Five Outstanding Plants for Winter Interest

by Jan Cashman

Our winter landscapes are naturally beautiful, with the snow laden branches of evergreens, long tree shadows on the snow on a sunny day, and hoarfrost glistening on branches on a frosty morning.  Certain trees and shrubs are exceptional for their winter beauty and interest.  Here are five of the best:

Upright Evergreens

Blue-toned upright junipers, dark green arborvitae, and tall spruce trees all give us color in our yards amid the whites and grays of winter.  Evergreens are resplendent with branches laden with white snow.  They also provide shelter for our feathered friends like chickadees that don’t go south for the winter.

Cherry Trees

The attractive, orange, exfoliating (peeling) bark of cherry trees and others in the Prunus genus, such as Amur chokecherry, has light-colored lenticels that are more noticeable in the winter when the leaves are off.   In fact, all mature trees have bark with interesting, rough texture, especially Toba hawthorn, whose bark seems to twist around its trunk.

Flowering Crabs

Flowering crabs are not only beautiful in the spring when they bloom.  Their small, red crabapples often hang onto the branches in the winter so they look like they are decorated for Christmas.  These crabapples are a favorite food of birds.  We’ve seen ruffed grouse and cedar waxwings eating the crabapples off our radiant crab in the winter months.  Mountain ash trees and high bush cranberry shrubs also have berries for winter interest and wildlife attraction.

Red Twig Dogwood

Few plants provide as much color in the winter and early spring as the native red twig dogwood.   Both the dwarf form, known as ‘Isanti’, and variegated-leafed ‘Ivory Halo’ dogwoods have these same red twigs.  The red twigs are even more vibrant red in the new, hardy selection called ‘Cardinal’.


Any shrub rose will have colorful rose hips but tall, hardy glauca rose, also known as ‘red leafed’ rose, provides lots of bright red hips.   We cut rose hips off our glauca rose in the winter for decorating evergreen wreaths, but left on, the hips are beautiful with its violet-colored stems against the snow.

Ornamental grasses, tall perennials like Autumn Joy sedum, oak trees and weeping birch with their unusual shapes, also provide landscape interest in the winter.  Winter gardens don’t have to be drab and lifeless.  With the selection of a few key trees and shrubs, your garden can be even more beautiful in all seasons!