7 Tips for a Beautiful Winter Garden

As beautiful as the summer garden is, with its riot of color and masses of greens, there’s something magical about the winter garden—bare branches glittering with frost, snow dripping from evergreen limbs, the surprise flick of red from a passing cardinal, a burst of orange from a bunch of pyracantha berries. Though much of the look of the winter garden is out of your control – we can’t make the snow cover the trees or the frost paint the bare branches – here are a few landscaping tips to help you maximize the beauty of your garden views even when it’s not the growing season.

1. Plant Evergreens

white pine, blue spruce, Douglas fir

For centuries, gardeners have turned to evergreen trees to provide shades of green and structural elements in the winter landscape. Some of our favorites include:
And don’t forget the wide variety of evergreen shrubs and groundcovers available, many with bright berries or seedpods that last all winter long.

Pyracantha, holly, English ivy

Here are three attractive options you’ll want to try:

2. Mix Deciduous Trees and Bushes

Contorted filbert, Crape myrtle, red-twig and yellow-twig dogwood

When planting trees in the warmer weather, consider how, once their leaves are gone, they might open unexpected winter vistas and patches of sun. Plus, bare branches, especially those of unusual shape, look particularly stunning when covered in frost or darkened by winter rain. Henry Lauder’s walking stick is a great example of a small tree with a shape that is best appreciated without its leaves.

Other plants have colorful or interesting bark that can only be appreciated once the leaves have fallen, for example:

3. Don’t Cut the Grass

Pampas grass, big blue stem, feather reed grass

You probably weren’t thinking of mowing in the winter in any case, but if you leave your ornamental grasses standing after they’ve died in the autumn, they will provide visual interest all year round.

Three grasses that are particularly attractive in winter are:

4. Hold Off Clearing Your Flower Beds

hydrangea, sea holly, sunflower

Like ornamental grasses, many flowers, once they are spent and the foliage has died back, leave interesting seed heads. Left in place, they not only are lovely to look at, but they provide important habitat for overwintering birds.

Some good choices for winter interest include:

5. Feed the Birds

songbirds on a feeder in winter

Speaking of our feathered friends, create a bird-friendly garden by working bird feeders and heated bird baths into your landscape. This helps overwintering birds get through the cold months and brings bright colors and movement into your winter views.

6. Invest in Hardscape

patio chairs and pots covered with winter snow

The world-famous garden designers of Japan are known for carefully choosing the non-plant elements of their landscapes to look attractive in every season. Garden benches, paths, statuary, fences and trellis, and even empty pots take on a softer and unique look in the garden under a blanket of snow, a covering of ice, and even winter’s dim lights.

7. Decorate for the Holidays and Beyond

wall planter filled with festive winter greens

Cover tree trunks in holiday lights, string them around your deck or front porch, drape them throughout the garden – and then leave them up to provide cheering color and glow until spring. And don’t let the pots that hold your summer container garden stand empty over the winter. Use them to create festive winter container displays.

snowy backyard scene

Sadly, winter in the garden isn’t all beauty and light. While enjoying the view, remember to do all you can to protect your trees and shrubs from the damage they can sustain during the harsh weather of this season.

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