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Selecting plants for their winter interest goes beyond colour choices. Consider their shapes, textures, and the movements and sounds made by plants when the winter winds blow.

Below are some suggestions for annual and perennial plants that look beautiful year-round.

Trees and shrubs

When selecting trees and shrubs for your winter yard or garden, consider these perennial woody plants and the appeal of their physical features in all four seasons (leaves, flowers, fruits, and branches). Whether they are ornamental or native species, they should be seen as an investment, considering their long-lived nature, mature size, and cost.

If your yard isn't suited for large mature trees, consider dwarf or columnar cultivars. Some may be slower-growing, but in the end, they will not outgrow your yard, and will not require as much pruning each year to maintain your preferred size and shape.

Evergreens

Coniferous trees that retain their leaves through the winter provide a variety of green and other colours for your garden, such as:

  • Pine, juniper, and cedar (green)

Austrian Pine  'Moonglow' Juniper

Austrian Pine and 'Moonglow' Juniper

  • Blue spruce and juniper cultivars (blue tones, including blue-green and silver-blue)
  • Golden juniper cultivars (gold, yellow and orange-tinged)

Branching Patterns and Interesting Bark

  • Paper birch and Amur cherry both exhibit peeling white and copper peeling bark, respectively
  • Multiple species of dogwood have colourful bark ranging from bright red to orange, to purple
  • Swedish columnar aspen and columnar spruce create pleasing vertical cylinders or cones with its branches that reach up to the sky instead of outwards
  • Weeping and dwarf weeping species of willow, pine, caragana, and birch create beautiful downward-branching forms

Winter Fruits/Seeds

  • Amur maple not only has beautiful red leaves in the fall, it retains its papery seeds through the winter
  • Mountain ash and 'Thunderchild' crabapple have red fruits that remain on the branches through much of the winter, providing winter colour and a source of food for animals.

Mountain Ash - Winter  Thunderchild Crabapple

Mountain Ash and 'Thunderchild' Crabapple

  • Roses, particularly wild rose species, are one example of a great summer and winter shrub. They have beautiful flowers in the summer, helping to attract pollinators. In the winter, their round red rosehips (the fruit) offer a delightful colour contrast to white snow, and may attract birds and other small animals looking for food

 Winter Interest Rosehips  Winter Interest Rosehips - Winter

Rosehips - In the summer ... and winter

Herbaceous Plants

Sturdy stalks and interesting seed heads

There are several ornamental and native plant species that are beautiful in the summer, but also provide interesting shapes and textures once the growing season is over. Consider growing a few of these for your garden:

  • Ornamental onion (Allium spp.) has spherical seed heads
  • 'Rocket' ligularia has bright yellow flower spikes in summer, and feathery-looking seed heads in winter

'Rocket' Ligularia

  • 'Annabelle' hydrangea retains some of its flowers in winter. Its umbrella-shaped flower and seed heads that look pretty with snow caps

'Annabelle' Hydrangea - Close-up 'Annabelle' Hydrangea

  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea) has pretty pink and orange flowers and the summer. Its dark, spiky seed heads are quite distinctive.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

  • Martagon lily has showy colourful flowers in the summer, with unique, papery seedheads in winter.

Martagon Lily  Martagon Lily - Close-up

Grasses

Not all ornamental and native grasses are sufficiently sturdy to withstand heavy snows, but those that are provide a striking vertical visual impact. Grasses also provide winter interest through movement, swaying in the winter winds.

The following grasses retain their shape and height and have interesting seed heads: 

  • Blue fescue forms short tufts of blue-green grass, retaining much of its colour and shape through the winter
  • 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass turns a lovely straw-golden colour in winter

'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass

Vines

Although some leaves may fall off, the sturdy stems remain, creating intricate twining patterns across a wall, fence, or trellis. Fruits that remain may offer colourful or textural appeal. You can even grow a few varieties of cold-hardy grape in Alberta!

Hops and concord grape vines provide winter interest.

Hops (front of shed) and Concord Grape

Hops (front of shed), Concord grape (side of shed)

  • Hops has papery seed heads

Hops Close-up

  • Concord grapes retain their dark purple fruits for awhile after killing frosts, providing food for birds and humans alike

Concord Grapes - Close-up

Other Garden Elements

In addition to plants, there are other elements to can add to or keep in your garden, such as:

  • Bird feeders to attract and keep birds in your yard

Winter Garden Elements - Bird Feeder

  • Heated bird baths
  • Small garden ponds, which you can prevent from freezing using a trough de-icer
  • Night lighting, such as solar-powered garden stake lights along pathways, coloured floodlights to highlight specific garden features, or strings of winter lights for the front entrance
  • Garden furniture and ornamentation, such as benches, tables, and sculptures.

For More Information

Online Contact 311 Online
Telephone

In Edmonton: 311

Outside Edmonton: 780-442-5311

TTY 780-944-5555
Email front.yards@edmonton.ca

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