Contributed by Emma Metson
As we near the end of fall, the temperatures really start to drop and the nights start to draw in; it’s now that you want to start ticking off your list of winter garden jobs. For many though, this is the time of year that our gardens slip to the back of our minds as we start spending more time indoors.
However, just because the bright blooms of summer have died back and leaves are starting to fall from the trees, doesn’t mean the season to enjoy our gardens is over! If you get smart with what you plants, you can have a beautiful garden all year round.
The trick is to choose the right plants with aspects that still deliver visually during colder weather. The best choices are shrubs, bushes, and trees.
Here are some top picks for you to plant in your garden this winter.
1. Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)
When choosing what to grow in your garden, don’t make the mistake of only thinking about flowers. Plants that provide texture, especially during the winter, are ideal for creating an all round, all seasons garden.
The Paperbark Maple is perfect for the addition of texture to your garden. All year round the brown bark on its branches and trunk peels back in thin layers to reveal the brighter red colored wood beneath.
In the fall, the Paperbark’s leaves turn a brilliant red-orange before falling to leave just the peeling bark behind. With all its features combined it makes the perfect year-round garden addition.
Happy in all light conditions except full shade, and best grown in well-drained soil, this tree is easy to look after. It doesn’t require much, if any pruning, and will suit almost any garden that doesn’t suffer from drought.
2. ‘Fascination’ Birch (Betula)
The ‘Fascination’ Birch is another tree that boasts beautiful peeling bark. Present all year round, the copper barks make way to the creamy color underneath. As the tree matures, this changes into a bright white that stands out against its foliage.
After its leaves yellow and fall in the autumn, the white bark is left on display until new growth starts in the spring, making it an ideal focal point for your winter garden.
This is a fast growing tree that doesn’t need much pruning, however if you decide to cut it back a bit, make sure you avoid common tree care mistakes like over pruning, choosing the wrong time of year to do it, or tree topping. If you’re not careful, your tree’s health could be put at risk, and these mistakes could ultimately end up killing it.
Make sure to keep the ground moist as it prefers medium to wet surroundings, but the soil still needs to be well-draining to keep this tree happy.
3. ‘Sango-Kaku’ Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum)
Another stunning Maple is the ‘Sango-Kaku’ Coral Bark Maple. It gets its name from the coral red colored young branches and twigs that are revealed after the winter shed, making it a beautiful addition to your garden in the chilly season.
Before the temperatures really drop, this Acer’s leaves turn a soft yellow which, combined with the bright bark, adds vibrant color to your garden.
As a slow growing tree, it doesn’t require much to any pruning. However, if you decide it needs a trim, make sure to carry out the work during the dormant season and avoid any cutting in the spring.
4. Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)
Although this is an all year round small tree, it boasts impressively bright yellow blooms for several weeks during late winter to early spring. The small clusters of flowers appear on the bare branches, making them incredibly striking and perfect for creating interest in a winter garden.
In the summer, the Cornelian Cherry produces rich red berries that contrast well with the summer flowers of other plants. These berries are even edible!
A smaller member of the tree family, it can grow from 15 ft to 25 ft tall. It makes a great hedge screen, or the perfect addition to a cottage garden.
Be sure to plant this tree in well-drained, nutrient rich soil that should be kept moist. Make sure it is in a position that I can get lots of sun to encourage growth.
5. Tibetan Cherry (Prunus serrula)
This Cherry, unlike the Cornelian, doesn’t flower during the winter. Instead, it’s long willow-like leaves turn a golden yellow and shed to reveal this tree’s striking bark.
A deep mahogany color sets it apart from other trees, with bumpy yellow-grey colored horizontal lines scaling the height of the trunk. The surface of the bark is slightly shiny, helping its strong coloring to stand out even more.
When bare, this tree makes an excellent addition to any winter garden.
As another example that is easily grown, the Tibetan Cherry likes rich, well-drained soil, but is tolerant to many different soil types and situations. This makes it the perfect addition to many different gardens.
Shrubs and Bushes
6. ‘Sibirica’ Tatarian Dogwood (Cornus alba)
The Tatarian Dogwood is a must have for any winter garden. As the temperature drops, its stems turn a deep shade of red, providing a stunning show over the colder season. Its distinctive color makes it popular among many gardeners.
This shrub is easy to grow and just as easy to care for. It’s not particularly fussy when it comes to the type of soil it grows in, although descent drainage is prefered. As long as it isn’t planted in complete shade, it will be happy.
Be sure to keep an eye on this shrub as it grows rather quickly, meaning it will need pruning every year if you don’t want it to grow too big. That being said, it usually only reaches a maximum of 4-7 ft, so you could treat it as a point of interest for your garden.
In late spring it blooms with clusters of small, yellowish-white flowers that are loved by butterflies and pollinators, which turn into bluish-white berries for the birds to eat midsummer. The leaves turn a purple-red in the fall before giving way to the deep red stems for winter.
7. Purple Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma)
A widely recognised winter beauty is the Purple Beautyberry. As the name implies, this shrub produces bright purple berries in late summer that last until winter sets in. Due to it’s bright berry color, this shrub makes a great addition to any winter garden.
In the summer it produces small pink flowers that are loved by butterflies and bees, making it a great pollinator plant.
Growing to around 4ft tall, the Beautyberry is a small and compact shrub. As it blooms on new growth, for the best displays prune the stems back to around 6 inches in late winter to encourage flowering.
8. ‘Yelverton’ Golden Willow (Salix alba var. Vitellina)
Another shrub with brightly colored stems is the Golden Willow. In the spring and summer it grows narrow green leaves that turn yellow in the autumn, before falling and revealing the beautiful yellow-orange of its stems.
This Willow is very fast growing, reaching from 15-70 ft in total. In one growing season it can add 6-8 ft to its height! If left to grow, it can mature into a medium sized tree.
If you want to keep the size more manageable, severe pruning is advised. The best colors are also displayed from younger stems. In early spring, cut the stems close to the ground as the leaf buds start to swell.
This method is dramatic, and will leave an empty space in your garden for a few weeks before the new growth kicks in. If it is too much, pruning one third to one half will still be enough to stimulate new growth.
9. Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)
A very popular option for adding winter interest and color in the cooler months, the Heavenly Bamboo is a smaller shrub growing to around 8 ft.
After producing nectar rich, small, white flowers that are popular with pollinators, clusters of green berries start to grow which develop into a bright red color. These berries will last through winter if they’re not eaten by birds first.
The shrub’s leaves also put on a show throughout the year, emerging a purple colour, turning into green as they grow, then to a purple-red in the autumn.
Being low maintenance and mostly disease free, the Heavenly Bamboo is one of the toughest and most adaptable shrubs you could choose for your winter garden. It prefers full sun or partial shade, but will tolerate full shade, as well as most types of soil.
10. ‘Winter Gold’ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Winter Gold is a slow growing shrub that produces a dramatic display of berries across its multiple stems. It produces small white flowers in late spring which give way to its signature golden-orange berries in early fall. These berries will last through winter and into early spring if they’re not eaten by birds.
As the Winter Gold is a female plant, it requires a male pollinator to produce its berries. A single male winterberry is enough to pollinate multiple female Winter Gold’s, just ensure that you choose a late blooming variety.
Shrubs and trees make up the backbone of a winter garden, making them an obvious choice for adding interest in the colder months. With a little research, you’ll soon find that when the temperature drops your garden can, in fact, be just as colorful as it was in summer. The trick is to choose a mixture of plants, or varieties that will deliver all year round.