One of nature's great ironies is that the warm colors of fall are soon followed by the stark monochrome of winter. One way to combat cold weather boredom in your yard is with winter trees and shrubs. Evergreens are classics in the winter landscape, but some deciduous (leaf dropping) trees and shrubs can provide visual pop that pines and hollies can't match.
Most of us are familiar with the features of a good landscape tree. We look for an attractive shape, interesting flowers or good fall color. But what about a tree that has shed its leaves? Selecting trees with interesting winter features will result in a landscape that will be enjoyable throughout the year.
Looking Good Naked
When thinking about winter trees, consider what they bring to the landscape when they're naked. Two features to look at when considering a winter tree are its shape and its bark.
A tree with a weeping habit will create an interesting shape against the gray winter sky. Cherry and birch trees both come in weeping forms and provide year-round interest. A winter tree with a unique branch pattern will cast eye-catching shadows on freshly fallen snow. Corkscrew Willow and Harry Lauder's Walking Stick are two plants with curving, quirky branches.
A great winter tree may also provide interest in the form of a unique or colorful bark. Birch trees have curly, peeling bark that ranges in color from gold to salmon to white. Red Twig Dogwood has bark that turns a showy red to orange during winter months. These and other plants will provide an interesting contrast to common evergreens in the winter landscape.
Don't Forget the Evergreens
Although interesting bare trees may become the focus of your winter landscaping, many unique evergreen plants can do more than just provide a splash of color. Dragon's Eye pines have quirky, twisted forms and variegated yellow and green needles. The Blue Holly is a fast-growing evergreen that produces bright red berries in winter. These berries will brighten the yard and provide food for winter birds.
Planning Your Winter Landscape
When laying out your winter landscape, think about where you'll be viewing your plantings. Whether it's from the family room, kitchen or a cozy sun room, most views of your winter trees will be from the inside looking out. The windows of your home create a picture frame for viewing the landscape. Planting with these interior frames in mind will give you great views all year long.
Planted singly or in small groups, winter trees will cry out for the spotlight in the landscape. They will benefit from a backdrop of evergreens, winter shrubs or ornamental grasses. Hardscape features such as fences or walls can also provide backdrops for unique winter trees.
Going Green with Green
Some trees can even deliver energy savings. Plantings of evergreen trees and shrubs on the north- or west-facing sides of your property will create a windbreak. This green barrier will redirect the flow of cold air around your house, reducing heating costs when the plantings have matured.
Deciduous plantings, by contrast, are better placed on the southern side of your home. In warmer months, their leaves will provide cooling shade. When they drop their leaves in the winter, they will allow sunshine to warm your home.
10 Great Winter Trees and Shrubs
- Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus avellana "Contorta") Zones 3 to 9
- River Birch (Betula nigra "Heritage") Zones 4 to 9
- Linden Viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum) Zones 4b to 8
- Young's Weeping Birch (Betula pendula "Youngii") Zones 3 to 6
- Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba) Zones 2 to 8
- Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana "Tortuosa") Zones 4 to 8
- Dragon's Eye Pine (Pinus densiflora "Oculus-draconis") Zones 4 to 7
- Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) Zones 4 to 8
- Blue Holly (Ilex X meserveae) Zones 5 to 7
- Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika) Zones 4 to 7