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Garden Obstacles: Creating Winter Interest in the Garden

We all know evergreens are a welcome sight in the barren winter landscape. There are many other ways to bring life to the winter garden. I will help you find more ways to have a beautiful garden even in the dead of winter.


To start, our evergreen Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar) has stunning winter colors ranging in shades of blue-green, burgundy, rust, deep purple, and blue-gray. How beautiful is the ice on the branches?

Photo: Juniperus virginiana (KMS Native Plants)


Not to be overshadowed by native evergreens, our 'evergreen' perennials bring year-round interest to the landscape, especially in the winter. I put 'evergreen' in quotes because the basal foliage stays green (or burgundy), not the entire plant.

Photos: Top Row: the deep burgundy winter rosette of Oenothera fruticosa (Sundrops), the bronze-red winter foliage of Tiarella cordifolia (Foamflower), the burgundy and green blades of Luzula acuminata (Hairy Wood Rush), Bottom Row: green foliage rosettes of Erigeron pulchellus (Robin's Plantain), Chimaphila maculata (Spotted Wintergreen) in its tricolor glory of deep green, white and red, the bronze foliage of Waldsteinia fragarioides (Barren Strawberry, photo New Moon Nursery)


Evergreen foliage is not the only way to bring winter interest to the landscape. Bright-colored stems, berries, exfoliating bark, dried flowers, and stems add spectacular texture to the winter landscape.

Photos: the bright red stems of Cornus sericea  (Red Twig Dogwood), the red berries of evergreen Ilex opaca (American Holly), evergreen Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen), and its lovely winter color and berries, the dried flowers of Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea), the dried and empty seed pods of Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed), Betula nigra (River Birch) with its gorgeous exfoliating bark, winter color of Andropogon virginicus (Broomsedge) with some seeds left for the birds, Fagus grandifolia (American Beech) is a beacon of light in the middle of a pine grove (marcescent: the spent leaves stay attached to the stem throughout the winter)



Another beautiful shrub for winter interest is the non-evergreen Ilex verticillata (Winterberry). Female plants are covered in red berries that persist through the winter. One male plant can help cross-pollinate up to eleven females. Look at how lovely the red berries are peeking through the snow.


Clethra alnifolia (Sweet Pepperbush) has flowers that dry to seed pods that look like peppercorns. The straight vertical stems look great in the winter garden, especially after a fresh coating of snow. The tightly packed suckering stems are also a great shelter for birds and small critters.

Clethra alnifolia (Sweet Pepperbush) with Quercus alba (White Oak) in the background


The dried seed heads of perennials are great natural bird feeders in the late fall and throughout the winter. Our dried native plants stand tall and strong, even with fresh snow.

Top Row: Itea virginica 'Little Henry' (Compact Sweetspire), Pycnanthemum virginicum (Common Mountain Mint), Prunus serotina (Wild Cherry) with Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) in the background. Look closely at the bottom right of the picture and you will see Agastache foeniculum (with snow on the dried flower heads.


Grab a mug of hot chocolate, bundle up, and get out there to see what your garden offers this winter!



All photos taken by KMS Native Plants









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