Plants that add winter interest
This morning I was met by deeply piled drifts of snow covering every surface across which I had intended to walk. Pristine white snow, piles of hard clumped dingy snow, and downright dirty snow surrounded me as I trudged to my truck in hopes of not getting stuck! White becomes a very tiresome color this time of year. Fortunately there are interesting plants that can add color and texture to your winter landscape. With a little forethought, this dreary white expanse can become a delight for your eyes, and a wonderful food source for overwintering birds.
Plants that retain their colorful fruit through the winter add some pizzazz to your garden. A good choice is American cranberry bush viburnum. This hardy (zones 2-8) shrub bears clusters of fruit that turn red in early fall and persist all winter. The fruits are edible, though acidic. Birds enjoy them as a treat in early spring when they have mellowed a bit. Many flowering crabs also retain their fruit through the winter. "Sparkler" crabapples trees (hardy zones 3-7) are a dwarf variety, growing 10-15 feet tall, bloom rose pink in the spring, and retain their vivid red fruit all season long. Crabapples also provide winter food for birds.
Many annuals and perennials have interesting dried seed heads and flowers in the winter. peegee and limelight hydrangeas (hydrangea paniculata) retain their papery clusters of flowers. Purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea) and many sedums (like autumn joy) retain their interesting seed heads. Perennial grasses (like Japanese silvergrass and miscanthus sinensis) continue to display tall dried plumes throughout the winter. I always try to leave dried seed heads in my garden, not only for winter interest, but to feed the small animals and birds searching for food in the depths of winter.
Interesting bark also adds winter interest in the garden. Red twigged dogwood (cornus alba) and yellow twigged dogwood (cornus stolonifera) add bright color to your winterscape. Bright light exposure increases the intensity of bark color. Chokecherry trees (prunus virginiana) have a shiny, copper colored bark, and nothing beats the peeling, curly bark of betula nigra, the native river birch. The birch tree likes moist acidic soil.
Of course, our native evergreens offer a variety of colors and textures. Pines, spruces, and firs all add mass and color to our winter landscape. Place a variety of bird feeders in and around your evergreens for the additional delight of winter birding. (The antics of juncos, black capped chickadees, cardinals, blue jays and assorted woodpeckers bring joy and color to an otherwise dull winter day.)
For more information on plants that provide winter interest, visit www.extension.umn.edu and search winter interest plants. Until next time, happy gardening!
"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape -- the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
- Andrew Wyeth