Winter Plants of Interest

Winter is knocking on the door across Kentucky. For many gardeners this is a welcome time to sit back and relax. As the brilliant colors of summer gardens and fall foliage fade don’t despair; all is not lost in the winter landscape. With proper planning and planting you can enjoy points of color, texture and contrast in your winter garden. Think of vertical plantings with interesting bark and branch structures as opposed to ground covers. It would be a shame to bury the landscape should we ever get another 23 inch snow fall. If you enjoy watching the birds, don’t forget plants that provide a food source during the winter. Here are several plants to consider as you plan your winter landscape.

bayberryBayberry, Myrica pensylvanica is a deciduous shrub prized for its showy silvery-gray colored berries in winter. The waxy coating on the berries has been used in candle and soap making.  It is a tough plant that tolerates poor soil as it is a good nitrogen fixer. It can be grown in dry sandy to wet marshy areas. It is a good choice for planting along drives as it is tolerant of salty conditions. The foliage is very fragrant through summer and fall. It is a natural deer repellant. Plant both male and females to assure pollination and fruit. The shrub is semi-evergreen in the south and spreads to cluster.

beautyberryBeautyberry, Callicarpa americana is a deciduous shrub that grows 3-6 feet in height and spread. It has green foliage during summer with lavender, pink blooms from June to August. It produces cascades of glossy, iridescent magenta, purple berries that wrap the stem which birds will love. This plant tolerates clay soil and is pest free.

river birch 1

River or “black” Birch, Betula nigra provides year-round interest and grows well near water or low areas.

river birch 2

It has bright yellow foliage in the fall. The dark colored bark stands out in winter and has a peeling texture. Mature heights can reach 40-70 feet and spread 35 feet attracting birds.

helleboresHellebore, Heleborus orientalis also called the Lenton rose is an herbaceous perennial that forms clumps. It typically blooms from January to April providing pops of purple, pink, red, yellow and green color. The foliage is evergreen and may be scorched by extreme harsh winters. Be sure to plant in an area that you can enjoy viewing every day. Prefers part to full shade and are rabbit and deer resistant. They grow 12-15 inches tall.

american hollyHollies: American Holly Ilex opaca is an evergreen that probably is one of the most common winter plants of interest used in Christmas decorating.  Most holly has bright red berries, but some have fruit that is yellow, peach or orange colored. Use caution when selecting a species of holly as some may have a mature height of 70 feet tall. *

winterberryHollies: Winterberry Ilex verticillata is deciduous holly shrub that will lose levees in the fall allowing us to see the berries. It has a height and spread of 3-12 feet.

*Holly plants are male or female and require pollination to produce fruit. It is best to plant within the same species to assure the best pollination for fruit. Birds will love you.

grassOrnamental Grasses: Perennial grasses can add to the contrast and beauty of landscape year-round. Some maintenance is required to cut back the grass in spring. They provide movement in the yard and have interesting seed heads in the fall and winter. Plume grass or Ravennae Grass, Erianthus ravennae, Maiden Grass or Eulalia Grass, Miscanthus sinensis and Crimson Fountain Grass, Pennisetum seaceum  are just a few that are well suited for Kentucky.

red twigRed Twig (or Red Osier) Dogwood, Cornus sericea is a deciduous shrub that provides year round interest displaying white spring flowers, variegated leaves during the summer, berries in the fall, and showy red to burgundy bark and twigs in winter. Mature height and width can be up to 8 to 10 feet. It attracts birds and butterflies. It grows in wet locations with full sun to part shade.

virburumWitherod Viburnum, viburnum cassinodes is a shrub that provides year-round interest with pretty fragrant off-white flowers against dark green foliage in spring. The foliage turns to dark maroon in the fall and display clusters of berries that chameleon from pink to red and end as dark blue. Birds are attracted to it. Plant a group of several for naturalization and cross-pollination. This shrub tolerates moist boggy soil and grows in full sun to part shade to around 6 feet.

Submitted by Julie Steber, Kentucky Extension Master Gardener


Ornamental Grasses for Kentucky Landscapes