When designing a landscape for four season interest in the Midwestern United States, you must make planning for the winter season a priority. This is a lesson I have learned the hard way.
When I first started landscaping my own yard over a decade ago, I realized you needed evergreens to provide interest in all seasons. I just did not realize how many evergreens you needed.
So I got a few dwarf conifers like bird’s nest spruce and a Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii). I then went on and bought a few bushes and a bunch of perennials like daylily and purple coneflower. So I must have had a nice yard then right? Nope, it was just a collection of plants that by themselves looked ok in the summer when the perennials were blooming, but in the winter the yard was BOORRRRIIIINGGGG!
Adding Winter Interest does not happen without planning
So I gradually year by year started adding plants. Little ones, big ones, red ones, blue ones, new ones, and old ones. Then I moved them to different spots, and moved them again, and again, and again. The lessons I learned in my own laboratory were many. The biggest one was simple, make your yard look nice from your house in the winter when everything in leafless and gray color.
Adding Winter Interest Ideas
OK, so how do you do that? Here are a few ideas to help you make your yard more attractive this winter.
#1–Add structures to your yard, such as cedar fences, gazebos, trellises, birdbaths, etc. These not only provide shape to the yard, but can also provide much needed color in the winter from stained wood or painted metal.
#2–Add evergreen shrubs and smaller trees, lots of them, and then some more. Include conifers and broad leafed evergreens. Pick ones that stay green in the winter and don’t discolor. Your best bet is to pick two to three types of low growing evergreen shrubs and get lots of each type. See this post for 3 good ones. Pick up a few non green ever greens ones such as dwarf blue spruces (Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ to add some variety. In my humble opinion, adding lots of evergreen shrubs is the single most important element to adding winter interest to a Midwestern garden.
#3–Add trees and shrubs with colored or interesting bark. There are lots of choices here, such as red twig dogwood, white barked or Heritage river birches, Coral bark Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’). See this post for a couple of good smaller trees.
#4- Use architectural plants. Sometimes it is the outline of the form of the plant, such as a leafless weeping Japanese maple that provides the most interest.
#5-Bright colored berries can provide a splash of color to your garden during the long, gray Midwestern winter. They also attract birds such as cardinals in the winter that provide a little life to the landscape. Some good ones include some cultivars of crabapples, winterberries (Ilex verticilatta), and red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia).
#6-Put your plants in beds of mulch or groundcovers. Mulch can provide a nice contrast to green grass, while groundcovers like Vinca minor, Pachysandra, etc. can provide a nice dark green carpet in the winter, do watch out for their tendency to wander off from where you plant them. There are great native alternative ground covers but most are not evergreen.
#7-Pick a few perennials, such as sedum and the stiffer ornamental grass, that remain attractive throughout the winter season.
How you arrange these elements is really the key to adding winter interest. I’ll cover that and these specific ideas in more detail in future posts.