Planning garden interest in winter
I find it ironic as I sit down to write this article I am amazed by the temperature outside (high of 60 degrees), and frankly the overall weather in Ohio. The temperature preceding this heat wave included freezing rain and a severe weather advisory for the area. I hope these few days are the exceptions to this year’s winter. Although our winters in Ohio are unpredictable, it is beneficial to plan for winter interest in your garden.
With proper planning and the following plant suggestions your garden will give you joy all year long. Most of us think of this time of year as dull or when our gardens are sleeping and we turn our interest to thumbing through plant catalogs and contemplating what we can buy for spring. Strategically locating plants that you can watch when the ground is frozen is worth the effort.
Winter interests is a concept held by some gardeners who keep an eye out for points of interest in their gardens when all other plants go dormant and the ground is covered with snow. There are many plants that thrive and bloom well into the freezing temperatures. Gardeners are seeking to find changes in color, shapes, sizes and added features like berries and seed heads.
There are ornamental plants that bloom in every season of the year. If you start with a good plan and select plants that compliment what you already have you could end up with a landscape that can hold your interest through the winter season.
Many plants and trees fall into this category. A popular species are evergreens. They keep their colors and shape all year long, as well as produce berries, cones and provide shelter and food to wildlife. A favorite species is the Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens). This evergreen has a conical shape and bluish-gray foliage. Pine, spruce, juniper, yews and hemlock are also fine examples of evergreens. The selection of evergreens like arborvitae and false cypress can add a variety of gold or yellow foliage. Worth mentioning, the Mugho pine (Pinus mugo pumillo), grows two to three feet high and has a spread of five feet. It keeps its color and shape all year long and looks great against the snow.
The broad leaf evergreens include boxwoods, hollies, and rhododendrons. Some of these evergreens bear lovely berries and add interest for birds and wildlife. Some species change colors or add colors of purple, red, and yellows to the dull winter landscaping.
The deciduous shrubs and trees show-off with multi– stems and colorful bark variations. A prime example is the red twig dogwood (Cornus alba). This is a hardy shrub that grows to heights of five to six feet and a comparable width. This bush sheds its leaves in fall to reveal its red bark. Also, a variety of Japanese maple trees have distinctive reddish bark. Many trees are of interest due to their shapes, unique barks, varying colors and fruit bearing properties. The ornamental pear has small fruit that keeps the birds busy in autumn and winter. Once they shed their leaves in the fall their silhouette adds dimension to the landscape. The familiar Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), Birch (Betula sp.), and the River Birch (Betula nigra) all have distinctive barks. The River Birch has brown peeling bark mixed with spots of rosy– salmon color. This tree looks good standing alone or in clumps of three or more. The Fact Sheet HYG-1143-96l lists many examples that could add to your winter garden.
Ornamental grasses are another variety of winter interest if they are not trimmed back in the fall. After the foliage dies the grass blades and dried seeds add a new focus to the landscape, especially for the overwintering birds. Two more species worth mentioning are the Blue Oat and the Blue fescue grasses. They both keep their shape and color throughout the winter months.
Perennials are abundant and many keep their original hue or turn different shades in winter as well as adding pods of seeds and berries for great winter attention. Sedums, hellebores, ivy, pachysandra, vinca, lavender and heather are just a few worth naming. The average gardener would enjoy any of these plants due to the staying power of their shapes and colors during the winter months. One of my favorites is Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus). This plant displays purple black leaves that form clumps ten inches high and twelve inches wide. This particular cultivar looks good next to contrasting plants or in containers. Another favorite I have is liriope or lily turf. Used by many as a ground cover, these perennials form clumps and range from dark green leaves to variegated ones and hold their shape and color all year.
Although all cultivars are not mentioned, many are, and should be considered. I hope you will look at your winter landscape with a different eye. Garden planning to keep you involved and to take care of the birds and wildlife can be very satisfying. While the rest of your garden is slumbering you can keep active by watching your own winter show. The possibilities of creating interest in the winter landscape are endless; patterns and colors in tree bark, seed heads, berries, cones striking branches and greens against the snow. With an assortment of winter interest a garden can warm the average person’s heart no matter what the temperature may be outside.
Dianne Gelinas is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.