10 Easy Ways to Add Color to Your Winter Garden
Dress up a dreary landscape with colorful shrubs and flowers.
The garden can look dreary after frost nips the flowers and the wind shakes the leaves from the trees. But you don’t have to settle for a drab landscape. Dress up your beds and borders with plants that add splashes of cold-weather color.
1. Berry Plants
Hollies with bright red or gold berries aren't just for the holidays. These evergreen shrubs are great choices for winter interest. Use dwarf varieties in containers by your front door, or plant larger types to form berry-studded screens or hedges. Before you buy, research the variety or ask a garden center employee how it will perform in your area. A few hollies simply don't have berries, but in general, you'll need both male and female plants to get a colorful crop.
Clip some winterberry stems for long-lasting indoor arrangements. All parts of the plants can be toxic, so keep them away from children and animals.
Winterberries are native hollies that lose their foliage in winter, which makes it easier to admire the crimson berries that stud their bare branches. 'Berry Poppins' (Ilex verticillata) is stunning, especially when it's dusted with snow. Or go for the gold with 'Berry Heavy Gold,' a winterberry with golden fruits. Plant a male pollinator like 'Mr. Poppins' with either of these to ensure the fruits set.
For other berry-bearing shrubs, try cotoneasters like ‘Cranberry’, hardy in zones 4 to 7; beautyberries (Callicarpa) with purple fruits; and pyracanthas, also called firethorns, with yellow, orange or fiery-red berries. Nandinas also have colorful berries, and their foliage is a show-stopper when the foliage turns from green to burgundy, scarlet and purplish-red.
2. Plants With Colorful Stems
Other shrubs and small trees brighten your landscape with unusual stems and twigs. ‘Artic Fire’ is a dwarf native shrub whose scarlet stems catch the eye when the leaves drop. It’s beautiful in a snowy yard or planted against a backdrop of evergreens. Since the old stems eventually turn brown, you'll want to prune it hard every other year, or cut back one-third of the oldest stems annually, to encourage colorful, new growth.
For a pop of sunny color, plant Yellow Twig Dogwood, a bushy shrub with bright yellow stems. Like ‘Artic Fire,’ its new wood is the most colorful, so it needs pruning, too. For more colors, grow Bloodtwig Dogwoods ‘Midwinter ‘Fire’ or ‘Magic Flame.’ Both are deciduous varieties with yellow, orange and crimson stems that shine in the winter sun.
3. Fragrant Flowering Shrubs
You don’t have to forgo flowers just because it’s winter. Daphnes scent the air with white, pink or lavender blooms in mid-winter. Winter jasmine bears fragrant yellow flowers in mid-winter, too, if the weather is mild, or, in colder climates, from late winter to early spring.
Add coppery-orange to your garden palette with Witch Hazel ‘Jelena,’. Its fringe-like flowers open in clusters along the branches. Plant 'Jelena' near a door, porch or patio, so you can catch its perfume. Different witch hazel varieties bloom at different times, so you can select one for early, mid-winter or late winter flowers.
Depending on the variety, camellias open their white, pink, red or bi-colored blooms in late fall, winter or early spring. Some resemble roses while others are lush and full, like peonies. These evergreen plants hold their looks even when the blooms fade.
Most camellias are hardy in zones 7 to 10, but some, like the ‘Ice Angel’ series, and recent introductions like the ‘Winter’ and ‘April’ series, are hardy enough to grow in USDA Zone 6b. For a wonderful fragrance and deep pink flowers, try camellia ‘Pink-A-Boo’.
5. Small Winter Flowers
For soft color, grow Lenten or Christmas roses. These shade-loving perennials are available in cream, red, pink, burgundy, purple or pale green. The flowers can last for weeks.
Small winter flowers like pansies also brighten beds, borders and containers and have the most impact when planted in groups of one, two or three colors. (Pansies have a kind of natural “antifreeze” that allows them to wilt in the cold and perk back up when the temperatures rise.)
Even a few bulbs burst into bloom during the cold months. The white, bell-shaped blooms of snowdrops often push up through the snow, along with the yellow flowers of winter aconite.
7. Leafy Plants
Ornamental cabbages and kales are also reliable plants for winter color. Look for these annuals, which come in rosette forms that resemble big flowers, in pink, cream, green and rose. After a frost, the colors become more intense.
8. Feed the Birds
Don’t forget to invite some living color to your landscape. Feed the birds during the cold season, and offer plenty of fresh, clean water for them. They’ll feast on berry plants and enjoy the feeders you stock with sunflower seeds, thistle and other nutritious treats.
9. Solar Lights
Unless you live where the winter sun is quite weak, add sparkle to your winter landscape with solar lights. Place them strategically, so you'll catch as much sunlight during the short winter days as possible.
10. Conifers, Evergreens and Colorful Pots
Don't overlook planting conifers and evergreens in your garden. Dwarf varieties in neutral shades of green, gray-green and blue-green are attractive when grown in colorful pots. Just be sure to choose containers that won't crack in the wintery weather.