Sarah Browning: Add color to your winter landscape
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Sarah Browning: Add color to your winter landscape


Looking out your window in January the predominant colors you’ll see are shades of brown, gray and, if we have snow, white. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide some relief, but the view is still pretty neutral. An excellent way to brighten the dead of winter is to plant trees and shrubs that possess colorful fruit or bark or plants with interesting shapes. Take a look at your winter landscape now, and decide if spring planting this year should include plants for winter interest.


While crabapples are usually planted for their flowers, many varieties also possess attractive, persistent fruit. Crabapples are not a preferred fruit by birds so it stays on trees until February or March, when they attract early arriving robins or flocks of cedar waxwings. Always look for trees with good resistance to apple scab and cedar-apple rust, such as those below.

• Red fruits: Donald Wyman, Sugar Tyme, Red Jewel, David and Jewelberry

• Red-orange fruits: Indian Magic

• Yellow fruits: Winter Gold

Hawthorns are another group of small, flowering trees that possess attractive fruit. Hawthorns produce white flowers in spring. In fall, the fruit turns red and persists into winter. Two hawthorns noted for their excellent fruit display are the Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) and Winter King hawthorn (Crataegus viridis).


In the past, I have written about hollies that are winter hardy in Nebraska, specifically winterberry and Meserve holly hybrids. Both have attractive red fruit in fall and winter, and Meserve holly has attractive dark green leaves. Winterberry is deciduous, so it loses its leaves in fall, but what remains are bright red berries on bare stems that stand out against snow or winter brown landscapes.

Boxwood is another broadleaf evergreen to consider for the winter landscape. Look for winter hardy cultivars, such as Wintergreen, Chicagoland Green, Green Gem or Green Velvet. Choose a location protected from summer and winter wind. Prevent winter leaf desiccation with a good layer of winter mulch and by providing additional winter water if conditions are dry.

Spice up your landscape with the beautifully colored stems of Redosier dogwood, Cornus sericea. These woody shrubs prefer full sun, are adaptable to many soil types, and hardy to Zone 2. They can reach 7 to 9 feet in height with a spread of 10 feet or more, so choose cultivars carefully or allow them enough space to grow well and develop a nice shape. Once established, annual removal of the oldest, thickest stems will keep height down and ensure that new, young, brightly colored stems are encouraged. Varieties of redosier dogwood with colorful stems include:

• Bailey's Red or Cheyenne: bright red stems

• Cardinal: bright cherry red stems

• Colorado: orange-red stems

• Isanti: compact form, grows 5-6 feet, with bright red stems

• Yellowtwig (Flaviramea): chartreuse, yellow stems

Dwarf evergreens

Many unique evergreens with interesting shapes and foliage colors are also good landscape additions for winter interest. These plants are usually slow growing and work well as accent plants. Place them where they are protected from heavy snow cover and can be enjoyed during winter. Pay close attention to site selection and soil conditions to ensure their success in your landscape. Make sure the plants you chose are winter hardy in Zone 5.

Dwarf evergreens to consider:

• Horstmann’s Silberlocke Fir, Abies koreana "Silberlocke:" a small fir that can be used as an accent plant. Features variegated needles, curled upward, and an unusual, irregularly branched shape.

• Sawara Falsecypress, Chamaecyparis pisifera "Mops:" a low, mounding evergreen with thread-like, gold-colored foliage.

• Creeping Blue Spruce, Picea pungens "Procumbens:" a blue creeping groundcover form of spruce.

• Weeping Norway Spruce, Picea abies "Pendula:" if not trained to form a main trunk, this plant is happy to weep and creep through your landscape. It’s interesting form makes it a great conversation piece.

Enjoy the show

The brightly colored fruit of the trees and shrubs I’ve mentioned won’t remain all winter. Extreme cold in midwinter usually causes the bright fruit colors to fade, and hungry birds or squirrels will dine on those that remain. However, the display in late fall and early winter can be spectacular.

Don’t forget that ornamental grasses, such as miscanthus, feather reed grass, or hardy pampas grass, add height, interest and wonderful movement to the winter landscape, too.

Winter lasts too long for it to be a forgotten season in the landscape. Evaluate your landscape now to spot places where plants of interest can be added this spring.

Sarah Browning is an extension educator with Nebraska Extension. To ask a question or reach her, call 402-441-7180 or write to her at or 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528.



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