Beyond Evergreens: Dynamic Winter Landscapes

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Evergreens are a staple in a seasonal landscape palette. They perk up even the darkest winter day, and every garden should have them. But if every plant in your garden is evergreen, your outside spaces will begin to look the same, all year round. How do you get a dynamic garden that changes with the seasons, but still looks interesting during the greyest months of the year? Here are a few tips to keep the winter landscape looking less mundane, while still utilizing your favorite deciduous and blooming plants. (Pictured above: Red Twig Dogwood, Feather Read Grass, & Clethra alnifolia)

1. Don’t prune back your ornamental grasses in the fall. Wait until early spring. That way, the waving stems and fluffy seed heads will add drama all winter long. Mounding grasses like pennisetum or prairie dropseed will create waves of texture in the snow or against otherwise bare ground. Upright grasses like bluestem, switchgrass, or miscanthus will persist above snow.


2. Allow some of your summer blooming perennials and shrubs to maintain their stems, seed heads and dried flowers all winter, instead of cutting them back each fall. Consider using plants with persisting fruit or seed heads like cone flower, globe thistle, sea holly, hibiscus, milkweed. They will provide food for the birds and create interesting textures.  (Pictured here are Rose hips, Hydrangea petals, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus) seed pods and Alder cones).

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3. Deciduous shrubs with woody stems and interesting bark will add structure to your beds, but still add that ephemeral quality to your landscape that the changing seasons bring. Red Twig Dogwood is a popular winter favorite for a reason. It really stands out against the snow, but even when there isn’t snow, it breaks up the monotony of a more traditional evergreen palette. Only newer stems are red, so be sure to thin the stems by 1/3 in each spring (remove the oldest stems) to ensure continued growth of bright red stems each year.

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4. For an element of surprise, add some winter blooming plants, like Winter Heath, Witch Hazel, or Hellebore. Pictured here, Hellebore and Winter Heath (Erica carnea). If your winter heath begins to look scraggly, you can prune it right after it flowers.

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More Plant Choices for a Winter Wonderland:
Interesting Bark or Stems: Persian Ironwood, Stewartia, River Birch, London Planetree, Ninebark, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Red-twig Dogwood, Corkscrew Hazelnut, Paperbark maple, Paperbark Birch, Sycamore, Amur chokecherry, yellow-twig dogwood
Winter Fruit: Winterberry, Snowberry, Roses, Holly, American Crannyberrybush (Viburnum), Chokeberry, Bayberry, Wintergreen
Winter Flowers: Winter Heath, Witch Hazel, Hellebore, Snowdrops, Flowering Quince, Winter Hazel
Plants with Persisting Seed Heads: Black Eyed Susan, Coneflower, Globe Thistle, Sea Holly, Hydrangea, Hibiscus & Rose of Sharon, Clethra, Milkweed, Sedum, Beebalm, Helenium
Ornamental Grasses (Pick whatever you like for summer and fall color or texture, just wait to cut them back until early spring to maximize their winter interest)



Plan your Landscape in Winter

Develop your landscape design now for a smoother transition into spring and summer installation. 

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Why wait until spring to begin thinking about landscape projects? When the leaves are turning and the garden is just beginning to hibernate, next summer seems so far away. Here are a few reasons you should develop your landscape plan now:
  • Spring and Early Summer is the busiest time of year for landscape contractors. Signing up with your contractor early is the best way to ensure your project is high on their list.
  • Working with a designer in the winter months means they will have more time to spend on your project. And you will have more time to make sure the design and budget is ideal for your needs.
  • Planning a swimming pool or implementing a project near a wetland will require special permitting, which takes some time! Get the paperwork out of the way so you are free to begin work when the weather is good.
  • Winter is a great time to visualize future landscape changes. The trees are bare, and many plants are below ground or in hibernation. It is often easier to see your property as a blank slate this time of year.
  • Looking at pictures of landscape and plants and dreaming of your new garden oasis is sure to brighten up the darker days of winter.

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