Choose Plants for Winter Beauty
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
When planning landscape changes and choosing ornamental plants, people tend to think of how the plants will look during the growing season. Winter accounts for a substantial part of the year, however, so why not consider adding color and interest to the winter landscape as well?
Evergreen foliage, persistent fruits, decorative bark and unusual growth habits can add visual interest to the landscape. Variations in plant shape and branching structure can also lend variety to the view.
Evergreen trees and shrubs are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and color variations. Their foliage provides a spot of color that contrasts with the snow. Snow on the branches gives the landscape a cozy, greeting card aspect. Color is also available in persistent crabapple fruits and the twigs of red or yellow twig dogwood.
When they think of interesting bark, many people think of European white birch, with their stark white bark and black markings. Serious insect problems with European white birch make it a short-lived plant in the landscape. London plane tree (a more disease-resistant relative of the native sycamore), river birch and other native birches, and paperbark maple offer textural or color interest without the pest problems of the exotic white birch.
An increasingly popular ornamental planted for its intriguing branch structure is Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), a shrub with twisted, turned and corkscrewlike branches. Plant it where you can see its unusual silhouette from your favorite window and it can become a winter focal point in the landscape.
Crabapples, usually planted for their spring flowers, also offer a variety of shapes and growth habits, from almost columnar to short and broad with weeping branches.
As always when you’re choosing landscape plants, look past their ornamental traits and consider hardiness -- their ability to survive and thrive under local climatic conditions; adaptability to the soil, air and water drainage, and exposure to sunlight (or shade) in your proposed planting site; and the plant’s mature size and the space available for growth. Choosing a plant adapted to local growing conditions, and planting it in a site that will give it room to reach its mature height and spread without getting involved with utility lines, septic systems or structures, will increase its chances of being an asset to the landscape for a long time.
Another consideration is its susceptibility to disease or insect pests. Major pest problems, like susceptibility to wind or ice storm damage, increase maintenance needs and detract from the other desirable traits that a plant has to offer.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office