by Siegrid Stern
Original published in the Oakland Press, Pontiac, Michigan

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In the winter months, a landscape can be a very drab and uninteresting place. Careful plants selection and some thought given to their siting is important.

    Surprisingly strong colors can appear in the winter landscape. Here are some examples:


  • A rim of frost on the evergreen leaves and red berries of a firethorn (Pyrachantha).
  • Harry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') offers exotic shapes of stems and branches and a gorgeous display of  attractive catkins.
  • A striking contrast is created with a planting of red or yellow-barked dogwood (Cornus spp.) in front of a grouping of Blue Colorado spruces (Picea pungens). As bark is brightest on young growth, pruning of the dogwoods will ensure a supply of rich color.
  • Plants with sculptural form include the spiky yucca filamentosa. 'Variegata' is especially beautiful. It is well suited to grow in our Zone 5 and keeps its variegated leaves throughout the winter.
  • Winter is the time for holly. The bright red berries and excellent foliage of numerous cultivars provide color in early winter.
  • Ornamental grasses are plants with four-season interest. Their graceful leaves sway in the slightest breeze. The most beautiful of all is Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' with its arching leaves and cross banding. Micanthus sinensis 'Variegatus' (variegated Japanese silver grass) is another showy specimen with its white striped foliage.
  • Evergreens offer beauty all year round. The varied tones of conifers and broad-leafed evergreens are especially appreciated in the winter, when the landscape might otherwise look bleak and uninviting.
  • Weeping Norway spruce (Picea abvies pendula), weeping larch (Larix decidua 'Pendula'), grafted Blue Spruces like the globe forms and grafted Junipers are often used as specimen plants. A multitude of dwarf conifers are also available to enjoy in the winter landscape.
  • Rock Cotoneaster's (Cotoneaster horizontalis) fishbone branching pattern adds interest to the landscape. The main ornamental feature is the persistent red fruit.
  • Most of the Viburnums are known for their colorful berries. They remain on the plants throughout the winter until eaten by wildlife. Many cultivars are available. They are selected for their fruiting habit, growth rate, growing requirements and height.
  • The berries of ornamental trees like Crabapple trees (Malus cultivars), Hawthorns (Crataegus) and Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) offer a colorful display of winter beauty.
  • A clump of European white barked Birch (Betula pendula) or the weeping branches of the 'Niobe willow' are dramatic in the winter landscape.
  • Then there are the subtle colors of winter; although you may think of tree trunks and branches as being basically brown, they have a wide color range from silver gray to rich chestnut and some have an interesting texture.
As you see, winter is not a dead season. For those with a perceptive eye, it can be the most beautiful of all.


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