Winter Interest in the Landscape

As an arborist, horticulturist, etc. I always get the question – “what should I plant in my landscape?”….to which I answer, “First, take an inventory of what is there now, and plant something different”…an appeal to increase diversity.  A common second answer is “Plant something that is appealing in all seasons, or at least in the winter”…considering that this is Nebraska, and the potential for grey and drab for 4-5 months is very high.  At this time of the year, trees, shrubs, vines and groundcovers that offer the appeal of color or texture are welcome in the traditional Nebraska winter landscape.  Of course, if the questioner is still listening, I usually also encourage them to consider pest resistance, right size, sun exposure, shape and maintenance needs.

The bright yellow flowers of witchazel are a welcome sight in winter.

Though they may struggle in severe winters, evergreen shrubs such as boxwood or euonymous offset the drab, usually brown colors of traditional landscape plants with green or green and white foliage.  Evergreen trees such as spruce, white fir, and pines provide color appeal as well.  Broadleaf trees such as river birch and Kentucky coffeetree have unique and showy bark to view.  Ornamental grasses offer great appeal as well, most with reddish brown color; some have coarse texture, while others are fine.  Generally, all species respond to winter winds with movement of the canopy, offering a tie back to the native prairie of the Midwest.

Holly is a classic winter plant

Actually, one of the foundational principles that landscape designers are taught early on in their careers is to incorporate at least one evergreen or winter interest plant into every design they create.  In this way, their clients will reap the benefits of a finished product multi-season appeal.

Broadleaf evergreens and standing perennials in the winter landscape

For a spin on a traditional display, try a cascading or rug juniper instead of the common upright shrub.  Again, it’s a great way to embrace the tried and true concept of Right Plant, Right Place.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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