Common camellia (Camellia japonica) is jack of all trades. It is a dense, upright evergreen providing privacy, plus a flowery beauty with bright blooms when you need them most. Some varieties are fragrant as well. If you really take a fancy to camellia and have room for several specimens, you can keep the show going from winter to spring by planting varieties with different bloom times. Flower colors include white, pink, rose and red. Common camellia grows 6 to 12 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide, depending on variety. It's hardy in Zones 7-9.
You have got to like a shrub that flowers at unexpected times! Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in late fall; three other species bloom in the dead of winter. Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis), Japanese witch hazel (H. japonica) and their hybrid stepchild (H. x intermedia) are all early to the party, with bright, fragrant flowers from late January in the south to mid March in the north. The spiderlike flowers, which range in color from yellow to orange to red depending on species and cultivar, are easy to see on the winter bloomers because there's no foliage. Witch hazel also has attractive yellow fall color. It is hardy in Zones 5-8.
Korean winter hazel is a beautiful, fragrant, easy-care shrub. So why don't we see more of this plant (Corylopsis coreana) in the landscape? Probably because it's done blooming by the time many nurseries are up and running for the season. And it's a slow grower. But if you take a chance and plant one, you'll experience a love affair few have yet to discover, thanks to the fragrant yellow flowers hanging in tassels from leafless branches in late winter. Korean winter hazel grows about 6 feet tall and wide and is hardy in Zones 5-8.
You don't have to be a Latin scholar to know that Daphne odora is a fittingly descriptive botanical name for fragrant daphne. Also called winter daphne, the small evergreen shrub perfumes the garden for an extended time in late winter. The rosy-purple flowers (white on some cultivars) are long lasting, too. Fragrant daphne grows about 4 feet tall and wide. It is hardy in Zones 7-9. Learn about other shrubs with winter interest.
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is a low-growing, rambling groundcover that's almost as adaptable as a weed. It accepts a variety of soils and lighting conditions, although it will have fewer blooms in shade. The bright yellow flowers appear on leafless stems in midwinter for a long period of time. Branches can grow up to 12 feet long and will form new roots where they touch the ground when moisture is available. As a result, winter jasmine is a champion at stabilizing banks in a most attractive fashion. It is hardy in Zones 6-10.
This small, multistemmed tree is a strong performer in the garden and deserves more recognition. It has the added benefit of being one of the most pest- and disease-resistant dogwoods. Corneliancherry dogwood (Cornus mas) grows 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide and features yellow flowers in mid to late winter followed by bright red fruit in summer. There are variegated and golden foliage varieties available as well. Corneliancherry dogwood is often "forced" into early bloom indoors; learn how.
This fast-growing shrub is worth planting for its lemony scent alone, which perfumes the air when the small creamy white flowers appear in mid to late winter. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) grows 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. It can get a little gangly but can be kept in check with pruning. It's hardy in Zones 4-8 and isn't fussy about soil, accepting acidic or alkaline, clay or sand. About the only thing it won't take is soggy soil.
These woodland dwellers bloom in early winter in mild climates and early spring where winters are cold. There are many different-colored varieties of hellebores, many of them with intriguing two-tone flowers. The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), sold as a holiday plant, has white, bowl-shape flowers resembling a wild rose (hence the name). Treat it as a houseplant, watering only when the root ball starts to dry out, then plant outdoors in shade in spring. It has the added benefit of being deer- and rabbit-resistant. Learn more about hellebores.
This tuberous Mediterranean native prefers full to part shade when grown outdoors in Zones 9-11. Elsewhere, it's treated as a gift plant and kept indoors. Florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) will bloom all winter long if temperatures remain in the "sweet spot" between 55 and 68 degrees. The flowers come in a range of colors, including red, purple, lavender, pink and white.
This cold-tolerant groundcover really should be grown more often. Winter heath (Erica carnea) is tolerant of cold temperatures, snow, and harsh winds. Give it a lean soil in a sunny location and you'll be rewarded with masses of bell-like flowers in late winter. There are dozens of varieties available in a range of colors including white, pink, red, and purple. Winter heath grows 8 to 10 inches tall and about 2 feet wide. It's hardy in Zones 5-7. Learn more about winter heath.
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is a winter-blooming perennial bulb (Zones 3-7) that wakes up early, often in February. It really stands out, even against snow, thanks to the bright yellow flowers surrounded by a collar of leaflike green bracts. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), a bulbous perennial for Zones 3-7, blooms around the same time as winter aconite. The clear white flowers look like drops of snow (hence the name) and look particularly good with their blue-green foliage. Crocus is undoubtedly the best known early bulb. The diminutive flowers are hard to miss, thanks to a range of bright colors such as purple, lilac, light blue, and golden yellow. It is hardy in Zones 3-8. All three of these early bulbs are naturalizing, meaning they will multiply over time in optimum conditions.