8 Gorgeous Trees for Winter Interest in the Garden

Winter is often thought of as the good time of year to escape the harsh elements and head inside to get comfy. Most plants are dormant, and the backyard is a far more subdued place than at the spring and summertime, when there’s all that vibrant and budding colour. But don’t discount your backyard at the off season. It is within this sedate atmosphere that tree form and structure take center stage, and a whole new level of attention can be gained.

Evergreen trees would be the obvious stars of winter landscape because they supply structure year round, but a lot of deciduous choices have interesting bark along with a gorgeous branch form.

When planning a website for your winter-interest tree, then think of an area of your backyard where the surrounding plantings are mostly herbaceous so that your characteristic tree can show its true colors and is not blocked by foliage.

Here are some of my favourite winter trees.

The New York Botanical Garden

Stewartia Pseudocamellia

Peeling bark carries several distinct forms, also Stewartia has one of the unique appearances. As old bark flakes off, a gray, brown and light reddish patchwork effect appears on the trunk of this tree, creating an intriguing contrast to snowy landscapes.

USDA zones: 5 to 9 (find your zone)
Soil condition: Prefers acidic soil
Light requirement: Best in partial shade; will withstand full sun with ample water
Size: Slow growing, to 30 to 40 feet

Matt Kilburn

Paperbark Maple
(Acer griseum)

The paperbark maple is another tree with intriguing peeling bark. This slow-growing tree is ideal for small gardens and can be an intriguing focus in winter landscape due to its rich colour and the tactile surface of its trunk.

USDA zones: 4 to 8
Soil requirement: All types provided that the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Size: Slow growing, to 20 to 25 feet

Matt Kilburn

Monkey Puzzle
(Araucaria araucana)

Speaking of focal points within a backyard, a Monkey Puzzle tree can add unique texture to the landscape. The whimsical type of this tree will probably stand in sharp contrast (literally, due to the razor-sharp, scale-like leaves) into the snowy landscape, giving an exotic respite in the dog days of winter.

USDA zones: 7B into 10B
Soil requirement: Prefers well-drained acidic soil
Light requirement: Total sun
Size: Slow growing, to 30 to 40 feet

The New York Botanical Garden

Tibetan Cherry
(Prunus serrula)

The Tibetan Cherry is an intriguing tree year round due to its glistening, silk-like bark. The wealthy coppery-red, smooth surface of the trunk comes to life from the winter garden as other colors fade. Its ease of expansion makes it a great choice for beginner anglers.

USDA zones: 7 to 10
Soil requirement: All types provided that the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Total sun
Size: Slow growing, to 20 to 30 feet

Matt Kilburn

Japanese Maples
(Acer palmatum spp)

Japanese Maples are a great addition to any backyard due to the seemingly endless forms offered in various colors and dimensions. Several have an amazing trunk and branch form which can be viewed when all the leaves are all gone. I often enjoy these trees in winter because of their gnarly, contorted branches have so much character.

USDA zones: Varies, but generally between 6 to 9
Soil demand: All types provided that the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Varies, but generally full sunlight to partial shade
Size: Varies, but generally slow to moderate growth, to 15 to 20 feet

Photo from Scott Cutler; used with permission

Matt Kilburn

Strawberry Tree
(Arbutus unedo)

Strawberry tree is an excellent addition to sunny sites that flowers in the late autumn and then produces bright red, round fruit throughout the winter months. The fruits are actually edible (although they’re an acquired taste!) And are great for holiday wreaths and bouquets. This evergreen specimen is classified as a tree but over the years can be pruned to a small tree form.

USDA zones: 6 to 9
Soil requirement: All soil types
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Size: Slow growing, to 20 to 25 feet

Matt Kilburn

Colorado Blue Spruce
(Picea pungens)

The Colorado Blue Spruce is a popular addition to a lot of landscapes due to its vibrant gray-blue needles. This stately evergreen provides vertical structure to the garden year round but really stands out against a backdrop of snow and ice.

USDA zones: two to 7
Soil requirement: All soil types
Light requirement: Total sun
Size: Slow to moderate growth, to 40 to 50 feet

Matt Kilburn

Himalayan Pine
(Pinus wallichiana)

Many pine tree varieties create amazing flashes that add architectural interest to the landscape. This species is a walnut, a gorgeous tree known for the long needles and large, storybook-perfect cones.

USDA zones: 5 to 7
Soil requirement: All types provided that the soil is well drained
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Size: Slow to medium growth, to 30 to 50 feet

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