Gardening you can do in winter

January 05, 2009|By ANNETTE IPSAN

Winter is the most overlooked garden season. We've tucked away our trowels and hoes, and are enjoying a respite from bugs and weeds.

But wouldn't it be nice to enhance the views out your windows, and bring a little color and life to the season?

Adding winter interest to your garden is very rewarding. Imagine looking outside and seeing cascades of bright red berries, silvery-blue evergreens, swaying fountains of ornamental grasses and snow-capped seed pods.

How do you start? Bundle up and take a walk around your yard. Now that the leaves are gone, you can really see the structure -- the "bones" -- of your garden. Where could you use a little color, texture, movement or varied shapes? These are the Big Four of winter interest.


Come in for a hot cup of cocoa and look out the windows you use most. What would spruce up those views?

Gather some ideas for winter interest by visiting a few public gardens or parks. It helps to see the mature size, shape and form of trees and shrubs, and how designers use winter interest to frame views, create focal points and form backdrops.

Now, you're ready to make a wish list for winter interest plants that you can tuck in next spring. There are some wonderful gardening books that can guide your choices, but following are a few of my personal favorites.

For shape, choose plants with distinct forms. Try the twisted curly willow or Harry Lauder's walking stick or the extreme horizontal branching of Maresii doublefile viburnum. Add fountains of ornamental grass or perennials with striking seed heads. Coneflowers, Brazilian verbena and black-eyed Susan look stellar capped with snow and offer seeds for hungry winter birds.

For texture, choose plants with interesting bark. Crape myrtle and stewartia have exfoliating bark that leaves a patchwork of grays, browns and tans. Paperbark maple and river birch are positively shaggy with peeling bark that reveals its artful form in winter.

Deeply ridged bark on trees such as ash adds wonderful texture, as does ironwood's undulating bark. Standout sycamores trade their gray bark for white as they age for marvelous contrast.

Got color? Forget winter blues. Think red, yellow, purple and pink. Flowers and berries deliver the goods.

Some plants, such as witch hazel and winter jasmine, bloom in winter. Others produce berries in the fall that last well into winter. Holly, winterberry and purple beautyberry are favorites the birds relish, too.

Evergreens also add winter color. Think of the blue in Colorado spruce, the yellow in golden Hinoki cypress and winter purple of Andorra juniper. Some shrubs put on quite the color show, too. Red twig and yellow twig dogwood are prime examples.

Movement adds another layer of interest in the winter garden. Achieve it with plantings of ornamental grasses that nod and dance in the slightest breeze. There are upright rod shapes, cascading shapes and ground-hugging tufts of smaller grasses such as the fescues. All offer movement and many add color.

Don't let Jack Frost get you down. Get gardening. Start planning now for a feast of winter beauty that will have you smiling long before the first crocus noses through the snow.

To learn more about winter-interest gardening -- and many other gardening topics -- consider becoming a Master Gardener. There are still a few slots for the training class that starts in February. Call or e-mail me for details.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604 or by e-mail at

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