Choosing Plants for Winter Color


Every gardener wants to make sure that they have some winter color and textures around in their winter landscape. This is possible more so in some areas, than in others. You should have an objective to try to have some type of color year round in your yard and garden.

If you are  unsure of what grows in your region, check with your local agricultural extension office for information or visit a local nursery to get more detailed information that is specific to your USDA Zone.

"Flame Willow"

Flame Willow

Plants with Winter Color

I have chosen only a few plants that will are known for their color. The flame-colored willow (Salix) can set a sunny border off with its colorful stems. This ornamental willow thrives in heavy soil, including waterlogged clay. Hard pruning in the spring will help control its vigor, but in a small garden, consider using the dogwood Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ instead. The ghostly white stemmed rubus has dainty divided leaves in summer. It is sometimes called 'Ghost bramble'.

"Rubus thibetanus- Ghost Bramble"

Ghost Bramble

This is a subtle contrast with the diaphanous stipa. In heavier soil, consider replacing this grass with the coppery pheasant’s tail (Anemanthele lessoniana). In winter, the tawny red sedum flowers dry out, forming stiff, long-lasting maroon heads.

You can go wrong by choosing a late blooming perennial such as Sedum. Sedum 'Herbstfreude' is a good choice. There are many beautiful sedums on the market today. Some of the newer ones like Neon Sedum has a bright pink that is breath taking. Sedum heads turn a rusty color when they begin to dry out adding even more color and texture to your landscape.

Planting and Care

For best results, plant in spring to allow your plants to get established before putting on a show through the winter. Cut the white stemmed rubus and willow back hard the following spring to encourage plenty of new stems, which actually color up better than the old.

"Sedum Herbstfreude"

Sedum Herbstfreude

Also cut back the grass foliage as you see new growth appearing, and clear away old sedum stems. Every three years lift, and split the sedum clumps in spring to keep them strong and stop them from collapsing during late summer.

Apply a granular, slow release fertilizer annually in the spring and/or well rotted manure at pruning time. Consider adding tall Verberna bonariensis for extra color in the quiet phase of summer ot this display.

Border Basics

Average size of border is 6 x 6 ft. (1.8 x 1.8m). This border will consist of deciduous shrubs, grasses, and late-flowering perennials. The soil for these plants require a fertile, well drained soil that doesn’t stay too dry. All of these winter plants will require full sun to reach their optimum growth.

"Mexican Feather Grass"

Mexican Feather Grass

Plant List for Winter Color

  • 1 x Salix alba, variety vitellina ‘Britzensis’ (Ornamental willow)
  • 1 x Rubus thibetanus (Ghost bramble)
  • 7 x Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’
  • 9-11 x Stipa tenuissina (Mexican feather grass)

*Tip- Before purchasing any of these plants, be sure to take a look at them and their heights to make sure that you have enough open border space to place them. If you have a smaller area, you may need to cut down the number of plants of a certain variety.

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