Winter is generally a time of dormancy when everything outside has been drained of color, but it doesn't have to be this way. A number of shrubs and trees provide what is known as winter interest, color in the middle of winter. Although not every plant will be appropriate for every hardiness zone, there is a plant with winter interest for everyone.
Plant broad-leaf evergreen shrubs with leaves that turn color in the winter. Make sure the evergreens are watered well through the fall and into the early winter. Drooping leucothoe is an ericaceous evergreen, which means it needs acid soil. The leaves turn red in the fall and last until spring. Oregon grape holly is also ericaceous and turns a deep burgundy color in the winter. Certain rhododendron varieties, such as Christmas Cheer, bloom in the winter. The leaves of the bearberry cotoneaster hybrid Foya turn orange-red in the winter and, as an added bonus, are deer resistant. The leaves of the wintergreen littleleaf boxwood turn copper-green in the winter.
Evergreen Ground Cover
Ground cover that keeps its color or turns color through the winter is another good bet for a winter garden. European ginger has large, heart-shaped leaves. Winter creeper is an aggressive ground cover and climber with narrow, oval leaves. Creeping mahonia, or creeping holly grape, has bluish-green leaves that turn purple in the winter, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Pachysandra, or Japanese spurge, is 10 inches tall and the leaves are a waxy, glossy green. Periwinkle has shiny green, elongated oval leaves. English ivy has dark green leaves and does well in the shade. The leaves of Boston ivy turn red-orange in the winter.
Flowering Plants and Trees
In mild climates, specifically USDA hardiness zones 6 to 9, flowering plants and trees can brighten up the winter. Winter jasmine, a shrub, has bright yellow flowers that bloom in March. Winter-flowering heather blooms in shades of purple and pink, even through snow. The silk-tassel bush holds on to its silver catkins into the winter. The snowdrop blooms in early spring with white bell-shaped flowers. The Christmas rose has leathery leaves and blooms in December.
Trees that bloom in the winter include the flowering apricot, which grows 10 to 20 feet high, according to North Carolina State University Extension. The autumn blooming cherry tree blooms in the fall, winter and early spring. Witchhazel varieties such as Chinese, common and vernal also bloom in the winter.