Plants and Designs for Winter Interest

Left: ‘Sparkling Arrow’ Alaskan yellow cedar ( Top: ‘Midwinter Fire’ bloodtwig dogwood (Richard Bloom). Bottom middle: large garden ornament. Bottom right: ‘Traveller’ redbud (Jerry Pavia)

When gardeners talk about the “growing season,” we generally mean spring, summer, and perhaps a little bit of fall. Winter tends to get forgotten, ignored, or generally put to the back of the line. After all, when many of us are dealing with frigid temps and ground that’s frozen solid, how much gardening can actually be done (or thought about)? The argument against this thinking, however, is that winter is the time that we may need our gardens the most. Looking outside to see a stand of glowing branches from a redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea and cvs., Zones 3–8) among an otherwise barren garden bed is a stunning sight to behold. Winter is arguably when we could use a dose of garden goodness the most. It’s easy to look good in June when every plant looks good, but to shine when everything else is sleeping? That takes a truly remarkable plant.

The following collection highlights those unsung heroes of the garden: plants with winter interest. In the articles that follow you will find trees with electric yellow bark, shrubs that bloom when the snowflakes fly, and hearty woody plants that provide eye-catching silhouettes when covered in snow. Perhaps the most noteworthy plant of the winter season is the conifer, and you’ll find no shortage of suggestions here that will help you select a conifer with the right size, shape, and color for your garden. You’ll read about the traits to look for in a winter interest plant and also gather design tips on how to best site those stars in a manner that will get the most attention.

The soil may be a bit hard to plant these options now, but you’ll be able to arm yourself with a list of great winter interest options to buy as soon as the weather turns—saving yourself from having to look out the window onto a barren landscape next winter.