Garden Design

Try These Plants for Winter Interest and Color

winter interest plant

Evergreen shrubs are the usual standouts in the winter when most of the garden is devoid of leaves. Fortunately for gardeners living in Zone 7-8, many plants provide a wonderland of winter interest and color beyond green leaves.

Winter Interest Plants

Red twig dogwood: The bright red stems of red twig dogwood add a pop of color to the winter landscape. Native to North America, these come in a range of sizes, including some new dwarf varieties that only reach 3 to 5 feet. The shrub is also shade tolerant and can handle a variety of soil conditions.

Daphne: This darling of the garden not only blooms in winter but it also has an intoxicating fragrance. A new variety, Daphne Banana Split, has unique leaves with bright yellow edges and blooms that start pink and then open to white. While the plant may not last forever in the garden (known as Daphne sudden death), it’s worth growing regardless of the amount of time it survives in your garden.

Holly: While most think of this evergreen plant for its iconic leaves, the winterberry holly loses its leaves in the fall. The bare branches are then covered in a multitude of red or gold berries in winter, making it an eye-catching garden performer and just what you need to brighten gray sky days. Remember, you need both a female and a male holly to produce these berries.

Hydrangea: Raise your hand if you grow hydrangeas for winter interest. Most think of growing hydrangeas only for the spring and summer blooms. Many, especially panicle hydrangeas, also look great all winter long with the dried flower blooms covering the plant. Since you wait until spring to prune these off, you might as well grow hydrangeas to enjoy in the colder season, too.

Hellebore: While considered a perennial, you get bonus evergreen foliage like a shrub plus flowers in winter. These easy to grow plants love a shady site and, best of all, the deer don’t like these. Score two reasons to grow hellebores.

Paperbush: This deciduous shrub (Edgeworthia chrysantha) is covered with silvery buds that open with clusters of creamy yellow flowers in February. The flowers release a wave of fragrance you can smell from yards away.

Mahonia: There are many species, with the evergreen leatherleaf Mahonia bealei showcasing a 3 to 6-inch long raceme of bright yellow flowers in winter.

Witchhazel: There are several species of Hamamelis, but the one that blooms in winter is covered with clusters of spidery-shaped yellow, orange, or red flowers. Plant these against a background of dark evergreens so the flowers show off.

Flowering apricot: Prunus mume blooms in January, lifting the hearts of gardeners with cherry-blossom style flowers in pink, magenta, or white that cover the length of the branches.

Camellia: Southerners know that camellias (Camellia japonica) are the iconic evergreen shrub with a showy display of rose looking blossoms in the middle of winter.

Ornamental grass: Once again, most grow these for three seasons of display in the garden. It’s time to include the winter interest look of grasses when planning out your garden this year. These can provide structure, texture, movement, and drama – just what you need as you wait for the warmer days of spring to arrive.

Featured image: Edgeworthia chrysantha / Beverly Hurley

Beverly Hurley is the editor of Triangle Gardener.

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