Plants to Look Forward to as Winter Approaches
Casandra Maier- December, 2021
All entertainment references aside; winter is coming. Between the dwindling sunlight and continued uncertainty about the future of public health and safety, it is undoubtedly difficult to feel grounded as this winter approaches. A simple mindful grounding activity involves taking a moment to observe the ever-changing landscape. Whether just outside the window, or on the next cold weather excursion through the neighborhood, take notice of the changes in the plants and flowers present. The winter landscape's best features exist in subtleties. These trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and annuals stand out with signs of life. Consider adding them to the outdoor space where winter interest is needed. Colorful exposed branch structures, ornamental berries attracting happy birds, and unique winter blossoms offer mindful connection to the season. Mindful connection helps to manage and reduce anxiety, while enhancing feelings of well-being.
'Winter King' Hawthorn
Latin name: Crataegus viridis
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-7
The 'Winter King' Hawthorn is an ornamental tree that lives up to its name with unique winter interest. Bright red pome fruits emerge in the fall and endure through the cold weather season. These berries stand out against the winter landscape and support local wildlife by providing a food source for birds. The fruits are also safe for people to consume. They are occasionally harvested and cooked down to make haw jelly. Hawthorn trees are identifiable, standing 25 to 35 feet tall with an equal spread. Mature trees have peeling bark, unveiling an inner bark that is orange in hue. The stems of this tree are silver in color with dark green oval-shaped leaves. Offering four seasons of interest, Hawthorns set showy white flowers in the spring. The leaves change to a deep reddish purple in the fall before setting the ornamental berries. Landscape designers warn that Hawthorns also develop spikey thorns after flowering. Exercise caution when pruning or planting this tree in outdoor spaces with children or pets. In particular, the 'Winter King' cultivar sets smaller thorns and larger fruits. It is also hardier and more resistant to diseases compared to other varieties. It tolerates both drought and pollution, making it a fitting street tree in urban landscapes. In residential settings the 'Winter King' Hawthorn enhances curb appeal, requiring full sun but also handling some shade.
Latin name: Parrotia persica
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-8
Originating in the Persian Empire, the Persian Ironwood is a deciduous tree species with a diverse range of aesthetic displays throughout all four seasons. Its winter interest includes flowers that liven up the dormant landscape. The unique blossoms are small, red, and comprised of multiple thick stamens, or anthers. Bloom time largely depends on the climate zone but is typically from mid to late winter. Unscented flowers decorate the bare branches and contrast nicely with the evergreen trees and shrubs in the outdoor space. The irregular branch structure and exfoliating bark also stand out during the winter season, peeling back and revealing a tan, grey color. Identify the Persian Ironwood tree with scalloped ovate leaves, standing between 15 and 40 feet in height. The leaves emerge burgundy with green edges during the spring and deepen to a darker green in the summer months. As autumn progresses, the foliage filters through all the classic fall colors, including bronze, orange, and gold. Landscape designers recommend the cultivar 'Vanessa' due to its hardiness, drought tolerance, and attractive pyramidal shape, which is achieved with little pruning or maintenance. Persian Ironwoods prefer full sun and filtered shade. They make excellent shade trees, specimens, or street trees. They are fitting for cottage-style, woodland, and urban landscapes.
Latin: Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'
USDA Hardiness Zones: 7-10
Winter gardens in need of color benefit from the bold statement made by the Yuletide Camellia. This plant starts blooming during the fall and continues through the holiday season. Standing 8 to 10 feet tall with an equal spread, it is an easily identifiable evergreen shrub, with dark green leathery leaves and open red flowers with bright yellow stamens. An upright growth habit makes this plant aesthetic even before the flowers begin firing. The singular blossoms stand out with vibrant color. Landscape designers note that there are hundreds of Camellia varieties with varying bloom times and hues; from red, to pink, to white. The red 'Yuletide' variety blooms, marking the beginning of winter. It is typically found growing as a specimen shrub or informal hedge in Zen, cottage-style, and woodland landscapes. A moderate growth habit makes this a good foundation planting or container plant. Yuletide Camellia requires filtered sunlight, making it a fitting understory plant. It is also useful as a screening to create privacy in outdoor living areas, or to add color and accent fence lines. The flowers may be cut for bouquets or used to make floral holiday displays.
Arctic Fire Red Twig Dogwood
Latin: Cornus stolonifera 'Farrow'
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-8
Bare branches are not typically considered inspiring until one has experienced the Red Twig Dogwood. In fact, the bare branches of this deciduous shrub alone are what create this unique winter interest. The leaves drop off in autumn to reveal a multi-stem branch structure in a stunning red color. These brilliant crimson twigs add a fiery element that pop noticeably against the calm of the winter landscape. During the growing season, green leaves decorate the red stems. Fragrant flowers in a yellow, white hue emerge in the summer. After flowering, some cultivars also set blue or white berries that attract wildlife before the bare branches take the stage for the cold weather months. The native plant species, Cornus alba, matures quickly and grows quite large; at roughly 9 feet in height. For this reason, landscape designers recommend the Arctic Fire Red Twig Dogwood species for its compact, manageable size of 3 to 5 feet. Prune this shrub in early spring to rejuvenate and improve growth. Pruning also deepens and enhances stem color. The red twigs are sometimes cut and added to winter bouquets and arrangements. It makes an attractive border or massing with a rounded growth habit. Arctic Fire also grows as a successful container plant in partial to full sunlight. It is typically grown in woodland, rustic, and contemporary-style landscapes.
Manzanita Emerald Carpet
Latin: Arctostaphylos 'Emerald Carpet'
USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-9
Manzanita Emerald Carpet is a broad-leaf plant that serves as a low-growing shrub or groundcover. In addition to being evergreen, it also flowers during the winter months. Identify this plant with thick emerald hued foliage growing atop aesthetic branches with brownish red bark. Tiny white bell-shaped flowers with a hint of pink decorate shiny upright leaves at the peak of winter. A compact growth habit makes this a fitting groundcover, standing between 1 and 3 feet tall with a spread of 6 to 8 feet. Its cascading form also makes it good for edges, borders, and retaining walls. Requiring partial shade, it may serve as an understory plant. Landscape designers recommend Manzanita Emerald Carpet for hillsides and erosion control. It is hardy, drought tolerant, and low maintenance. Simple pruning is needed to remove browning stems at the base of the plant as they expire. This Manzanita variety also serves as a habitat for local wildlife in the garden. As a low-growing plant, it provides protection for small birds and animals. The winter flowers continue into the spring, attracting and supporting pollinators in the landscape, including bees and hummingbirds. Ornamental berries set after the spring flowers, which also offer birds a source of food.
Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly'
Latin: Bergenia x 'Pink Dragonfly'
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
The Bergenia cultivar 'Pink Dragonfly' offers multiple seasons of interest and serves as a stunning groundcover in the outdoor space. This perennial remains evergreen through the cold season. Its winter interest presents as the floppy narrow green leaves bronze to a deep shiny plum tone. The unique winter color and texture contrast nicely with other plants and evergreens in the dormant landscape. Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly' is low growing, standing approximately 10 to 15 inches tall with a clumping form, making it suitable for planting in mass. Landscape designers recommend this plant as a groundcover, edging, or border along paths and walkways. It also grips the earth, offering erosion control on hillsides and embankments. This groundcover is extremely hardy, easy to grow, and low maintenance. Blooming flowers provide another unique display for this plant, emerging as soon as late winter in the mildest climate zones. Perhaps its most identifiable feature; stems with plumes of coral pink flowers pop up above the foliage at bloom time. These expressive bright pink blossoms give this plant the adorable common name, Pig Squeak. This Bergenia variety is also known for being drought tolerant and deer resistant. The emerging flowers attract hummingbirds to the landscape.
Latin name: Brassica oleracea
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-10
Grown for their ornamental qualities rather than their culinary appeal, Ornamental Cabbages come from the same plant species as their vegetable brethren. These plants are easy to identify in the outdoor space, as they closely resemble the edible varieties in the grocery store, with hardy layered upright leaves. Ornamental Cabbages are also called Winter Cabbages because they welcome the cold weather. Planted in the fall, they thrive when daytime temperatures are no longer forecasted to reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool daytime temps and cold nights are needed for the leaves to achieve their deepest, boldest colors. These annuals last into the wintertime, adding unique seasonal color to the landscape. In the mildest climate zones, they last into spring, when they bolt and produce a flower. However, the flowers are not particularly known for their ornamental interest. There are multiple winter kale and cabbage varieties in varying colors, from white to cream, pink to rose, and red to purple hues. Landscape designers recommend this annual for seasonal planters, holiday displays, and winter interest container gardens. These colorful plants offer stunning impact when planted in mass or along edges and borders. Ornamental Cabbages are low maintenance and require full sun.
Latin name: Codiaeum variegatum var.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 11-12
Bursting with color, the woody broadleaf plant Croton is an undeniably unique accent. It serves as a winter interest annual, with variegated leaves in colors so bright they're practically glowing neon. The leaves are evergreen, thick, glossy, and oval with a leathery texture. Identify this plant in the outdoor space with its bold striping and array of multi-color combinations, including green, yellow, orange, bronze, red, pink, and purple. Like Ornamental Cabbage, this annual is planted in the fall and holds its ornamental quality well into the cold weather months. Landscape designer note that this makes Croton a popular choice in seasonal and holiday displays. The milder the climate zone, the longer this annual lasts in the winter landscape. Additionally, more sunlight is associated with deeper, bolder leaf color. When it does not receive enough light, the lower leaves tend to droop and drop. As a subtropical plant Croton prefers plenty of moisture, including damp and humid environments. It is native to Southern India, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. Other common names include Joseph's Coat. It is often used to mark entrances, to add vibrancy to outdoor living spaces, or to highlight an area of the garden. This plant is best suited for planter and container-growing. In indoor environments, it also grows happily as a houseplant.