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Plants can add winter interest to your landscape

Red twigged dogwood in winter landscape
When selecting a new plant, consider how it will add interest to your winter landscape.

As you are perusing catalogs and websites and start to visit garden centers this spring, remember to consider what a plant can bring to your winter landscape.

Ask yourself (or the helpful garden center staff) “What will this plant look like when it’s not in full bloom or red with fall leaves?” Plants can add so much to our Minnesota yards and gardens and public spaces in winter.

This growing season, as you stroll the aisles of your favorite local nurseries and garden centers, this winter will be a memory. However, I encourage you to consider what a plant can bring to the landscape year-round. There’s always next year!

Consider these plant characteristics for winter interest when choosing plants for your landscape this season.

Bark, branch and stem color

Look for plants with interesting bark and colorful branches and stems. These also provide interesting texture.

Branch with tan, rough bark against a snowy landscape.
The copper, papery bark of amur chokecherry (Amur maackii)
Shrubs with red stems against a backdrop of snow and opine trees.
A winter favorite: the bright red stems of red twigged dogwood shrubs
Small grey trees with twisted vertical branches against a snowy woodland area.
Consider the stem form too: Scarlet curls willow

Persistent fruit

Many plants hold onto their ornamental fruit through the winter. This fruit not only provides winter interest for us but also a food source for wildlife.

Branch with bright red berries against snow and a bright blue sky.
A favorite spring tree, some crabapples also hang onto their fruit, adding winter interest and a food source for wildlife
Red berries on bush covered in snow.
The female 'Afterglow' winterberry produces bright red berries. Remember to plant a male winterberry such as 'Jim Dandy' as a pollen source.

Plant form

With or without leaves, a plant’s form creates interesting patterns and shapes against the bright blue winter sky.

Kentucky coffee tree in winter
Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioica) creates an open, upright branching pattern against the winter sky.
Shrub with a large, spreading open form in a garden against snow and a brick wall.
The open, twisted form of the Tiger eye sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) makes a statement against the winter snow.
Small yew tree in snow.
Like many evergreens, yews like ‘Capitata’ have a distinctive pyramidal form that stands out year-round and especially in winter.

Seed heads and cones

Wait till spring to cut back late summer flowers and seed heads. They provide interest and texture, but also food for overwintering birds. Cones are strong plant features. It’s amazing how cones vary from tree to tree.

Dead flowerheads in a garden site against a snowy background.
The spent flowers of rudbeckia provide winter interest and a food source for birds.
A close up of silvery feathery flower heads on tan ornamental grass stems against the snow.
Ornamental grasses create a wow factor against the winter landscape.
Pinecones on a Ponderosa pine with snow cover.
Ponderosa pinecones


Oaks and evergreens retain their leaves and needles through the winter. So they are big additions to winter interest in our landscapes. They also provide shelter for birds and other wildlife.

Tan oak leaves against a bright blue sky.
Tan oak leaves against a bright blue sky
Various evergreen trees in a group in a garden setting.
Various evergreen trees

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator, horticulture

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