Planting for Winter Interest

J. McLeod Scott
Home & Garden Information Center

Mid-winter can be a rather drab, blah time in a garden, but it certainly doesn't have to be. In spring and summer, it's easy to add interest with color from an almost unlimited number of flowering plants. While there aren't a lot of plants that flower at this time of the year, there are many plants with interesting texture, color and shape that can be used to add interest, although sometimes subtle, to a winter landscape. 

With so many evergreen trees and shrubs, it's not hard to find a variety of leaf shapes and colors to liven up your yard. Add to that the trees and shrubs that produce brightly colored berries. Even trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in the fall may provide interest with their peeling, colored or patterned bark, or contorted branches that become more visible after their leaves drop.

A golden colored Chamaecyparis
This golden Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea' is an attention grabber in any season.
Joey Williamson, ©2009, Clemson Extension

The contorted branches of this tree are clearly visible when the leaves fall off in the fall.
The twisted branches of Corylus avellana 'Contorta' are most visible after leaves fall.
Karen Russ, ©2009, Clemson Extension

Ornamental grasses provide interest with their dried seed heads and leaves that last long into winter. For information on ornamental grasses that do well under South Carolina conditions, see HGIC 1178, Ornamental Grasses.

Winter color of Pennisetum species
Winter appearance of a Pennisetum species
Karen Russ, ©2009, Clemson Extension

Many people recognize holly, especially with berries nestled among the leaves. However, many other plants produce colorful berries as well as other fruit that last into late fall and/or winter.

Berries of Ilex verticillata 'Aurantiaca'
Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata 'Aurantiaca') often produces large numbers of berries.
Joey Williamson, ©2009, Clemson Extension

Purple Callicarpa berries visible after leaf drop
Purple Callicarpa berries are particularly visible after leaf drop and remain into late fall.
James Hodges, ©2009, Clemson Extension

With a little consideration, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that there are many options for adding interest to a winter landscape. To learn more about plants that add to winter interest, see HGIC 1173, Pruning Roses; HGIC1076, Wax Myrtle; HGIC 1153, Growing Perennials; HGIC 1702, Foundation Plantings; HGIC 1753, Holiday Decorating With Fresh Greenery; January 2009 Test Your Knowledge - Chinese Elm Bark; Kousa Dogwood video; Hardy Evergreen Ferns video and Beautyberry video.

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.