Winter does not have to leave us with a barren landscape void of interest and color. Selecting plants with appealing characteristics during the off-season can bring life to an otherwise dormant garden. Observe the landscape this season and identify areas that lack interest. Start making plans for what you will incorporate during the growing season to ensure next winter you will enjoy the garden year-round.
Evergreen shrubs are an obvious choice to create a backdrop for the landscape. Euphorbia x martini actually produces small white and pink flowers during January and February along with attractive foliage. There are plenty of varieties of holly (Ilex sp.) for any space in the garden. The bright berries and glossy leaves add a touch of color and texture. Pyracantha coccinea ‘Kasan’ is filled with orange-red berries from the fall into winter. The thorns make this evergreen shrub variety more desirable in a distant part of the landscape.
Once you have established your evergreens, you have a collection from which to harvest for winter displays. Trim branches from evergreens such as, cypress and pines, and position them into containers filled with soil to create an outdoor arrangement that will withstand the weather and brighten the porch.
Plant for year-round blooms by including plants that love the winter weather and bloom best during this time such as Hellebores sp. and snowdrops (Galanthus). Mahonias flowers in the winter as well and even attract bees. The leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia japonica) has beautiful leaf texture that contrasts nicely with ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. Remember to incorporate early-spring flowering plants as a welcomed sign of the impending growing season. Crocus are among the earliest flowering bulbs. Forsythia sp. displays brightly colored yellow flowers before leaves have even returned to the branches.
Look for plants that have interesting features even if they aren’t in bloom. Red-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) are lovely when dormancy strikes and reveal striking red colors. You will also love having trees with interesting shapes such as weeping varieties (i.e., Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’) or those with twisted branches (i.e, Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’).
Ornamental grasses are typically planted for the attractive, bushy growth during the growing season. However, during the cold months, the crisp, brown grass blades can be just as appealing especially with the sounds they make as they rustle in the wind.
In addition to adding new plants to your landscape, you can consider how to manage the existing plants to optimize the garden experience. By leaving perennial plants intact with seed heads during the winter, you are inviting birds to your space by giving them a food source. As snow lands on these stems, it creates a beautiful winter scene.
This is also a great time to plan new structures into the landscape that will enhance your outdoor entertaining. A chimnea is a lovely decorative feature that also functions as a heat source. Placed beneath a pergola along with some weather-resistant furniture, and you have an outdoor living area to be enjoyed year-round.
As you gaze upon your landscape now make plans for what you want to see at this time next year. Create a landscape that will come alive on even the dreariest days.
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.