A stunning landscape is possible, even when it's cold and snowy. Here's how to make the most of the season's own special beauty.

Let's face it: The winter landscape can look a little blah after the abundance of colors and textures in the other seasons. Most plants go dormant when the weather turns cold, leaving a palette of white, brown, and gray. However, you still can have a beautiful landscape that stands out against the stark backdrop of the quiet season. "If you want to be sure you have some winter interest in your garden, you are really looking at just a few things," says Barbara Pierson, nursery manager at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut. From making strategic plant choices to creating colorful focal points, here are Pierson's best winter landscaping tips to help your yard shine in every season.

red twig dogwood
Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki

1. Focus on bark.

Sure, deciduous trees lose their leaves in wintertime, leaving their branches and trunks in focus. But that can be a good thing, Pierson says, "if you have any interesting ornamental trees that have really visually distinctive bark, which will end up adding winter interest." Many of those trees and some shrubs are smaller, meaning they're easier to find spots for in the landscape. A few of Pierson's favorites include dogwood shrubs and birch trees; both offer outstanding winter color and texture.

Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Credit: Cynthia Haynes

2. Include plants with berries.

Many trees and shrubs have berries they hold onto during fall and winter, and those can provide food for birds overwintering in your area. "Crabapples hold their little fruit," Pierson says, and they make a great addition to the winter landscape. "A holly with berries is really beautiful," she says.

snowy yard and bushes
Credit: Marilyn Ott

3. Remember evergreens.

Evergreens are workhorses in the winter landscape for many reasons. First, there's color: Evergreens are not just green; they're available in yellow, such as Gold Thread false cypress, and blues, including dwarf blue spruce, and all colors in between. And evergreens just make good design sense, Pierson says. "They are really important for a winter landscape, but they make good focal points all year-round," she says. "I always like to have at least one or two evergreens and work a border around those. When you are planting a new bed, you always want to have at least one evergreen."

snow-covered garden
Credit: Lynn Karlin

4. Rely on your hardscape.

Winter is a good time to critically assess your landscape, figuring out where it's missing focal points. The solution to enhancing your winter garden might not be a plant at all. "Winter is the best time to consider hardscape," Pierson says. "A trellis, a garden bench, an arbor, even a garden sculpture are really essential."

red berries evergreen winter container
Credit: Kevin Miyazaki

5. Dress up your summertime containers.

Window boxes, hanging baskets, winter-hardy containers: All are indispensable for winter landscaping. Dwarf Alberta spruce and broadleaf evergreen shrubs, such as Japanese Andromeda, holly, and rhododendron, are perfect for wintertime, but they all have to be watered during dry periods. If you'd rather skip live plants, Pierson recommends filling containers "with evergreen boughs of different textures and colors and interesting twigs," she says, "anything with color in it."

Credit: Richard Hirneisen

6. Choose four-season perennials.

Some perennials have evergreen foliage, making them great for winter landscaping, Pierson says. Examples include some ornamental grasses and dianthus with their beautiful, low-growing, blue-green foliage. Hellebores (shown above) have evergreen leaves and even bloom in the winter. The further south you live, the more options you'll have for evergreen perennials. But even in colder northern areas, many perennials such as tall sedum and black-eyed Susan have attractive seed heads that add interest to the winter landscape if you leave them standing until spring.


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