When we are out in the garden in summer, we don’t think about what it will look like in winter. We pick flowers for vases and vegetables for dinner, while enjoying the long, warm days in shorts and sandals. Come winter, the yard should be just as pleasing from indoors while we are bundled in a sweater drinking hot chocolate.
But as a rule, the winter landscape is not a consideration in the design process, unless you hire a professional.
Landscaping for winter builds value all year round
Gardening is an experiment, and I have played with the winter landscape for years. One time, I cleaned up the yard in fall, cutting back all the seed heads of the flowers, trimming the perennials to the ground and cutting the grass low. When it snowed, there was nothing to look at! I had two small, bare fruit trees and my neighbor’s wooden slat fence. The rest of the yard was a flat, blank field of snow. I vowed to never do that again!
Now I leave the clean up until spring. Over winter, I have hollyhock seed stalks towering eight feet tall right outside the kitchen windows. They quiver in the wind, and downy woodpeckers and finches cling to them to eat the seed. Mint, yarrow, lily and Maximillian sunflower branches and seed heads stand above the snow. Lower growing perennials are mounds when covered completely with snow.
Winter landscaping – think about height and shape of your plantings
To add height and winter interest, I’ve planted yuccas, vines, succulents and shrubs. Bulbous yucca seed heads stand tall on three-foot stalks, which, along with the stiff leaves, catch and hold the snow. Honeysuckle and clematis vines creep up trellises I’ve made of red willow stems. Not only do these add visual interest, but small birds nest in them, too.
Low-lying succulents turn purple in winter for a constant show of color along walkways. Snow defines the branches of lilac, butterfly bush, Russian sage and Cistena plum, and the sun casts their shadows after the storm. Currant and honeysuckle are covered in bright red berries that the birds love.
Backyard landscapes and design elements
Winter landscaping does not only include plants! A birdbath is a sculpture right outside the kitchen window. The rim of it acts as my snow measurement tool, and the bird decoration in the center wears a cape of snow. In a flowerbed farther out, a deep red iron well hand pump from days gone by stands out against a blanket of white. The boulders surrounding my raised beds undulate under a white cover.
Now is the time to look around your yard and plan for next winter’s beauty. The keys to winter landscaping are:
Evergreens have long been a mainstay of the winter landscape. Some have needles that turn purple, gold or bronze in the cold weather. Yews and holly have bright red berries. They provide color, texture and structure.
Some dogwoods have red or yellow bark for bright winter color. Birch trees have that wonderfully textured peeling bark that stands out with snow on it. Trees with weeping branches or other intricate patterns are brought to life after a storm.
Gazebos, arches, fences, outdoor furniture, containers and obelisks have structural interest, too. And don’t forget to consider your walkways and other hardscaping!
Plants and structures need to be tall enough to show above the snow cover. They need to be interesting enough to show off their lines when it snows, and colorful enough to brighten up a long, dreary winter. Think of snow as a blank canvas to put eye-catching, colored, textured, patterned plants on. For more inspiration, see my Pinterest page.