It’s easy to think of winter as a barren time, full of monochromatic landscaping and dreary scenery here in New Jersey. Sure, there’s always the first snow, when everything glitters and turns our back yards into winter wonderlands, but that feeling can soon wear off as your eye yearns for something more.
If you’re not quite looking forward to another season in dull shades and bland textures, cheer up! With the right plantings, from trees to shrubs, flowers and even vegetables, you can enjoy the beauty of a four season garden that changes over time and has something new and wonderful to share all year long.
These are just a handful of trees and plants that can delight your eye during the winter and keep your spirits up as you look forward to what comes next.
If you’re looking for something to add a bright spot to an otherwise dull day, winterberry is your plant. This year-round beauty is a species of holly with a twist. Where most hollies are evergreen, the Winterberry’s leaves turn yellow during fall and then drop off during winter. But that’s also what makes this such a perfect addition to a winter garden. Its lack of green leaves actually provides a delightfully stark backdrop against which the bright red berries will stand out brilliantly. Against its smooth gray/black bark, the berries are the real showpiece, especially as the snow begins to fall. It can grow anywhere from five to fifteen feet and berries last right through midwinter.
Also coming in as a contender in the fruit-producing category is the firethorn, considered either a tall shrub or a small tree, standing between six and sixteen feet high and nearly just as wide. Its white summer flowers make way for red and orange berries in fall, which last most of the winter. This winter-pleaser keeps its shiny green leaves year-round. As an extra special bonus, birds are drawn to the berries and will add a delightful touch of life and movement to your garden. And if you’re a crafty person, Firethorn branches are prized for their ability to be turned into beautiful decorative wreaths.
3. Witch Hazel
When you think of Witch Hazel, you may think of medicines or ointments that have been touted to cure just about whatever ails you, but this versatile plant can also make a stunning addition to your landscape. Its spidery flowers grow in clusters of pale yellow blooms that linger right through December. Flowers are also known for their pleasant, spicy scent and even absent the flowers, you can enjoy the smooth gray tones of the bark.
4. Long Blooming Camellia
Its glossy evergreen foliage is only the beginning of what this crowd-pleaser offers. It can bloom from November right through April, in shades from light pink to deep pink with striations in between. With flowers that can grow up to five inches across, the contrast between blooms and foliage is stunning. These versatile plants can be grown in containers as an addition to your front porch or deck, and they also make ideal privacy screening.
5. Ornamental Grasses
This category of plant has a wide variety of options to choose – from the glossy green-and-cream blades of Variegated Sweet Flag to the silvery-blue foliage of Little Bluestream. The latter turns a rusty copper color in fall and develops fluffy white seed heads that add not only color but texture to your landscape. As an addition that gives your landscape height and texture year-round, grasses also bring movement as they bend and sway in the wind.
6. Paperbark Maple
This slow grower is in it for the long game. Plant it and watch it grow and change throughout the years just as it does through the seasons. This family favorite is often used as a focal point in a landscape and for good reason – the soothing blue greens of its summer leaves give way to colors of flame during fall and will really catch the eye of everyone in the neighborhood. But the joy doesn’t end when the leaves fall because the bark of this tree is its real treasure. It exfoliates during winter into curls and peels of cinnamon and cream. From its stunning colors to its enchanting textures, it’s no wonder this tree is one that many are patient enough to watch mature.
Colloquially referred to as Elephant’s Ear, this plant boasts glossy, leathery leaves that remain green for most of the year, and in colder climates will turn reddish bronze in fall. Clusters of pink flowers fill red stalks for a splash of color that is an undeniable beauty in any garden. These plants make excellent ground cover and are easy to grow under a wide variety of conditions.
Just when you think you can’t take another moment of winter, you begin to see these early bloomers peeking out from even the frostiest of beds. Snowdrops actually sleep during the summer and only flower over the winter months. They can be seen as early as January, typically blooming even before the daffodils begin to appear in March. Elegant white buds dangle like pearls from slender, gently arcing stems and open into snow white flowers that hang like drops that will bring a smile into even the dullest winter.
9. Japanese Yew
This evergreen is prized as an ideal screen and is also a favorite of crafters. Its soft foliage responds well to being shaped and adds an element of fun for the hobbyist gardener who enjoys its topiary qualities. Its branches and bright red berries also make it a holiday favorite, as it often becomes wreaths and centerpieces. The Yew is lush and full, a welcome sight during any gray winter day.
After the tomatoes are canned and the last of the zucchini has been given to the neighbors, it’s time to enjoy winter vegetables, not just because they’re a delicious treat but because they make visually pleasing additions to your landscape. Cabbage, broccoli and kale can grow right through late fall and you may even get winter greens from kale. Known for being a superfood, kale is not only good for your health but it can be good for your soul as you enjoy its feathered green and purplish foliage long into the darker days. You’ll also be rewarded in spring, because it’s one of the earliest greens to return.
Not all winter delights are evergreen. Some of the most stunning additions to your landscape are not evergreen at all, but transform through the seasons into something completely different. The River Birch is one such tree, waking up in springtime with brown and green catkins, then spreading a canopy of glossy leaves over your garden during the summer months. Its cinnamon colored bark curls and peels during winter, adding a striking texture and color palette to your winter landscape. The Paper Birch has a delicate white bark year-round that peels as the tree ages, adding to its seasonal and lifetime appeal.
12. Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick
When it comes to adding visual interest and texture to a landscape, this unique tree has few competitors. Its softly crinkled green leaves turn golden yellow in fall, but once the leaves drop off, this beauty really comes to life. This is one garden darling that actually looks best after its leaves are gone and it’s set against the stark winter landscape. The twisted, gnarled, corkscrew branches adorned with soft yellowish catkins are truly a sight to behold. It grows well either in beds or planters and once you witness its amazing silhouette against the snow, you’ll never be short of photos to post to Instagram or your Facebook feed again.
Sometimes called Christmas roses, or Lenten roses, Hellebores are often overlooked as garden additions because they bloom long before nurseries have begun to put their plants out. But now that you know they exist, you can prepare your winter landscape for an early spring. Hellebores come in almost any color you can imagine, from pink to green, purple and white. They bloom before just about everything else in your garden and add striking color against a winter backdrop.
14. Tiger Eye Sumac
With its feathery leaves and slender stems, this year-round beauty adds plenty of color and texture to your landscape. From chartreuse in spring, to yellow in summer and scarlet in fall, you’ll always have something new to look forward to. During winter its arcing red-pink stems are in striking contrast to a monochromatic landscape. Adding height, texture and color, this is as close to a must-have as you can get.
These are just a few of the myriad garden beauties that can add color, texture and even movement to a landscape, even through the dreariest New Jersey winter. The ones you choose will depend on the growing conditions in your yard, from sun exposure to soil and drainage, and reflect what you want to achieve with your space. If you’d like to learn more about creating a four season landscape that delights and surprises all year long, let us know. Our passion is in making your outdoor dreams come true.