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Winter Beauty in Your Landscape

Frost has withered even our toughest annuals. Our show-stopping perennials have had their final encore and the ghostly silhouettes of stark leafless trees have replaced the beautiful fall foliage.

There are many things to keep a gardener busy during the late fall and early winter; planting bulbs, amending soils, final pruning, and the last clean up of the season. While performing these maintenance tasks, there are many reasons to remain inspired as you put you garden to rest. One thing to consider as you plan to install new plants is that there are trees and shrubs that are beautiful all year long. Plant beauty does not only come in the form of lush green foliage. You can add plants that will provide you with everything from wonderful peeling bark to attractive evergreen foliage and red berries. These plants shine and glow in our otherwise quiet, wintry gardens.

The following list is some of my favorite picks for winter beauty.

A River Birches peeling bark is stark and beautiful in the winter landscape

River Birch, Betula Nigra
This is perhaps the toughest of all birch species. It is very tolerant of poorly drained soil, heat, humidity, and an array of pests. This birch has a beautiful cinnamon to creamy brown flaking bark that becomes darker with age. It will get to be large and is a great shade tree in the summer garden. But, due to is ease of care, it is one of the best birches in the winter garden.

American Beech, Fagus grandifolia
Beeches are perhaps the most elegant and noble of the deciduous trees. Their smooth silver gray bark, which can be compared to an elephants skin, will brighten even the darkest of winter landscapes. A native to North American forests the silvery gray to nearly white bark of the American beech was known as the ghost tree to native Americans.

Gold Dust Plant, Acuba japonica ‘Variegata’
This shrub is a good example of the beauty that broad leaf evergreens add to the landscape. This variety has dark green shiny leaves with irregular splotches, freckles, and splashes of gold to yellow. The gold dust plant will easily reach 6 to 10 feet high with a spread that is slightly less. Plant in partial shade in well-drained soil and add ample organic matter annually. Cuttings can be harvested and used for decorations during the holiday season.

Nandina’s red berries are colorful and decorative in the winter landscape

Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina domestica
The common name that has been given to this native of China may deter many gardeners from planting it, but this plant is not related to the aggressive bamboo plants many of us have a love-hate relationship with. In fact this plant forms a rather neat clump as it matures. The foliage is evergreen and changes color to beautiful shades of reds in the winter. The white clusters of springtime flowers mature into grape-like bunches of red berries in fall. The berries provide a dramatic display on the plant or can be used in holiday arrangements. If left on the plants the berries will last the entire winter.

Western Arborvitae, Thuja plicata
This arborvitae has a wonderful pyramidal growth habit. It is evergreen, and has an emerald green to golden cast on its leaves. This large shrub is perfect for use in screening and can mature to 50 feet tall. However it responds quite well to pruning and can be sheared into a very attractive hedge. During the winter it is quite durable to the damaging weight of snow.


Derek Thomas is principal of Thomas Landscapes. His garden designs have been featured on HGTV’s Curb Appeal. His weekly garden segment can be seen on WTTG/Fox 5 in Washington. He can be reached at www.thomaslandscapes.com or 301.642.5182

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