If you’re anything like me, you spend a great deal of time decorating the inside of your home in winter, only to look out during this coldest time of year into a barren back yard dotted with gray branches and no color. But recently – during a trip to my local garden center – I realized that all hope is not lost! There really are some great outdoor flowers and shrubs you can plant to spruce up your winter garden in no time.
Many species of boxwood liven up the landscape all year long.
Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller
Camellias are great for winter color in warmer climates around the US.
Photo Credit: Brad King, president of the Southern California Camellia Society
You can use your hellebore to decorate your home for the holidays, then ease it outside to decorate your garden until spring.
Photo Credit: Yoder Brothers, Inc.
Dwarf Alberta spruce grows in the shape of a Christmas tree.
Photo Credit: James H. Schutte
While there aren’t too many blooms tough enough to survive winters in the colder regions of the US, there are a few. One of the best is hellebore (Helleborus), the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year. This beauty pops out beautiful flowers in the depths of winter. You can start a potted version as a great indoor decoration and ease it into the great outdoors to add color to your garden all winter. (Just be sure to make the move slowly because it needs to get acclimated to the blustery weather before being planted in the ground!)
Many hellebores are hardy to Zone 4, which means they can survive in temperatures down to -35 degrees F. Plant your hellebores in a partially shaded area any time in winter when the ground isn’t frozen. You shouldn’t have to worry too much about watering because these beauties are generally pretty drought-tolerant. They should provide your garden with a colorful transition into spring, typically blooming into March – but sometimes as late as April or May.
If you live in a climate with more moderate winters, you’ve got a few more options available to you for seasonal color. Camellias (Camellia) are one of them, and they’ll do great in areas that get only as cold as 10-20 degrees F in winter. These shrubs flower in fall to late fall and early to late winter (depending upon the species or hybrid), and grow well in filtered sun. Not only are they a great choice to plant in the garden where you can view them from a window, camellias are a perfect selection for patio containers. (And the blooms are great to use as cutflowers, too!)
Another plant for warmer climates that’s sure to grab your neighbors’ attention is the New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros). There are a couple of cultivars that really dress up a winter landscape, including ‘Tahiti’, which features cool spiky, orange-red flowers that bloom in late fall and early winter. The plant needs full sun and does well in subtropical regions where it only gets down to lows of 20-25 degrees F. ‘Tahiti’ is relatively stout, coming in at about 3 feet tall and wide, so it works really well as a container plant (or planted in the ground) near your home’s entrance.
But flowers aren’t the only way to add a little zing to your winter garden. There are a number of shrubs with colorful foliage and berries that brighten up the winter, as well. Holly (Ilex) is a simple but versatile option. There are many different types for many different uses: A compact version can be used in containers and moved around the yard, while larger holly shrubs can be planted around your foundation or used as a privacy border. Some hollies even have different color foliage to add interest when there aren’t any red berries. Depending on the variety, hollies can be hardy in zones 3-11, and they typically like full sun to part shade.
Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Conica’) is another beauty that adds both unique color and texture to your yard. If left untouched, this woody retains its gray-green color and natural Christmas tree shape, providing a friendly reminder of the holidays all winter. This tree only grows 6-8 feet tall, so it won’t take over a landscape. It prefers full sun, and it’s hardy to Zone 2, so it can be planted in colder areas of North America.
Evergreen boxwoods (Buxus) also make great additions to your winter landscape because the leaves never fall off, and some of these tough shrubs can withstand temperatures down to -20 degrees F. One of my favorites is a popular and beautiful cultivar called ‘Green Mountain’. It’s got bright green leaves and a natural cone shape that never gets unruly at 5 feet tall. Just be sure to plant these versatile shrubs in full sun to part shade for best performance.
And finally, for slightly warmer areas, consider a rosemary tree (Rosmarinus officinalis). Around the holidays, it makes a great kitchen decoration that you can use in your cooking. And when the holidays are over, just transplant your wee tree outdoors, where you can enjoy it and brush against it for that great rosemary aroma! Small, lavender-blue flowers bloom during winter and spring, but the main focus of this plant is its scent. Hardy to 20 degrees F, this small shrub can grow 2-5 feet tall and give you plenty of rosemary to enjoy in your garden – and kitchen – year-round.
Winter gardening doesn’t have to be limited to houseplants. There are a number of winter beauties you can enjoy in the great outdoors – even if it means watching them bloom and grow from behind a window in your great indoors!