Ways to Create a Beautiful Winter Landscape

Ways to Create a Beautiful Winter Landscape

Nov 15, 2022

Winter can be one of the most rewarding seasons in the landscape if you plan correctly. Some gardeners think that once the first frost arrives and the colorful autumn leaves fall that it's time to rake the leaves, store the tools, and dream of the first signs of spring. When we design landscapes, we use the "four-season landscape" as our concept. 

Creating an incredible landscape that looks good from spring through fall is easy, and for many years, that was good enough, but gardening tastes have changed and gardeners want more from their landscape.

The Four Season Landscape

The winter garden is how great landscape designers can showcase their talents and create eye-catching landscapes. This concept is called the "four-season landscape" and can be easily incorporated into all your landscape designs.

Rather than a barren landscape of dormant shrubs, sleeping perennials, and deciduous trees, the four-season landscape showcases plants with exciting textures, colored bark, evergreen foliage, winter flowers, and in the case of ornamental grasses, foliage that sways in the breeze, adding movement and even sound to the landscape.

Garden Design Ideas for a Colorful Winter Landscape

The winter months are the perfect time to evaluate your landscape for areas to improve the overall design.

Once your shrubs and trees lose their leaves, you can look for areas that aren't interesting or colorful. Homeowners often want colorful flowers when they are outside during the winter months. But these days, many enjoy the outdoors in our gardens during winter. 

Fire pits have never been more popular, meaning many folks enjoy sitting by the fire on chilly nights with the family, and why not do it in a beautiful landscape?

Create Contrasting Winter Interest Backdrops 

layering winter interest plants

Starting your design from the top down is an easy way for homeowners to visualize the landscape. Begin with the taller background plants. Evergreen trees serve two purposes in landscape design. They provide a backdrop highlighting smaller trees and shrubs with colorful bark, foliage, or winter flowers. 

Often, the colors and textures of smaller plants can be lost in a see-thru landscape design. A see thru landscape design causes the eye to focus on points beyond the intended focus. 

For instance, if you plant a mass of Red-Twig Dogwood along your property line, the gorgeous winter color of the bark can often be lost to vast open spaces.

Plant those same red twig dogwoods in front of a colorful backdrop of Norway Spruce or Green Giant Arborvitae and suddenly you've created a pop of color that will stand out all winter. The second reason for planting Evergreens in the winter garden is the benefit of wind blocks. 

Dense evergreen trees block the winter winds creating an oasis for entertaining during the winter months and as an added bonus they create privacy screens, blocking the views of neighbors. Imagine a hot tub surrounded by medium evergreens such as Emerald Green Arborvitaes.

There are many other types of evergreen trees that can be used as backdrops and can offer different colors and textures such as Juniper trees, Pine Trees and Even Some Magnolias.

Create Winter Interest with Deciduous Trees and Shrubs

deciduous trees and shrubs for winter landscape

We've established the backdrop and now its time to move to the next level of the winter landscape. All gardeners can name shrubs that are beautiful during the warmer months and many of these can serve a dual role of providing winter interest when sited correctly. 

Many plants have colorful bark in the winter. As mentioned above Red-twig Dogwoods are a staple of the landscape and these shrubs are are beautiful any time of year.

There are many other plants that begin to show their true beauty after the leaves fall. Coral Bark Japanese Maples resemble many other common maples most of the year but in the winter when the leaves fall is when the bright red bark really steals the show. 

natchez crape myrtle in winter

Many gardeners wouldn't consider a crape myrtle as a winter interest plant but if you've ever seen the peeling bark and the cinnamon color of the Natchez Crape Myrtle you would surely appreciate on of the little know winter virtues of this summer flowering jewel. 

Another group of plants that when used as an addition to the winter garden will become focal points are those plants that produce colorful berries. Everyone knows the Blue Hollies as evergreen shrubs that produce red berries and can often be seen used as evergreen hedges. Did you also know that there is a slightly less-known member of the holly family that stands out even more in the winter after losing its leaves? 

Deciduous Hollies such as Sparkleberry Holly lose their leaves in the winter exposing the plump red berries at the tips of the stems which stand out like shining garnets when planted in front of a dark green background. Very few plants are better at attracting bird’s colorful winter songbirds to the garden adding yet another element of color. 

Witch hazels have long been a choice of professional landscape designers for adding interest to landscapes. 

Winter Flowering Evergreen Shrubs for the Landscape

winter flowering shrubs in the landscape

Since many gardeners think the gardening season ends after the fall leaf drop many beautiful flowering shrubs go unnoticed and are left out of landscapes. Camellias, for example should have found their way into many landscapes.

There are two groups of Camellias and Gardeners can plant Fall Flowering Camellias that flower in the late fall to Christmas and than Spring Flowering Camellias that flowers from late winter into the spring. 

Camellias’ are great plants for smaller gardens because the broad evergreen foliage creates its own backdrop and privacy screen and the dark green leaves really make the large bright flowers stand out. 

Mahonia is another little known evergreen that bring spectacular color to the winter landscape. These mid-sized shrubs have leaves that resemble hollies and flower in the very late fall into very early spring with bright sunny yellow flowers that change into blue colored berries that birds adore. 

Winter Flowering Deciduous Shrubs

edgeworthia shrub blooming in winter

Another shrub that happens to be a favorite around our nursery for its winter flowers is Edgeworthia or Paper bush. When most plants are sleeping for the winter these lovely shrubs are hard at work producing flowers with a sweet fragrance. They flower at the perfect time when we are all a little worn down by the long winter. We look forward to seeing these interesting flowers on cold gray winter mornings. 

Stay In The Loop 

We hope that after reading this your beginning to come up with winter landscaping ideas that may work in your garden. This is Part One of a series of blogs that will fill your head with numerous ideas about improving the interest of your landscape during the "fourth season" of the year. We've now established the principle of evergreen trees for backdrops and privacy screens. 

Sign up for our weekly newsletter and you'll receive coupons, special offers and our weekly blog post including Part Two of this series entitled "Using Evergreen  Shrubs to add color and Texture to your Winter Landscape". 

Until next Time, See you in the Garden,