What do you see as you gaze out your window at this time of the year? Is your landscape white, maybe even dingy white, accented with a green conifer or two? How about putting some color and texture into that winter landscape? Now is an excellent time to do some planning and selecting of trees and shrubs that will add color to your winter landscape.
Well-placed evergreen trees and shrubs will certainly add interest and color year around, but for the sake of variety, let's consider some deciduous plants that will add color and texture to the winter landscape Trees and shrubs that hold their colorful fruit into the winter will add some pizzazz to that winter landscape. One of the best shrubs that provide red fruit that persists through the winter is American highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum). This very hardy shrub is available as a tall 10 to 12 foot shrub or as a cultivar called 'Compactum' which matures at about six feet. Birds ignore the fruit until spring when it softens and ferments a bit, allowing the fruit to add bright red color to the landscape all winter.
There are some great flowering crabapple cultivars that not only provide beautiful blooms in May, but also bear small colorful fruit that persists through most of the winter. When selecting a cultivar of flowering crabapples to plant, be sure to select one that has resistance to apple scab; that pesky foliage disease that causes the trees to lose their foliage in the summer. 'Prairiefire' is a cultivar that has beautiful red flowers followed by deep maroon fruit that persists well into the winter. 'Adams', 'David', 'Donald Wyman' and 'Red Splendor' are cultivars hardy in zone 4 that also bear persistent red fruit and have shown resistance to apple scab.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous holly that bears clusters of bright red fruit into the fall and winter. A caveat with winterberry is that you must plant shrubs of both sexes as the female fruiting plants need a male pollinator to produce fruit. There are cultivars that range in height from three feet to ten feet. American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) or European mountain ash (Sorbus auicuparia), are trees that bear red-orange and orange fruit that remains on the tree into the fall and winter until eaten by birds.
Bark is another consideration when selecting plants for winter interest. Brightly colored bark will also stand out in the winter landscape. One of the shrubs with the most brightly colored red bark is redosier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). This is a very hardy shrub and there are a number of cultivars selected for stem color and size. There are also some newer introductions such as 'Bud's Yellow' (Cornus alba) that have bright yellow stems.
The texture of bark will also add winter interest. The shiny, copper colored bark of Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii), a 25-30 feet tree, is beautiful and eye-catching. The smooth bark of this tree is very susceptible to sunscald and will benefit from a little trunk protection during the winter. River birch (Betula nigra) with its exfoliating bark adds interest to the landscape year around, but the shaggy, peeling bark is especially eye-catching during the winter.
These are just a few of the trees and shrubs that have characteristics that add color and interest to the winter landscape. There are also species that have interesting branch formations like in pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) or seed heads that remain throughout the winter as in the hydrangeas, and many more.
Spend a little time studying your landscape and find a place for one or more of these trees and shrubs that add color and interest to that drab winter landscape. After all, planting time is only a few months away!