Thoughts of a garden in winter may evoke images of white snow or drab brown and gray tones across a barren landscape. However, with the tremendous variety of ornamental plants available, it is easy to make the winter garden setting filled with interesting textures and colors, thanks to foliage, bark and even some winter-occurring flowers. Consult your local plant nursery or cooperative extension office to find out exactly which plants are hardy in your region's climate and soils.
Depending on the severity of winter in your region, a wide array of evergreen plants with either scaled or needled leaves or oval broad-leaf foliage exists. Evergreen plants retain their green hues, offsetting the typical dreary, lifeless colors seen in the winter dormancy. Some conifer trees and shrubs can display foliage that is blue-silver (Colorado blue spruce), dark green (yew) or even golden-yellow (Hinoki false cypress) in winter. Some foliage plants attain castings or purple, red or bronze on their leaves in the winter cold, such as those of heavenly bamboo, Siberian carpet cypress or some junipers.
Decorative Bark Plants
Trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in autumn often reveal attractively-colored or textured barks during the winter. Birch and crape myrtle trees in particular are known for their pretty barks and redtwig or bloodtwig dogwood shrubs have many upright branches that are either red, golden yellow or lime green. Don't forget to use shrubs or dwarf trees that are weeping in habit, as their smooth bark silhouettes will look especially handsome in contrast to the snow cover.
Plants With Colorful Fruits
Many species of holly plants display their red or yellow fruits across the winter months, as well as some with glossy evergreen leaves. Winterberry holly is a deciduous holly shrub that is particularly stunning in winter. Other plants that display persistent fruits into winter include crab apples, firethorns, hawthorns, heavenly bamboos and beautyberries.
In regions where winters are not too harsh, there are many plants that will bloom in midwinter, providing amazing color when the rest of the landscape seems fast asleep. Camellias and witchhazels tend to bloom in midwinter into late winter. Winter honeysuckle and winter jasmine bloom in the warming days of mid to late winter, as do Japanese paperbushes. Small bulbs that bloom in winter include winter aconite, snowdrops, some crocuses and dwarf irises. Lenten roses, also known as hellebores, will bloom in late winter, too.
Well after fall's frost initially kills some herbaceous plants, their foliage or seed heads linger all across the winter months. Ornamental grasses foliage and seed heads often turn shades of tan, gold and brown and the old flower heads of coneflowers and upright stonecrop sedums provide bold textural contrast, especially after a snow. Sometimes the dried perennials provide vital cover or food for birds and other critters.