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

See related

9 Low-Growing Hedges That

When we think of low-growing hedges, we’re most likely to think of boxwood (box) hedging, Buxus spp, utilized in knot gardens and also to advantage herb gardens and herbaceous borders. But now there are different sorts of non hedges — such as “step over” hedges. Step-over hedges are reduced hedges, generally under 2 feet, created by restricting the growth of larger shrubs through pruning.

This tendency could be seen in fresh British housing estates, where the usage of step-over hedges generates a milder visual barrier between properties while mixing in with multiple landscape schemes. These low hedges could mark the border of your house without losing much space or reducing light the way traditional hedging can. This low hedging can also be utilized as a characteristic in other plantings or as a characteristic against fencing or walls. It can give a sculptural sense better compared to tall, naturalistic hedging we are utilized to.

Many shrubs are suitable, but for optimal step-over hedging, they should be:
EvergreenSlow growing and tolerant of trimmingHappy to be implanted alongside additional shrubsDisease resistantI believe you can see in the subsequent examples just how appealing and effective these hedges can be.

Troy Rhone Garden Design

Boxwood or Box
(Buxus spp)

Boxwood hedging has ever been the traditional plant used in dwarf hedging, and though it has its own drawbacks, it’s still the best general-purpose plant for this type of hedging.

Boxwood can be more prone to the fungal infection Cylindrocladium buxicola, or box blight. This is prevalent in the U.K. and dispersing in the U.S.

USDA zones: 5 to 9 (find your zone)
Water requirement: Drought resistant; necessitates well-drained soil
Light demand: Prefers partial or full shade; can be scorched by sun
Mature size: 18 to 36 inches tall
Planting tips: Plant in well-drained soil. Boxwood benefits from an application of fertilizer and a mulch after clipping in spring.

Good alternatives to box are Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) and box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida).

Cherry Laurel
(Prunus laurocerasus)

Common laurel is just another tamable low hedging plant. It’s an evergreen shrub that could quickly grow to 20 feet tall and wide. But here you can see how it has been controlled by judicious clipping and has formed a superb low formal hedge.

USDA zones: 6 to 9
Water demand: Drought resistant
Light demand: Sun or semi shade
Mature size: 25 to 30 feet tall
Planting tips: Requires feeding in poorer soils, where the leaves can become chlorotic

Laurustinus
(Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’)

Laurustinus is just another big, bushy evergreen which you wouldn’t believe could be controlled enough to make a step-over hedge

Here the variety ‘Eve Price’ generates a stunning dwarf hedge, since it’s more compact than some of the other varieties of Viburnum tinus. The blossoms, blooming in late autumn to early spring, are very appealing, with carmine buds and pink-tinged petals.

The hedge shown here is cleverly underplanted with glowing pink geraniums, which contrast beautifully against the lush summer foliage of the Viburnum.

USDA zones: 7 to 10
Water demand: Drought resistant
Light demand: Full sun to full shade
Mature size: 8 to 10 feet tall
Planting tips: Grows well in moderately fertile and humus-rich soil, but soil needs to be well drained

JMS Design Associates

Lavender
(Lavandula stoechas)

Spanish lavender, also called French lavender in the United Kindgom, has odd blackish-purple flowers surmounted by a tuft of purple bracts.

For dry, sunny spots, lavender may create a fantastic low hedge. Though it can be short lived, it is still the best of the low-growing aromatic shrubs.

USDA zones: 6 to 9
Water demand: Low; gains from additional watering
Light demand: Full sun
Mature size: 18 to 36 inches tall
Planting tips: Prefers well-drained soil in full sun; if grown in containers, it is going to require frost protection.

A fantastic alternate to lavender is rosemary — that also adores a hot, sunny spot. Perhaps the best variety to use for non hedging is the compact Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Severn Sea’, that has citrus leaves and vibrant blue flowers in the summer.

Hebe
(Hebe x andersonii)

Hebes, primarily from New Zealand originally, differ widely in height, leaf size and flower color. Some of the lower-growing varieties make superb step-over hedges.

I was always taught, “The bigger the foliage on Hebes, the hardier the variety.” While I’m not sure whether that is true, it has ever worked for me.

Hebe x andersonii is a vigorous grower, but with careful pruning it makes a low hedge that provides a summer of gentle lavender-blue flowers fading to white in fall.

USDA zones: 9 to 10
Water requirement: Moderate
Light demand: Full sun or semi shade
Mature size: 6 to 8 ft tall
Planting tips: Grows best in moist but well-drained soil.

Elaeagnus
(Elaeagnus x ebbingei)

Elaeagnus x ebbingei has lovely dark green leaves with silvery-pewter undersides and little fragrant flowers.

Even a few of the open-growing shrubs can be formed into appealing low evergreen obstacles. Evergreens such as Elaeagnus must be pruned in spring just before growth starts.

USDA zones: 7 to 11
Water demand: Drought resistant
Light demand: Full sun or semi shade
Mature size: 9 to 12 feet tall
Planting tips: Grow into well-drained dirt; good for exposed and coastal situations

Box Honeysuckle
(Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’)

Box honeysuckle is a small-leaf evergreen that is perfect for clipping. It is very good for hedging, as it is quick to regrow — although it is going to attain a height of 7 to 8 ft if not included.

Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’, shown here, has the extra benefit of bright yellow foliage in summer which turns out a yellow-green in autumn.

USDA zones: 6 to 9
Water requirement: Drought resistant
Light demand: Full sun to partial shade
Mature size: 7 to 2 ft tall
Planting tips: Prefers well-drained soil. Its glowing yellow foliage can become greenish-yellow in colour.

Daisy Bush
(Brachyglottis greyi)

For a gorgeous gray hedge that is pretty hardy, it’s a challenge to beat Brachyglottis greyi. The plant is sometimes marketed as Senecio greyi or Senecio ‘Sunshine’.

One thing which you will almost certainly miss with judicious pruning would be that the glowing yellowish daisy-like flowers that cover the plant in the summer. This hedge will have to be pruned at least twice a year to keep it in shape.

USDA zones: 8 to 10
Water demand: Low
Light demand: Full sun or semi shade
Mature size: 3 to 5 ft tall
Planting tips: Grow it into well-drained soil, rather than full sun.

Mountain Holly
(Olearia ilicifolia)

Mountain holly is just another massive evergreen shrub from New Zealand. It could reach 6 feet in height, however once more, with timely pruning spring it could be restricted to develop into a step-over hedge.

The gray-green leaves are narrow and spear formed, with undulating and toothed edges which make it ideal for deterring dogs from entering your garden. If unpruned it will flower in spring with fragrant white blossoms.

USDA zones: 8 to 10
Water requirement: Minimum, particularly in winter
Light demand: Full sun
Mature size: 6 ft tall
Planting tips: Grow it in a fertile, well-drained soil in full sun and shelter it from chilly winds.

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