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.
Design your yard with winter shrubs to fill frosty months with a strong seasonal show. Winter shrubs stir interest in many ways, from sculptural forms, to berried stems, to colorful leaves. You can even select shrubs that flower in winter to decorate sweater-weather months with unexpected blooms.
One of the most unusual and delightful winter shrubs is Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’). This multi-stemmed shrub stands out in the winter landscape, thanks to its contorted, twisted stems. The distinctive name hails from an 1800s-era Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder, who was known to carry a walking stick made from this plant. Harvest stems from this shrub to enhance winter floral arrangements.
If you want winter berries in your landscape, check out the holly (Ilex) clan. This large family of plants features assorted sizes, shapes and leaf types, along with a variety of berry colors, although most plants ripen red berries. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a favorite deciduous holly, which drops its leaves to reveal richly berried stems. Enjoy the stems in the landscape, or cut some to add to holiday décor.
Heavenly bamboo, also known as nandina (Nandina domestica), embraces winter with colorful berries and leaves that burnish in deepening red tones as frosty temperatures arrive. Nandina is a carefree winter shrub that’s valuable for more than its contribution to snowy scenery. Its tough-as-nails constitution makes it a favorite for low-maintenance plantings.
Another berried beauty, Tiger Eyes staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) stages strong multi-season interest in the landscape. Chartreuse summer foliage fades to brilliant red in fall, and fuzzy berry clusters top stems through winter. Use caution when adding Tiger Eyes to the landscape. For a few years plants will be well-mannered, but then suckers start appearing. Give it a spot where it can sucker freely, and you’ll love this winter shrub. Avoid it in small gardens where neatness counts.
Don’t overlook evergreens as part of your winter shrub collection. In regions where winter brings snow, evergreens insert a colorful punctuation mark into the season’s quiet palette of brown and white. Dwarf pines, boxwood, and holly all make fine choices for winter shrubs. Look for variegated English holly (Ilex aquifolium) to grow a striking multicolor shrub. Its branches are a natural choice for winter floral arrangements.
Or check out gold-toned evergreens, like Sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Vintage Gold’) or Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’). Both of these winter shrubs accent cold-weather scenes with beautiful foliage color and texture.
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.
Some winter shrubs open flowers during the chilly months of the year. Scotch or winter heath (Erica carnea) rewards gardeners in Zones 4 to 9 with white, pink or red blooms tucked among evergreen, needle-like foliage. Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) opens cheery yellow blooms on bright green stems in the heart of January. It’s a gorgeous winter shrub for Zones 6 to 9.
Another flowering winter shrub is hardy camellia. These striking shrubs open rose-like blossoms into December as far north as Zone 6. The flower show continues steadily all winter long in warmer areas. With glossy evergreen leaves, camellias are definitely a winter shrub worth growing.