By Jocelyn Bonesteel
This is a three-part series that will help you use your winter landscape to determine what you may be missing in your landscape all year.
Once the coziness of Christmas is over, all the lights come down, and decorations are put away, winter landscapes can look a little bare. The holidays filled every inch of the house and yard, and now the open spots and negative space are all homeowners can see. With the dreariness of winter upon us, now is the time to see what your landscape is missing!
Winter landscapes are often difficult for homeowners to think about and plan for. Spring, summer, and even fall are easier since customers can actively shop in those seasons, and many people forget about winter interest when enthralled by summer blooms and the warmth of sunshine. However, plants with winter interest are abundant in garden centers, and landscapers are adept at using both plants and hardgoods for a cold season flourish.
A variety of plants can provide some winter interest: evergreens bring a range of color, texture, and size to winter landscapes, keeping their form and denseness throughout the season. While most maintain the same color throughout the winter, others change for a more dramatic pop of color. Most homeowners are also unaware some of their favorite deciduous plants already existing in their landscapes can offer year-round interest. Some of our favorite winter interest options include the following:
Grasses: Grasses are a great addition to a summer garden with their height, form, and texture, but they can make an even greater impact in the winter months. Often cut down in the fall, grasses can keep height and offer a softer texture if left up throughout the colder season. Karl Foerster, a more rigid, columnar, 5’-6’ variety, adds dimension through its upright habit. Cheyenne Sky switch grass, with 3’ red blades in the fall, is a little shorter and wider than Karl Foerster, adding a less rigid texture with movement even in the winter. Both feature golden and tan tones, brightening up an otherwise muted landscape.
Panicle Hydrangeas: Panicle Hydrangeas, with their large, often color-changing blooms, are a summer staple, but their blooms offer great texture throughout the winter. Mostly on the bigger side, with some dwarf varieties available, these Hydrangeas are ideally pruned late winter/early spring, making it easy to keep the dried, tan blooms for fall and winter arrangements. Maintaining the blooms all winter continues to showcase these Hydrangeas, but in a different manner: prominent and heavy in the summer with thick leaves and a dense habit, winter features a lighter shrub both in color and weight with an ethereal airiness that breaks up the oppressiveness of the winter.
Dogwoods: Red- and Yellow-Twigged Dogwoods are often overlooked, yet their time to shine is truly in the winter months. Unassuming and green throughout the spring and summer, fall starts their leaf drop and twig color. Featuring either vibrant red or yellow twigs all winter, the upright shrub glows in the dull winter, regardless of snow cover. Averaging 6’-8’ tall, these can be planted as individual specimens or an informal hedge.
Ornamental Trees: Most ornamental trees are not going to feature blooms that stay much past the early fall or have bright twig colors, but the architecture of the bare branches in winter is unrivaled. Once the leaves drop, these shorter (8’-15’) trees showcase a variety of habits with their bare branches. A small range of bark colors from the grey/tan/white tone to dark brown with a few muted colors between can produce an artistic show throughout the winter seasons regardless of snow cover.
Fire Chief Arborvitae: Fire Chief is a small, globe shaped Arborvitae with chartreuse foliage tipped with orange throughout the summer. Changing to a dusky rose as the temperatures drop, Fire Chiefs not only offer year-round color but a color change as well. Growing slow to reach 4’x4’, these Arborvitae require almost no care and are extremely low maintenance. Add in their soft, fluffy texture and these Fire Chief Arborvitae will bring year-round interest to a landscape.
Green Giants Arborvitae: A popular evergreen, Green Giants are incredibly fast growing, adding up to 3’ a year to their height. Filling out a little slower in width, these Arborvitae are still dense and thick enough for a living fence. Quickly reaching 50’, Green Giant Arborvitae make a medium green pyramidal statement and can bring tall height to an otherwise barren landscape.
Emerald Green Arborvitae: Another popular Arborvitae, Emerald Greens are shorter than Green Giants, maxing out at 10’-15’ tall and 4’-6’ wide. More columnar in habit, this dark green Arborvitae is perfect as an anchor or shorter living fence. Emerald Green Arborvitae feature a whorled foliage, creating a unique and interesting texture that is best showcased in the winter months.
Gold Mop False Cypress: Gold Mop is a looser, mounded, gold-foliaged evergreen. Growing approximately 5’x5’, its looser, shaggier habit can be trimmed into a tighter ball depending on a landscape’s aesthetic but will maintain a loosely rounded shape regardless. This Falsecypress’s lighter color makes for a dramatic contrast and helps bring a brightness into the colder months.
Blue Point Juniper: Blue Point Junipers are pyramidal, averaging 12’ tall and 8’ wide. With silvery blue foliage, Blue Points can be used as a privacy screen or topiaried into a unique specimen. Left alone, this Juniper maintains its shape with little pruning and adds a statement to the landscape.
Blue Star Juniper: Blue Star, a shorter Juniper named for its foliage growing in tight little stars, is spikier and maintains its small, dense habit all year. Another bold blue, Blue Star Junipers offer contrast against regular green evergreens, popping against a snowy background.
Norway Spruce: Norway Spruce, a Wasson favorite, is one of the hardiest and disease resistant varieties of Spruce. Averaging 50’-60’ tall and 40’ wide, this pyramidal Spruce has pendulous, or drooping, branches that offer a distinct look in a landscape. Used more often as a formidable fence or sweeping screen, Norway Spruces can also be used as a single towering accent.