Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2004
Regional Report

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This lovely ornamental grass is at its best in snow.

Creating Winter Interest in Our Gardens

Fall is once more upon us -- an ideal time for planting. How about if this fall you plan to add those plants that will deliver winter texture and color? There are so many beautiful winter plants available to us in the Midwest, and although our winters are certainly not known for creating a desire to be outdoors in the garden, even seeing the beauty through the windows can help get us through the doldrums of the winter season.

It's possible to plan a landscape that is not only beautiful in the growing season but also magnificent when it disrobes for the wintertime. All it takes is some observation as to what strikes you as beautiful, and learning an appreciation for subtlety.

The first place to start observing this year is in the wild. The beautiful, bright cerise fruit stalks that remain on gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) through the winter will make you think twice about relegating this quiet shrub to the back of the border. Of course, its cousin, the redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea), is one of our most beautiful winter shrubs since the ordinarily green stems turn a vibrant red when the leaves drop.

Our native sumacs are brilliant in the fall, and when those leaves drop, there remain subtle clusters of maroon berries that stand above them all winter. Not only do you get the attractive color, but the texture of the thick, sturdy stems and large fruit clusters is quite nice as well. A companion plant, cranberry viburnum (Viburnum trilobum), sports clusters of clear-red berries that hang like jewels against the snow.

There is a plethora of small trees that retain fruits through the winter, the most notable being crab apples and some hawthorns. In fact, the newer cultivars of crab apple, such as 'Prairifire' and 'Red Jewel', are bred not only for disease resistance, but also for fruit persistence. And there's nothing quite like a 'Winter King' hawthorn to add a glorious orange glow to the early-winter landscape.

Serviceberries (Amelanchier), red maples (Acer rubrum), and freeman maples (Acer x freemanii) have smooth silvery bark that shines in the winter sun; paperbark maple (Acer griseum), river birch (Betula nigra) and ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) have exfoliating bark that catches snow and gives a splendid texture to the landscape. The majestic ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) adds an interesting silhouette with its knobby spurs all along the stems, and of course shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is unmatched for the winter distinction of its shaggy plates of deep, gray-brown bark.

In the perennial garden or border, leave coneflower, black-eyed Susan, bee balm, and aster seed heads standing through the winter to catch delicate tufts of snow and feed the birds as well. Ornamental grasses are almost at their finest through the winter, with rustling golden leaves and tawny rose seed heads nodding in the snow.

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