Plants For Winter Interest: Popular Shrubs And Trees With Winter Interest

Plants For Winter Interest: Popular Shrubs And Trees With Winter Interest

By: Teo Spengler

Many gardeners like to include shrubs and trees with winter interest in their backyard landscape. The idea is to add interest and beauty to the winter landscape to compensate for the garden’s lack of spring flowers and new green leaves during the cold season. You can brighten your winter landscape by selecting winter plants for gardens that possess ornamental characteristics. You can use trees and shrubs with winter interest, such as colorful fruit or exfoliating bark. Read on for information about plants for winter interest.

Plants for Winter Interest

Just because winter days are cold and cloudy does not mean you cannot have colorful displays of shrubs with winter interest that lure birds into your backyard. Nature always manages to offer variety and beauty in the garden with sunshine, rain, and snow. Ideal winter plants for gardens thrive in the backyard when the cold settles in, creating texture and surprises in the landscape when summer shrubs are dormant.

Shrubs with Winter Interest

For those who live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9, camellias (Camellia spp.) are excellent winter plants for gardens. The shrubs boast glossy evergreen leaves and showy flowers in colors ranging from pink to brilliant red. Choose from hundreds of camellia species to select shrubs with winter interest that fit your landscape.

If you don’t need flowers to grace winter plants for gardens, consider bush berries, with bright fruit that adds dots of vibrant color. Berries attract birds to your yard and might just help them survive through the long winter. Berry-producing shrubs with winter interest include:

  • Firethorn (Pyracantha)
  • Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  • Chinaberry (Melia azedarach)

Trees with Winter Interest

Evergreen holly (Ilex spp.) is a berry producer that grows into a lovely tree. The bright red berries and shiny green holly leaves may make you think of Christmas, but these trees with winter interest also liven up your garden in the cold season. With hundreds of varieties of holly to choose from, you can find a tree that works well in the space you have.

Another plant for winter interest is the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). This beautiful tree is native to Southeast Asia. It grows to 25 feet (7.5 m.) in height and produces 12-inch (30.5 cm.) clusters of ruffled white or purple flowers. Its gray-brown bark peels back in patches along the branches and trunk, revealing the layer of bark beneath.

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Plants with Winter Interest

Plants with winter interest are noted for their ability to brighten or add flare to a landscape during the coldest months in New England. Some are noted for their berries, some for their bark, and some for other reasons but all will add interest during those otherwise stark times of year. Keep in mind that you can continue adding to your landscape up until the first frost. Contact a Nursery Yard associate if you need any further assistance about Winter Interest Plants.

  • Frasier Fir (the classic Christmas Tree)

This is a list of plants which are noted for their winter interest and their ability to brighten or add flare to a landscape during the coldest months in New England.


Winterberry: ‘Winter Red’

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Produces loads of bright-red berries on a large plant that grows 6 to 9-feet tall and wide. The growth is upright and mounded. The red berries will make this plant the focal point of your garden in the winter.

Winterberry: ‘Sparkleberry’
Long branches that are covered with abundant bright-red berries in late fall. It's a real knock out in the garden all winter.

Winterberry: ‘Jim Dandy’

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Lots of very small flowers on this shrub, but no fruit. It has attractive, dark-green, healthy foliage and makes a rounded, compact shrub that grows 3 to 4-feet tall and wide.

Southern Gentleman Winterberry

Extremely hardy male holly with dense, rich deep green foliage on an upright, rounded form. Produces no berries.

Apollo Winterberry

A deciduous shrub with a deep green color that thrives in sun/part shade. The Apollo is also a pollinator for the Sparkleberry and Winter Red varieties.

Red Sprite Winterberry

A profusion of bright red berries brighten the winter landscape and provide food for birds. A male pollenizer, such as Jim Dandy Holly is required for berry set. Extremely hardy. Deciduous.


Florida Dogwood. ‘Cherokee Princess’

Gives an unusually heavy display of white blooms.

Northeast Nursery can acquire almost any plant you need, so if you want to add winter interest to your garden, contact us!

These charming annuals look like they have tiny, funny “faces,” and they come in an array of colors, from lemon yellow to amethyst. They can handle light frosts, too, so they’ll keep blooming from fall through winter in mild climates. And even though they’re annuals, some types drop tons of seeds so that they’ll pop up again when spring returns.

10 Winter-Flowering Plants for Your Pacific Northwest Garden

1. Ornamental Cabbage and Kale

Ornamental kale and cabbage (also known as flowering kale and cabbage) are close relatives to their edible counterparts but these gorgeous plants were bred for color, not taste. They don’t produce flowers - all the color is within their ruffled leaves that are green at the edges and gradually transform to purple, blue and white nearing the center. Ornamental kale and cabbage look great in container gardens and can add color to your pathways and deck as cooler weather approaches.

2. Helleborne

Hellebornes (also known as Christmas rose or Lenten rose) are perennial flowers that aren’t commonly known, but are a winter staple for garden enthusiasts. Their delicate blooms appear in fall and come in lots of colors: from pastel pink and yellow to deep purples, and even black!

Hellebornes hearty little plants are neglect and drought tolerant. They are easy to establish, though they do prefer plenty of water and well-draining soil. Do a little research before shopping to determine which variety of helleborne is ideal for your garden, as some flower in late fall through winter and other varieties in blossom in spring.

3. Heather

The winter-flowering heather is an evergreen plant with colorful swatches of pink, purple, red and white to brighten your landscape. Bees will be thankful for this addition to your garden, as heathers provide a pollen source that is rare in winter months. Heathers are also low-maintenance plants, doing well in planters or the ground as long as they have access to moist, well-draining soil.

4. Pansies

A classic cold weather annual for planter boxes everywhere, pansies have proven their winter tolerance repeatedly. Weather conditions are the biggest influence on the length of a pansy’s flowering period, but you can encourage blooming through winter by removing dead heads and choosing an area that has plenty of light and shelter from wind. With the right care, pansies will last you from fall through spring.

5. Witch Hazel or Winterbloom

Hamamelis (also referred to as witch hazel or winterbloom) is a small deciduous tree that can reach 15-20 feet tall. Three species of witch hazel are native to North America: H. ovalis, H. virginiana and H. vernalis. With clusters of wiry yellow flowers that bloom in fall and last through winter, witch hazel is a well-loved wintertime plant.

Tip: Witch hazel is used in medicine, most commonly as an astringent. You can create your own witch hazel astringent by boiling down witch hazel bark, distilled water and vodka. For the full recipe check out How to Make and Use Your Own Witch Hazel Tonic.

6. Winter Camellia

Camellia sasanqua (known as winter camellia) is a flowering evergreen shrub with blooms that begin in fall. Winter camellia’s large fluffy flowers come in pink, red, orange, yellow or white and can bring bold color to your yard against a muted fall landscape. Winter camellia only grows in Hardiness Zones of 7-9 (the Pacific Northwest coast is zone 8), making it a beloved plant among gardeners within the area.

7. Winter Daphne

Winter daphne is an evergreen shrub. It produces light pink flowers that begin blooming in winter and last through early spring. In addition to a pop of color, winter daphne provides a powerful fragrance that will remind those who smell it that spring is coming! Plant winter daphne in an area where it will receive at least partial sun and have access to well-draining soil.

8. Clematis

Winter clematis’ creamy bell-shaped blooms make it a true winter treasure! Winter-blooming clematises are either evergreen or semi-evergreen, providing year-round coverage for trellises, fences and buildings. Clematis cirrhosa (known as wisley cream) is a classic favorite, blooming as early as October and lasting through March. Another fun variety for your yard is Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurascens, which features white blooms with magenta speckles.

Winter clematises do not like moist soil, which can be a challenge during the Pacific Northwest winter. To increase success, choose an area that faces south or west, preferably under an eave, to reduce water in the soil.

9. Silk Tassel Bush

A native to northern California and southern Oregon, the silk tassel bush is a true showstopper! It flowers in late winter through spring and features long, cascading strands of white flowers up to 12 inches long that hang from its branches. When choosing a place to plant, keep size in mind. The silk tassel bush can grow up to 12 feet tall and wide.

10. Chaparral Currant

A close relative to the later-blooming native Oregon current (Ribes sanguieum), the chaparral current is native to California and blooms from December through March. It features soft green foliage, bright pink flowers and a pleasant fragrance – and provides a promise of spring. It’s a great source of pollen, so native hummingbirds and bees love this plant! Chaparral currants need partial shade with adequate space for growth. They can get up to 5-10 feet tall.

Winter Plant Care

Winter blooming plants are a treat and treasure for gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. They can add fragrance, color and texture to your landscape, and also are a living reminder of the richness and promise of spring. Get your garden started right and help your plants succeed. Use a slow-release fertilizer such as Clean Water Grow for consistent food all season long. It feeds your plants right when they need it and lasts up to six months.

Plants for Winter Color

Discover plants that stir interest during the garden’s quiet season.

Related To:

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.

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

Give your yard a dose of winter color by including plants that steal the spotlight during cooler weather. Kick off your cool-season color with the beautiful blooms of camellia. 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.

Do your homework before buying a camellia to be sure you’re choosing the hardiest one for your region. Gardeners can enjoy these rose-like blooms as far north as zone 6. In the coldest zones, select early-flowering types to enjoy a fall and early winter bloom and spring bloomers for color on the other end of winter. In regions with mild winters, count on camellias to toss open blooms from fall to spring.

Hollies bring an eye-catching display of evergreen leaves that is often punctuated with bright red or gold berries. Winterberry hollies are deciduous, and the berry-bedecked branches truly stop traffic. Cotoneaster is another leafy evergreen that you can depend on for a dazzling berry show in even frigid winters, while nandina shows off its berries in areas with milder winters. Tuck these plants in front of solid backdrops so the berries can shine.

Traditional evergreens also bring reliable color to winter landscapes. Pine, spruce, fir, juniper, yew and arborvitae withstand even the coldest winters. Along with familiar green hues, look for needled evergreens in shades of blue and gold. You can also find evergreens in any size—dwarf varieties to suit tiny front door gardens or towering trees for sprawling acreages.

Many woody plants enhance winter views with architectural branch structures. Doublefile viburnum has a symmetrical, tiered branch structure that’s beautiful covered with snow. Native serviceberries also earn rave reviews for snow-covered branches. Japanese maples often have artistically shaped trunks, as does Harry Lauder’s walking stick. The contorted branches on this shrub or small tree come into focus as winter arrives.

Other shrubs and trees boast beautiful bark that stirs winter interest. Paperbark maple, river birch, quaking aspen, sycamore and crape myrtle all have eye-catching bark. Red and yellow twig dogwood each inspire with their colorful winter stems, which show up best against dark evergreens or a snowy landscape.

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. Other woody winter bloomers include winter jasmine, with cheery yellow blossoms, and star magnolia, which opens pale blush to white flowers with a sweet fragrance.

Close out winter with a flourish of color, courtesy of bulbs and perennials. Snowdrops, winter aconite and glory-of-the-snow grow from bulbs and return reliably year after year. 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.

8 Gorgeous Trees for Winter Interest in the Garden

Winter is often thought of as the time of year to escape the harsh elements and head indoors to get cozy. Most plants are dormant, and the garden is a much more subdued place than in the spring and summer, when there's all that vibrant and budding color. But don't dismiss your garden in the off season. It is within this sedate atmosphere that tree form and structure take center stage, and a whole new level of interest can be gained.

Evergreen trees are the obvious stars of the winter landscape because they provide structure year round, but many deciduous options have interesting bark and a beautiful branch form.

When planning a site for your winter-interest tree, think of an area of your garden where the surrounding plantings are mostly herbaceous so your feature tree can show its true colors and isn't blocked by foliage.

Here are some of my favorite winter trees.

Stewartia Pseudocamellia

Peeling bark takes several different forms, and Stewartia has one of the more unique appearances. As older bark flakes off, a gray, brown and pale red patchwork effect appears on the trunk of the tree, creating an interesting contrast to snowy landscapes.

USDA zones: 5 to 9 (find your zone)
Soil requirement: Prefers acidic soil
Light requirement: Best in partial shade will tolerate full sun with ample water
Size: Slow growing, to 30 to 40 feet

Paperbark Maple
(Acer griseum)

The paperbark maple is another tree with interesting peeling bark. This slow-growing tree is well suited to small gardens and is an interesting focal point in the winter landscape because of its rich color and the tactile surface of its trunk.

USDA zones: 4 to 8
Soil requirement: All types as long as the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Size: Slow growing, to 20 to 25 feet

Monkey Puzzle
(Araucaria araucana)

Speaking of focal points within a garden, a Monkey Puzzle tree can add unique texture to the landscape. The whimsical form of this tree will stand in sharp contrast (literally, because of the razor-sharp, scale-like leaves) to the snowy landscape, providing an exotic respite from the dog days of winter.

USDA zones: 7B to 10B
Soil requirement: Prefers well-drained acidic soil
Light requirement: Full sun
Size: Slow growing, to 30 to 40 feet

Tibetan Cherry
(Prunus serrula)

The Tibetan Cherry is an interesting tree year round because of its shiny, silk-like bark. The rich coppery-red, smooth surface of the trunk comes to life in the winter garden as other colors fade. Its ease of growth makes it a great choice for novice gardeners.

USDA zones: 7 to 10
Soil requirement: All types as long as the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Full sun
Size: Slow growing, to 20 to 30 feet

Japanese Maples
(Acer palmatum spp)

Japanese Maples are a great addition to any garden because of the seemingly endless varieties available in various colors and sizes. Many have an amazing trunk and branch form that can be seen when all of the leaves are gone. I often enjoy these trees more in the winter because their gnarly, contorted branches have so much character.

USDA zones: Varies, but usually between 6 to 9
Soil requirement: All types as long as the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Varies, but usually full sun to partial shade
Size: Varies, but usually slow to medium growth, to 15 to 20 feet

Photo by Scott Cutler used with permission

Strawberry Tree
(Arbutus unedo)

Strawberry tree is a wonderful addition to sunny sites that flowers in the late fall and then produces bright red, round fruit throughout the winter months. The fruits are actually edible (although they're an acquired taste!) and are great for holiday wreaths and bouquets. This evergreen specimen is classified as a shrub but over the years can be pruned into a small tree form.

USDA zones: 6 to 9
Soil requirement: All soil types
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Size: Slow growing, to 20 to 25 feet

Colorado Blue Spruce
(Picea pungens)

The Colorado Blue Spruce is a popular addition to many landscapes because of its vibrant gray-blue needles. This stately evergreen provides vertical structure to the garden year round but really stands out against a backdrop of snow and ice.

USDA zones: 2 to 7
Soil requirement: All soil types
Light requirement: Full sun
Size: Slow to medium growth, to 40 to 50 feet

Himalayan Pine
(Pinus wallichiana)

Many pine tree varieties produce amazing cones that add architectural interest to the landscape. This species is a Himalayan pine, a beautiful tree noted for its long needles and large, storybook-perfect cones.

USDA zones: 5 to 7
Soil requirement: All types as long as the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Size: Slow to medium growth, to 30 to 50 feet

Watch the video: Winter GARDEN TOUR - plus my TOP WINTER GARDEN PLANTS