Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
September, 2004
Regional Report

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These showy rose hips will add winter interest to the landscape, plus provide a source of food for the birds.

Landscaping for Winter Interest

As gardeners, we are always seeking out plants that add color at the beginning and end of the garden season. We like the flowering redbud to signal the beginning of spring and the intense red of the burning bush to welcome autumn. But don't forget there are a variety of plants that can add winter interest in the way of form and texture.

While evergreens provide year-round greenery, you don't have to rely on them alone. Some trees and shrubs add handsome bark, interesting shapes, and structure to the winter scene.

Winter Favorites
One of my favorite trees for winter form is the bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa). It is generally a heavy-branched tree that assumes a rugged character in the landscape with its gray bark and ascending branches. Upon closer examination, the roughened twigs and small branches have broad, corky wings. Despite the loads of heavy, wet snow, the branches hold on strong and upright. The acorns on maturing trees are treasured by wildlife and can be attractive in autumn decorations.

If you have a smaller landscape that can accommodate only small or medium-sized trees, look to the river birch (Betula nigra), growing to 18 to 25 feet with a rounded crown. It prefers moist sites since it's native along streams and in wet areas in the wild. It has outstanding flaky, whitish-brown to cinnamon-brown bark that exfoliates as it matures. The degree of exfoliation will vary from tree to tree, so when purchasing river birch look for trees that are already exhibiting this showy characteristic. The cultivar 'Heritage' is one of my favorites.

Deciduous shrubs with colorful stems can complement upright junipers, arborvitae, and yews that are planted to provide evergreen color throughout the year. One of my favorite colorful-stemmed shrubs that will add winter contrast is the redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea). The young, glossy, red stems are especially attractive when framed in the glistening winter snow. The cultivar 'Cardinal' has bright red stems and nice fall foliage. 'Flaviramea' has bright yellow twigs with reddish purple fall foliage. 'Silver and Gold' has yellow stems and handsome, variegated foliage during the growing season. The key to bright, colorful stems is regular pruning. Remove old wood when it is beginning to lose its color; this will encourage new growth with more intense coloration.

Don't overlook the old fashioned shrub roses in your winter landscape. Many produce colorful rose hips that are not only attractive but also a source of food for birds and other wildlife. The red-leaf rose (Rosa glauca a.k.a. Rosa rubrifolia) tolerates dry conditions and blooms early in the spring with tons of pink flowers. The reward for the short blooming season is ample production of attractive, oval, orange-red hips.

These are just a few of the many plants that can add depth, form, structure, and continuity to the winter garden. Visit local botanic gardens, public gardens, and nurseries to see what is available in your area. Enjoy your landscape year-round with the right plant choices.

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