Plants for Winter Interest

Millie Davenport,
Home & Garden Information Center

As the weather changes, people start to spend more time indoors. Learning to appreciate the winter interest of plants is a great way to enjoy the outdoors at this time of year. Plants that add winter appeal to the landscape can have interesting bark texture, plant form, dried seed heads, flowers, or colorful fruit. A few examples of plants with winter interest are discussed below. You may already have these plants in the landscape or may want to consider adding them for future enjoyment.

Perennials

Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) performs best in a shady location with well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. Hellebores’ evergreen foliage adds coarse texture to flower beds. They also bloom in January when there are not many other flowering species to enjoy.

Evergreen ferns, such as the native Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) add color to the landscape this time of year with their arching branches that reach 1 to 2 feet long. The Christmas fern prefers a shady location with moist, well-drained soil. It is drought tolerant once it is established.

Ornamental grasses, such as Hairgrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) have very fine, blue-green foliage during the growing season that fades to a brown color and persists through the winter months. Hairgrass grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet tall and prefers full sun. It is extremely drought tolerant once established.

Shrubs

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) have large oak-shaped leaves. The foliage turns bronze in the fall and when the flower heads are left on the shrub they dry and persist through the winter. These shrubs grow best in the morning sun and afternoon shade in a well-drained soil that is high in organic matter.

Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta) is a deciduous shrub with interesting, twisted stems that are easily seen after leaf drop and can be enjoyed throughout the fall and winter months. Corylus grows best in part shade/ part sun.

Fragrant tea olive (Osmanthus  fragrans) produces fragrant flowers for a two-month period from fall into winter. Tea olives are evergreen plants that grow best in areas with sun to moderate shade and well-drained soil.

Other plants with winter interest include trees such as crape myrtle, Carolina cypress, river birch, and fringetree.

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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.