Shrubs with Winter Interest
Winterberry or Deciduous Holly
Winterberry or deciduous holly punctuates winter with its showy berry display that draws the eye, no matter where it sits in the landscape. Unlike the evergreen holly that boasts the glossy green foliage and bright red berries, winterberry sheds its leaves each autumn. Some cultivars to look for are 'Sparkleberry' or 'Winter Red'. Suggested male pollinators are 'Apollo' or 'Southern Gentleman'.
Name: Ilex verticillata
Growing Conditions: full sun; moist acidic soils
Size: 3–15 feet tall
Origin: North America
Bright orange-red berries adorn this plant in winter and are its best attribute. It’s an evergreen to semi-evergreen; its leaves might turn a green-brown in fall and winter. It can be used in a hedge or espaliered against a wall or on a trellis. Hardy cultivars to look for are ‘Lalandei’, ‘Mohave’, and Yukon Belle.
Name: Pyracantha coccinea
Growing Conditions: partial shade to full sun; well-drained soil
Size: 3–20 feet tall; 6–15 feet wide
Zones: 5–9, depending on the cultivar
Origin: Southern Europe, Turkey
Sky Pencil Holly
'Sky Pencil', a Japanese holly in a tall, narrow, columnar form, adds vertical structure to the winter garden. Both 'Sky Pencil' and the new Patti O fit into small spaces. Their small, tightly packed leaves look similar to boxwood foliage. Grow in containers and let them serve as evergreen sentries at an entrance, or grow in the landscape as a single plant or in a row to define a space.
Name: Ilex crenata
Growing Conditions: partial to full sun
Size: 2–12 feet tall; about 1 foot wide, depending on cultivar. Patty O, 3–4 feet; Sky Pencil, 6–8 feet tall
Zones: 5–8, depending cultivar
Origin: Japan and other areas of Asia
Edgeworthia, also known as paperbush, is a multibranched shrub that drops its leaves in mid-December to reveal a bare silhouette of beautiful bark and flower buds composing white and yellow clusters that open from December through early April, depending on the cultivar. The strong fragrance evokes springtime in the depths of winter. Look for 'Snow Cream', 'Gold Rush', and 'John Bryant'.
Name: Edgeworthia chrysantha
Growing Conditions: Partial sun to shade; rich, moist soil with excellent drainage
Size: 3–8 feet tall; up to 6 feet wide
Zones: 7–9; in protected areas in Zone 6
Witch hazel is a deciduous shrub that accents winter. Delicate, threadlike petals bloom from late fall to early spring on this multistemmed rounded plant. In addition to its petals, which curl up at night but unfurl on a sunny day, it emits a lovely fragrance, a pleasant surprise in the depths of cold weather. Flowers range from yellow to red, depending on the cultivar. Cultivars to consider are ‘Advent’, bright yellow blooms; ‘Ruby Glow’ for copper-red; and ‘Jelena’ for red toward base, orange in the middle, and yellow at the tip.
Growing Conditions: full sun or slight shade; rich soil with good drainage
Size: 8–20 feet tall; up to 12 feet wide
Origin: North America, Japan, China
Winter Daphne is a rounded evergreen shrub with variegated leaves edged in yellow and blooms that appear in late winter to early spring. The rosy pinkish purple flower buds open to light pink or white star-shape blooms. It's stunning in the winter garden and its sweetly perfumed fragrance can snap you out of the winter doldrums. Plant it close to an entry or patio so you can enjoy it.
Name: Daphne odora
Growing Conditions: partial shade to full sun; rich soil with excellent drainage. It doesn't like to be transplanted or disturbed.
Size: Up to 4 feet tall and wide
An evergreen plant with beautiful white or pink blooms will have you doing a double-take. The stunning blooms startle everyone in the cold months. This nice, unexpected surprise is an endearing quality. Thanks to breeding efforts at the U.S. National Arboretum, a winter series of camellias are now on the market, extending it beyond the South where it is a beloved plant. Look for 'Polar Ice', 'Snow Flurry', 'Winter's Hope', 'Winter's Rose', 'Winter's Star', and 'Winter's Charm'.
Name: Camellia, with C. oleifera used in the hybrids
Growing Conditions: light shade in summer; protection from winter wind
Size: Up to 10 feet; 4–5 feet wide, depending on cultivar
Red Osier Dogwood
Red osier dogwood, sometimes called red willow or red twig dogwood, is a deciduous shrub. The bright green bark, twigs and leaves of spring and summer turn to a deep red to burgundy in fall. The leaves drop in fall, fully revealing the rich color and structural element of the red stems. Some cultivars – ‘Flaviramea’ or ‘White Gold’ are available that boast yellow stems instead of red and are sometimes called Golden-twig Dogwood.
Name: Cornus sericea
Growing Conditions: moderate to full sun; likes moist soils and wetland areas.
Size: 4–19 feet tall
Origin: North America
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick
We love the name of this upright, treelike, deciduous shrub. While the twisting, spiraling, corkscrew branches provide year-round interest, it’s best known for the visual interest it provides when it sheds its leaves to fully reveal the contorted branches. Make sure to place this plant where you can enjoy its distinct and architectural form all winter. In late winter, showy 2- to 3-inch yellow catkins hang from its branches. Even though it is a filbert or hazelnut, it rarely produces nuts.
Name: Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’
Growing Conditions: sun, partial shade; well-drained, alkaline soils
Size: 8–10 feet tall and wide
Origin: Europe, western Asia and northern Africa
Blue holly, sometimes referred to as Meserve holly, is more suited to colder climates than other hollies, being able to withstand the cold temperatures in Zone 4. This broad-leaved evergreen has dense, deep green, glossy foliage and reddish purple stems. Its berries are dark red. It is referred to as blue holly due to its almost blue-green foliage and due to the numerous cultivars using the blue name. Among them ‘China Boy’ (pictured), ‘Blue Boy’, ‘Blue Girl’, ‘Blue Prince’, ‘Blue Princess’, ‘Blue Maid’, and ‘Blue Stallion’.
Name: Ilex X meserveae
Growing Conditions: full sun, but can tolerate partial shade; well-drained soil
Size: 8–15 feet high; 4 feet wide, depending on the cultivar
Inkberry is yet another option when it comes of the numerous hollies to consider. It is among the toughest hollies for winter conditions. Inkberry is named for its abundance of black berries during the winter. The evergreen shrub is compact with deep green lustrous foliage, which might become lighter green in summer. Compact cultivars to consider are 'Shamrock' (3– 5 feet) or 'Compact' (4–6 feet).
Name: Ilex glabra
Growing conditions: full sun to full shade; prefers moist soils but somewhat adaptable to dry soils
Size: 4–8 feet tall; up to 8 feet wide, depending on cultivar
Zones: 4–10; more hardy than Ilex crenata for tough winters
Origin: North America
Japanese False Cypress
An evergreen shrub with a fine, soft needle or threadlike appearance, 'Golden Mop' is one of the false cypress cultivars that adds a bright golden green color to the landscape, which is a delightful contrast to darker evergreens. It forms a ground-hugging mound and is actually shaggy or moplike in appearance. Make sure to request 'Golden Mop' or one of the dwarf cultivars such as 'Dwarf Gold Thread' or you could end up with a towering tree.
Name: Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Golden Mop'
Growing Conditions: partial to full sun; average to fertile well-drained soil
Size: 3–6 feet high and wide
Prostrate Deodar Cedar
Deodar cedar is a tree that grows quite tall but the shrub form hugs the ground. Its deep steel-blue to silvery blue color adds winter interest. The plant is multistemmed with a mounded, irregular form and the foliage has a fine texture. Look for ‘Prostrate Beauty’ or ‘Feeling Blue’, which exhibit prostate and compact growth.
Name: Cedrus deodara
Growing Conditions: full sun; adaptable to dry and moist conditions
Size: 2 feet tall; 6 feet wide
Origin: Western Himalayas
Arborvitae is a small to medium evergreen that is commonly used as foundation plantings or as hedges or screens, and can grow quite tall, 8–20 feet. While it might add the evergreen backbone to a landscape, it isn't that exciting. Some new varieties, though, are worth a look. These dwarf varieties work well in small gardens, even containers or window boxes. Gold foliage options are 'Filip's Magic Moment', which grows to about 6–8 feet in an upright, conical shape. Anna's Magic Ball is a cute little ball of a plant that grows to 10–15 inches. Its globe shape is perfect for a winter window box or as a filler plant to add pops of color in your landscape.
Name: Thuja occidentalis
Growing Conditions: partial to full sun; well-drained soil
Size: 1–15 feet; up to 3 feet, depending on the cultivar
Origin: North America
How to Prune Shrubs
Learn when and how to prune your beautiful winterful shrubs.