In the garden, it’s time for resting. Our chores have simplified and those glorious snowflakes are, once again, coming for a visit. Winter finds us admiring red and golden trunks and twigs. Our eyes are drawn to dried berries, shapely branches and our beloved “ever”greens.
“Winter interest” is a common gardening term that refers to a plant that looks just as good (sometimes even better) in the winter as compared to the spring to fall timespan.
Ornamental grasses can have fabulous seed heads and stems that look gorgeous through the winter. Try miscanthus, feather reed grass, pampas grass or the hardy ‘Karl Foerster’ which is very popularly planted in many of the home landscapes in our diocese. Grasses add height, interest and when the wind blows, wonderful movement.
Native hollies are perennials that provide good color throughout the winter. Oregon grape holly and creeping grape holly, the low-growing form, are beautiful all year round: their shiny, spiny, green leaves turn rich burgundy in the fall and remain during winter months. Snowberries and coralberries keep colorful fruit during wintertime. Serviceberries have grayish bark with a reddish cast that can add very unexpected color in the winter. Mountain mahogany, another perennial, has persistent seed heads that can add a silvery-Christmas look to the garden.
There are several trees to consider for winter interest. The Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is a small tree, a superb choice for all seasons. However, the gorgeous cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark is an absolute stunner in winter. These trees are slow growing, and mature to a height of 20 to 30 feet tall with a rounded canopy. Paperbark maple is difficult to propagate in the nursery, so they are pricey and not widely available. For a stark winter look, try the craggy-branched Kentucky coffee tree, or the Ohio buckeye, which have dazzling branching structures. Another winter beauty is the lacebark pine. It has attractive exfoliating bark in patches of green and brown. Needles are medium to dark green and approximately 3 inches long. This tree will reach a mature height of about 30 feet and 15 feet wide. An attractive tree for sure, but the bark in the winter is a show-stopper.
There are shrubs and there are SHRUBS. High on the winter interest list is red-osier dogwood, (Cornus sericea), with its bright red stems. They are distinctly red and really do look wonderous throughout the winter months. This dogwood is native to Colorado therefore, once established requires less water and maintenance. Pruning red-osier dogwood annually is very beneficial and should be considered, as the new, young shoots provide the brightest color. Remove approximately one-third of the oldest stems in late winter. Rocky Mountain willow or, sometimes called, yellow mountain willow produces yellow twigs in the winter. Pruning, as suggested for the dogwood, would again, produce brighter colors.
Are there those that look forward to the winter season? Cold, icy roads, shorter days, bad weather, no more green grass. 2020 with its COVID-19, no more “special” night out at our favorite restaurant, not being able to see a genuine smile because it is hidden behind that mask. We must have faith that God will see us through, as he always does. Protect us from evil. There is hope in a great snowball, a fun sled run, winter snow walks, twinkling lights, making a snow angel, a heartfelt prayer and of course, love — above all, love.
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)