When winter shrouds scenery with a drab palette and bare branches, improve the view with shrubs that sparkle in gardening’s quiet season. These winter beauties brighten the landscape with colorful, quirky stems, bright berries, or unexpected blooms.
Fall is a perfect time for planting shrubs. When you’re incorporating a shrub into your landscape for the purpose of improving your winter view, here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the planting site.
Take care to place your selection against an appropriate backdrop, especially if you garden where snow doesn’t provide a natural, one-hue background. Colorful stems and berries show nicely against a dark tone, like evergreens.
Site your shrub where it will be easily visible from indoors, particularly in climates where cold means most of your time is spent indoors.
Consider accumulating snow. In northerly regions, avoid positioning a shrub where you toss snow when clearing walks and the driveway, or where a snowplow may mound snow over it.
Buds & Blossoms
Mahonia (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’)
Evergreen foliage topped with sunny yellow flowers makes mahonia a must-have shrub for winter interest. Leaves whorl around stems in an architectural style, and flowers fade to form blue-black berries that birds love. In the Pacific Northwest, blooms beckon hummingbirds. After flowering, prune young plants to a whorl of leaves to reduce overall height. Look for other mahonia varieties, too. Zones 7-9; 10-15 feet tall and wide.
Scotch, spring or winter heath (Erica carnea)
Heath (top photograph) opens pretty blooms that paint winter with shades of white, pink, red or lavender. Plants form a carpet of evergreen, needle-like leaves. It makes a great ground cover and does well on slopes and in rock gardens. Shear plants lightly once a year, immediately after flowering, to promote bushiness and prevent a bare center. Zones 4-9; 6-12 inches high, 12-15 inches wide.
Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)
You’ll be eager for autumn leaves to fall when you add Harry Lauder’s walking stick to your yard. This multistemmed shrub is named for famous 1800s Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder, who carried a walking stick made from this beauty. Gnarled and twisted stems stand out in winter scenes and make wonderful additions to bouquets. Zones 4-8; 8-10 feet tall, 6-10 feet wide.
Redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’)
Bright red twigs stand out against snow. Strongest coloring occurs on new stem growth. Once shrubs are established, cut 20 to 25 percent of stems to the ground each spring to encourage new growth. Plants sucker to form thickets and grow very well in damp, moist soil. Plant as a hedge or specimen shrub. Zones 3-8; 6-9 feet tall, 8-12 feet wide.
Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Strong fall color is followed in winter by red berries that linger all season long. This shrub needs room to spread because it tends to sucker. For a smaller, less spreading variety with yellow-gold foliage in spring and summer followed by orange-gold fall color, plant ‘Tiger Eyes’ (3-6 feet tall and wide). With all types, fruit only occurs on female plants. With named varieties, nurseries only sell female plants. Zones 3-9; 15-25 feet tall and wide.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
This native holly is deciduous, losing its leaves each fall to reveal bright red berries. Only female plants have berries; you need a male plant to pollinate the female to get berries. Most nurseries sell both types of plants, often in the same pot. One male plant pollinates nine or 10 females. Berries glow in snow, attract hungry birds and enhance outdoor holiday décor. Look for named cultivars, like ‘Winter Red’ or ‘Cacapon’. Zones 3-8; 3-12 feet tall and wide. A smaller variety is ‘Red Sprite’ (3-4 feet tall).