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GardenSMART :: Let it Snow!

Let it Snow!

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners

Winter doesn’t have to be a humdrum time of year in the garden. With a little planning, you can improve your view out the window to include plants that shine brightest in the coldest months of the year. Here are a few ideas to consider this December.

Just like the spring, summer, and fall seasons vary depending on where you live, what winter means to you may be drastically different than what it means to your neighbors to the north and south. Some northern gardeners are fortunate to have a thick blanket of snow to protect their plants all winter, but others might experience frigid temperatures with no snow protection. People who garden in the country’s midsection often experience extreme temperature fluctuations where it is relatively mild one day and an ice storm the next. You might consider southern gardeners to be the lucky ones, able to grow winter flowering annuals from November through February. I say, “Let it snow!”

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Proven Winners

Why Snow is Good

You might not like the fluffy white stuff, but your hardy perennials and shrubs love it! The key word here is “hardy”—annuals and other tender plants will not appreciate it one bit. Here are some key reasons why snow is good for your garden.

  • Snow acts as a warm blanket for your plants. In fact, it is such a good insulator that if the ground hasn’t yet frozen before a thick layer of snow falls, it will likely remain unfrozen until the snow melts. No one likes to be left exposed when it’s cold outside, plants and people alike.
  • Snow and cold temperatures help some plants flower. It may seem counterintuitive, but many perennials actually need to experience a cold resting period (called dormancy) over the winter in order to bloom the following year. Without it, they won’t bloom. Some examples are Fruit Punch Dianthus, ‘Hocus Pocus’ Veronica and ‘Banana Cream’ daisies.  
  • Snow acts as sunscreen for your evergreens. Evergreen plants, especially those with broad leaves, are especially prone to drying out and getting scalded by the winter sun. When the snow coats their leaves, it reflects the sun’s rays away. Since the sun can’t reach the leaves’ surface, it can’t dry them out.
  • Snow provides a nice drink of water when it melts. On milder winter days when the snow melts, it provides a nice drink of water for your trees and shrubs. This is especially important to evergreens, which lose water all winter long through their foliage. When the snow melts in spring, it gives plants a beneficial drink to jumpstart the new growing season.
  • Shoveling snow keeps gardeners in shape. Without bags of mulch to haul or weeds to pull, it can be really easy for gardeners to get out of shape during the winter months. We need to maintain our strength so we don’t injure ourselves on that first spring day when we jump eagerly back into our gardens. Shoveling snow is a great way to maintain upper body strength and get a little cardio workout. Just don’t overdo it!

Winter Eye Candy

While we’re out shoveling snow, it sure is nice to have something pretty to look at—a berried branch, a glossy green leaf, perhaps a few leftover seed pods. If your garden lacks visual interest in winter, now is the time to take some notes on what to improve for next year. Here are a few things you might wish to consider adding to your winter garden.

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Proven Winners

Evergreen Plants

Evergreen trees and shrubs are the backbone of the landscape all year long, but they play an especially prominent role in winter. They make an ideal backdrop for showcasing other plants with winter interest and act as an important screen between neighbors when the rest of the landscape is bare.

Evergreens tend to be a long-term investment since they often grow slower than deciduous plants. As you look around your winter garden, make a note of the perfect places you could add a few next spring. If possible, drive stakes in the ground in those places so they’ll be easy to find when planting season arrives. A few of our favorite evergreens are Castle Spire® holly, Celtic Pride™ Siberian cypress, and North Star™ boxwood.

GardenSMART_image Arctic Sun Dogwood

Photo credit: Courtesy of Proven Winners

Plants with Interesting Bark

When their leaves have fallen, you’ll easily notice which trees and shrubs in your garden have interesting bark like the shredded paper-like bark of birch trees or the golden yellow stems of Arctic Sun™ dogwood. If you plant trees and shrubs with interesting bark where they can stand in contrast to evergreen foliage, a white fence or blanket of snow, they will have even more visual impact in winter.

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Proven Winners

Plants with Winter Berries

Berries are an often unexpected, fun accent to the garden in all seasons but especially during winter when the rest of the landscape is bare. You might think of evergreen hollies first when you consider shrubs with winter berries, but did you know that there are deciduous hollies too? Winterberries often bear heavier crops of berries, which are more visible since the leaves don’t obscure them. Birds love to snack on all kinds of holly berries over the winter months.

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Susan Martin

Plants with Persistent Seeds

You might be tempted to cut back all of your plants when you do your fall cleanup, but consider the winter interest that some may offer. Tall Sedums like ‘Maestro’ and ‘Lemonjade’ are lovely when topped with a puff of snow, and the persistent seed pods of Decadence Baptisia are pretty too. Ornamental grasses, even those that are not hardy, are iconic plants for winter interest and can be left standing until early spring. All kinds of hydrangeas carry beautiful dried flower heads through winter too. Consider leaving these kinds of plants standing to create visual interest in your garden this winter.

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Photo credit: courtesy of Susan Martin

Garden Art, Painted Furniture, and More

You don’t have to depend solely on plants to contribute color and structure to the winter garden. A coat or two of cheerful paint on a bench, arbor or birdhouse can do wonders for your spirits in winter. An elegant sculpture or large frost-proof urn can serve as a reminder of the sleeping beauty that lies beneath the snow. Be sure to choose pieces of garden art and furniture that can withstand the winter elements in your climate and store the rest away for a spring day.

Find more plants with winter interest on this Pinterest board.
To learn more about all of the plants mentioned here, search www.provenwinners.com.

Contributor Bio: Susan Martin is a lifelong gardener and perennial specialist with 17 years of experience in the Horticulture Industry. She is a native of Michigan where she has been gardening since the age of four in sandy and clay soils. 

Patent Info: Magic Show® 'Hocus Pocus' Veronica PP23853. Amazing Daisies™ 'Banana Cream' Leucanthemum PP23181 CPBR4203. Castle Spire® Ilex 'Hachfee' PP14310. Celtic Pride™ Microbiota 'Prides'. North Star™ Buxus 'Katerberg' PP15998 CPBR2635. Arctic Sun™ Cornus 'Cato' PP19892 CPBRAF. Rock 'N Grow™ 'Maestro' Sedum PP20094, 'Lemonjade' Sedum PPAF CPBRAF.


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