Winter doesn’t have to be colorless |

Winter doesn’t have to be colorless

Joel M. Lerner, APLD
Special to The Washington Post
This undated photo provided by Monrovia Nursery Co., of the Cornus or Red twig dogwood, also helps set off a winter garden when it loses its leaves in the fall. Depending on the type of dogwod, its bark will be red, orange or yellow. (AP Photo/Monrovia Nursery Co.) **NO SALES**
AP | Monrovia Nursery Co.

The winter landscape can be extraordinary if your garden is designed for winter interest. Consider plants that flower, offer berries, hold their foliage, have showy bark or display attention-grabbing shapes even without leaves.

Look around now for plants that show proudly in winter to get ideas to brighten your garden next year.

Here are some plants that will display winter interest in your garden:

Witch hazels flower in February, depending on the type. Vernal varieties (Hamamellis vernalis) grow to about eight to 12 feet, some with red flowers. Many have fragrant flowers and are shade tolerant. Chinese selections (H. mollis) grow to about 10 to 15 feet in height. Both vernal and Chinese varieties have magnificent fall leaf colors with flowers ranging from yellow to russet red blooming in January and February.

Hellebores are evergreen perennials that flower in winter, growing to 12 to 18 inches tall. A great deal of hybridizing has been done with Oriental varieties to increase flower size and color variation. They will bloom and sometimes maintain flowers from February to April. The greenish-white Christmas rose and purplish-maroon flowering Oriental hellebores are stunning during late winter snowfalls.

Bergenia is a perennial that gets noticed in winter because of its colorful leaves. Its cabbage-textured foliage turns orange-red when temperatures drop, and, barring bitter cold, it will usually hold color until new growth begins in spring. It is shade tolerant and likes moist conditions.

Winter interest can also be achieved using woody plants with bark that displays ornamental characteristics.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) has a cinnamon-red, peeling bark, making it an outstanding, slow-growing winter specimen tree. The added bonus is that it’s a clean, disease- and insect-resistant small maple reaching about 20 to 25 feet in height. It prefers a protected location in part sun and is a very desirable choice for winter gardens.

Kousa dogwoods have lacy bark during winter in shades of browns, light tans and almost white. It is shade tolerant, extremely disease resistant and, growing to only 20 to 30 feet, a small tree that will fit most landscape designs.

Redosier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) are similar to Harry Lauder’s walkingstick in that their ornamental value becomes evident in winter. The long, straight stems of these seven- to 10-foot tall shrubs turn an outstanding blood red. When they leaf out in spring, they seem to retreat to the back of the shrub border as a backdrop for other plants.

Nandinas are disease-free, shade-tolerant, semi-evergreen shrubs. Their leaves turn showy red or orange and persist on plants except during harsh winters. They grow to about five feet high and wide, and often have long, drooping clusters of red berries that can be used in dried flower arrangements.

Blue star juniper (J. squamata “Blue Star”) is slow growing with a groundcover habit. It is a drought-tolerant evergreen with blue foliage, creating a billowy, blue, evergreen carpet that persists year-round and grows up to three feet tall.

• Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md., and author of “Anyone Can Landscape” (Ball 2001). Contact him through his Web site,