Winter Plants

Discover winter garden plants that boast beautiful bark, eye-catching stems and long-lasting seedheads.
Frost and Snow Add Interest to Winter Garden

Frost and Snow Add Interest to Winter Garden

Photo by: DK - Gardening Step by Step © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Gardening Step by Step , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Give cold-weather doldrums the brush off by filling your yard with winter garden plants. These head-turning beauties punctuate winter scenery with color and texture. Count on a mix of trees, shrubs and perennials to design your own palette of winter plants.

As freezes wipe out the garden, you’ll be glad to have a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) on your winter plants roster. These treasured trees boast sculptural forms that take center stage when leaves fall. For bark that glows against snow, choose coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’). Bark on new growth is most intensely colored, as well as bark on plants located in full sun. Prune mature twigs to promote colorful new growth.

Visit a public garden to view Chinese or lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) for consideration as one of your winter garden plants. This vase-shaped shade tree offers interesting bark patterns on its trunk. Exfoliating bark produces mottling in shades of gray, brown, orange and green, creating a pretty patchwork pattern in the landscape.

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) also features exfoliating bark. In this pretty small tree, chocolate brown bark peels back to reveal a buff-colored trunk. Crape myrtles are typically pruned to lift the canopy and create a strong vase shape, which in turn adds a strongly sculptural outline to a winter scene.

Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) is a spring favorite for its amazing flower power, but the shiny, deep brown bark also makes this tree a good candidate for a winter garden plant. Be sure to plant this tree where you’ll be able to easily savor the spring floral display.

European beech (Fagus sylvatica) falls into a similar category with its silver-gray, smoothly wrinkled bark. Trees hold their branches in a horizontal scaffold, and branches cling to the golden autumn leaves through winter. The result is an eye-pleasing structure with very deliberate, almost architectural lines. The effect is breath-taking in a mature tree.

Winter shrubs also lend strong interest to cold-weather landscapes. In areas where snow flies, red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’) literally sparkles as winter drags on. Bright red stems show up strongly against snow and also pair well with dark evergreens.

Hollies are another traditional winter favorite with their evergreen foliage and colorful berries. For showstopping winter berries, plant several native winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata). This holly is actually deciduous and drops its leaves to reveal stems that are covered with bright red berries. A hedge of winterberry in full fruit will stop traffic.

15 Striking Plants for Winter Color

See All Photos

Cabbages and Kales

Ornamental kale and cabbage are some of the most popular winter annual plants. They lend a completely different texture to a winter landscape bed. Once the plants are hardened by cooler night temperatures they can survive most cold winters.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Camellias

Camellias prefer acidic, moist yet well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. They flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. The waxy-petalled flowers linger long on plants, displaying shades of red, pink, coral, white and bicolors. Plants are evergreen, growing to form shrubs or small trees. Once established, camellias are drought-tolerant.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Winter Jasmine

Jasminum nudiflorum or winter jasmine is an exceptionally trouble-free plant to grow.

Holly Bush

Hollies bring an eye-catching display of evergreen leaves that is often punctuated with bright red or gold berries.

©2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Winterberry Holly

Winterberry hollies are deciduous, and the berry-bedecked branches truly stop traffic. (Even this lizard stopped to take a gander at the beautiful berries!)

Cotoneaster

Cotoneaster is another leafy evergreen that you can depend on for a dazzling berry show in even frigid winters. It's a fast-grower and can be used as a striking groundcover.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Japanese Maples

Japanese maples often have artistically shaped trunks. The contorted branches on this shrub or small tree come into focus as winter arrives.

Nandina

Nandina shows off its berries in areas with milder winters. Tuck these plants in front of solid backdrops so the berries can shine.

Native Serviceberry

Native serviceberries also earn rave reviews for snow-covered branches. Watch for white blossoms in spring, followed by tasty berries in June. Birds love the berries, so if you want any for a pie, net trees. Fall color features shades of red and orange.

Doublefile Viburnum

Doublefile viburnum has a symmetrical, tiered branch structure that’s beautiful when covered with snow.

Red- and Yellow-Stemmed Dogwood

Red and yellow twig dogwood each inspire with their colorful winter stems, which show up best against dark evergreens or a snowy landscape.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel, a native shrub or small tree, opens strappy flowers in late winter to early spring. The blooms offer shades of yellow or orange and a sweet fragrance. Fall foliage is a striking gold, so this plant pulls double-duty in terms of seasonal interest.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Star Magnolia

Star magnolia opens pale blush to white flowers with a sweet fragrance in late winter to early spring.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ben Ford

Snowdrops

Close out winter with a flourish of color, courtesy of bulbs and perennials. Snowdrops grow from bulbs and return reliably year after year. Make sure to plant the bulbs during fall to give them the chilling period they need to bloom.

Lenten Roses

Lenten roses (hellebores) offer leathery evergreen leaves accented with rose-like flowers in shades of pink, red, maroon, chartreuse and white. Plants self-sow readily, forming low-maintenance colonies.

The viburnum clan also boasts a host of fabulous winter plants. Two that hold colorful fruits well into winter are highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) and linden viburnum (V. dilatatum). You’ll get best fruiting with linden viburnum if you plant more than one. Both of these viburnum also attract birds to your garden who come to feast on the fruits.

Perennials that will quickly become frosty favorites for their sculptural seedheads include purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and a host of ornamental grasses. Also consider yarrow (Achillea millefolium), globe thistle (Echinops ritro) and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida). Roses that set colorful hips also make outstanding winter plants.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Winter Woes: Protecting Plants from Cold Temperatures

Learn how to shield plants from winter elements with these simple tips.

What to Plant in Winter

Keep busy all winter long by tackling planting chores, no matter where you garden.

Tips to Perk Up a Bleak Winter Garden

Recommendations for adding cold-weather appeal to the garden.

Winter Shrubs

Count on winter shrubs to add eye-catching color to your landscape—at a time of the year when color’s hard to come by.

Flowers that Bloom in Winter

Fill your outdoor spaces with flowers that bloom in winter. Some of these bloomers can even start inside before shifting outdoors.

Winter Blooms

Flowering witch hazel and honeysuckle varieties liven up a garden during cold weather.

Plant a Winter Window Box

A window box planted with hardy flowers and foliage offers a garden view when it's too cold to stay outside.

Planting Winter Rye

Improve your vegetable garden soil with a cover crop of winter rye, a deep-rooted grain that breaks up hard soil.

Plant Covers for Winter

Discover tools and techniques you can use to protect your plants from frost and extend the growing season. 

Winter Herbs

Learn what to do with your herbs when winter arrives—including tips and tricks to keep the fresh flavors growing strong.