While most plants go dormant in cold weather, some varieties continue to grow and even bloom during the winter months. Those that bloom in late winter are particularly valuable to insects such as bumblebees as a first source of food when they emerge from hibernation in early spring. Fruit-bearing plants provide food for overwintering birds. Knowing which plants thrive in winter is important when planning an colorful, year-round garden.
Holly and Winterberry
American holly (Ilex opaca) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) are small evergreen plants popular around the holidays. They range in size from small shrubs to full-size trees. Winterberry offers a particularly vibrant display of red berries during winter that provide a food source for nonmigrating birds.
Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
This semi-evergreen mid-sized shrub also provides fruits for birds over winter, as well as nesting sites. It flowers in mid-spring, but the flowers are not significant. It is better known for its dark green foliage and silver berries that give the plant a pretty display that lasts through winter.
Winter Heaths (Erica species)
The Erica species of winter heaths flower from November to April and are often a flurry of honeybee activity in early spring. Their delicate pink, white or red bell-shaped flowers appear in large numbers up and down the plant's spiky foliage. Some varieties of heath stand upright, very bushy, while others spread across the ground as an evergreen ground cover.
Russian Olive (Oleaster)
The Russian olive is a large, deciduous shrub with thorny limbs. While it flowers from mid-spring to mid-summer, its fruit, which resembles a reddish olive, is available through the early winter months and provides food for nonmigrating birds such as cardinals. This plant is considered invasive in many areas, and several states prohibit its cultivation.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)
This mid- to large-sized ornamental shrub flowers during winter into early spring. The foliage, however, fades during winter and can sometimes obscure the flowers. It is hardy for zones 3 through 8.
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