talk about structure in the garden - really the "bones of your landscape".
Structure comes not only from plants but from hardscape that you have in your yard as well. An interesting bench or garden art are still the focal point in the winter landscape.
Do not forget the importance of adding some of the new LED landscape lights that take so little energy and the “bulbs” last for many years without have to change them. Landscape lighting to highlight walkways or uplight the interesting peeling bark on a River Birch tree or Crape Myrtle will make those cold short days much more enjoyable.
How to Improve Your Garden Design
Look at your winter landscape. Are you seeing any interest in your garden? What might improve your winter dormant landscape? Most obvious in the winter landscape is probably evergreens - plants that remain green either needles or leaves like on boxwood and hollies.
Take a picture of your yard and look at it as it might be someone else with a more critical eye. See what your winter landscape might be lacking.
Be sure to include evergreens and broadleaved evergreens in your design. Deciduous plants too can offer lots of interest especially when used with the evergreens. Some plants like Viburnums, Holly, Aronia or Crabapples have interesting fruit that persists all winter long (or until the birds or other wildlife will be happy to find).
Persistent berries are also very showy against evergreens and a snowy backdrop so be sure to include them as well.
Then look at the perennials. Some gardeners cut them all down in the fall leaving nothing to look at. Don’t be so quick to eliminate the plant tops in the fall. A plant like a taller sedum or a Black Eyed Susan hold their seed heads up strong and high even when there is snow. These plants catch and sculpt the snow, and these plants offer cover and food for small birds and other wildlife.
Attracting Birds to Your Yard Brings Winter Interest, Too
Consider using a bird bath heater in colder regions, so birds and other wildlife have water available to them. You will be amazed at just how much interest the birds will have with a fresh water source. Keep the water fresh and full as a consistent source they get used to using.
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