Tips to Perk Up a Bleak Winter Garden

Recommendations for adding cold-weather appeal to the garden.
Yellow Winter Flowers Buttercup Winterhazel Monrovia

Yellow Winter Flowers Buttercup Winterhazel Monrovia

These yellow flowers will bloom in late winter.

©Image courtesy of Monrovia

Image courtesy of Monrovia

These yellow flowers will bloom in late winter.

Wintertime, like an x-ray of the landscape, reveals a garden's basic structure. To add more interest to the cold-weather garden, consider these key elements:

Focal Points

Focal points include sculpture, garden structures, boulders or containers. They can create dramatic or subtle, year-round interest within the landscape. Garden features such as ponds, arbors or a lone container become the center of attention when placed in contrast with their surroundings.

Color and Structure

For a splash of winter color, consider going evergreen. Evergreens can bring color to the landscape when the mercury is bottoming out. Even the color brown can make its own bold statement. A bare deciduous tree against a curtain of green brings structure and style to almost any planting.


"Never underestimate the winter fragrances that can lure you outdoors, even in cold weather," says garden author Marianne Binetti. For example, witch hazel (Hamamelis sp.) has a sweet fragrance, regardless of how cold the temperature. There are yellow and orange varieties available. Fragrant plants can do double-duty in the garden. Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) infuses a pleasant vanilla scent to the air and produces black berries that provide additional color and pizzazz.

Winter Chores

Winter is also the time to tackle a few chores in the yard that don't seem as obvious during the rest of the year. There are several plants that can be pruned in winter. For early spring-blooming plants such as Lenten rose, cut back tattered, old foliage left over from last year. Cutting back the foliage allows the winter blooms to be more prominent and inhibits the potential spread of mold or disease. (Note: when pruning back, take care to avoid cutting back new growth.) Prune out tree or shrub branches that are crossing or rubbing against one another. This task can be more easily accomplished in the wintertime because you can see the skeleton or framework of the deciduous trees.

Winter Safety

Don't forget about safety, especially when it comes to walking on icy surfaces. To reduce potentially slippery hazards, use organic kitty litter as an alternative to salt. Since salt can wash into your flower beds and sterilize the soil, non-chemical kitty litter will provide traction without being hazardous to nearby plantings. Look for kitty litter that contains vermiculite or pumice. As an added benefit, staying on paths or sidewalks keeps you out of the soggy soil.

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