Liven Up Your Winter Landscape

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winter plants

Coneflower in snowstorm. ©istockphoto.com/eurobanks

Does the scene out your windows in the winter look a little blah? You need some “winter interest” to make viewing your landscape more pleasing. Let’s look at some choices.

Most yards have at least a few “bones” – those permanent structures that don’t change. Mature trees, weatherproof birdbaths and benches, fences, arbors, yard art, and sheds pop to mind. You can’t instantly come up with a 40-foot maple tree, but you can buy or make the rest.

The addition of color changes everything in an otherwise off-season yard. Plant some evergreens. Many conifers grow too large for city or suburban lots, so choose a dwarf variety. Fortunately, you will find a surprising number of dwarf trees from which to choose. If conifers don’t excite you, how about holly, boxwood or hardy rhododendrons? Red twig dogwood, a deciduous shrub, drops its leaves in autumn uncovering the bright red branches to view all winter.

Ornamental grasses add a lot of winter interest, whether blowing in the wind or bent over with a cloak of snow. Don’t worry; they pop right back up again as soon as the snow melts. I have a Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ I see from my kitchen window. I use it as an anemometer telling me how hard the wind is blowing and from which direction. I really miss it in April and May after I’ve trimmed it to a few inches above the ground and before the new growth becomes long enough to blow with the wind.

Bark and berries contribute interest in winter. Besides red twig dogwood, consider trees with white bark or shaggy bark. Birch trees draw the eye, especially on a full moon night. Shaggy bark demands attention during the day. Berries add color and also attract wildlife, notably birds, which provide interest of their own.

Winter containers add appeal and can be changed several times during the season. Choose a winter-proof container and liven it up with dried grasses, dried flowers, twigs or branches, berries, and evergreen boughs. You can mix together natural elements with artificial as long as the artificial goes with the season. “Plant” the container right before the soil freezes. Place your container out where you can see it from the house, not on a porch where people from the street can enjoy it but not you.

Your special pieces of yard art grow in importance once they no longer have to compete with a profusion of foliage and flowers. Concrete animals emerging from a snow bank draw your attention.

Finally, don’t forget about subshrubs and perennials. Instead of scraping the garden clean in fall, leave the dead plants that have some structure to them. Unusual seed heads (coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, asters) and woody stems (butterfly bush, roses) look really interesting covered with snow or hoarfrost. You can monitor them as they change throughout the winter.

Say goodbye to winter blahs and enjoy your own personal winter wonderland.

Ask an Expert

Q: I heard a speaker describe a plant as “tardily deciduous.” What did she mean?
A: This refers to a plant that loses its leaves very late in the autumn, such as Japanese honeysuckle, for example. It gives an advantage to the gardener who can more easily identify the shrub for removal as the only plant that still has leaves.

Q: How do I keep birds from nesting in my hanging baskets?
A: Try loosely draping bird netting over the hook so it hangs down covering the plant. You will have to reach up under the netting to water. Remove it when nesting season ends.

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