Gardening for Winter

While winter is the farthest thing from most gardener's minds (though Mother Nature keeps firmly reminding us of its persistence this year), an attractive landscape requires careful planning for seasonal interest throughout the year. Since the Iowa landscape is dormant 4 to 6 months of the year, extending the attractiveness of the landscape and garden into the fall and winter can help make our winters a little more bearable. Winter gardening doesn't use the flowers and fragrances of summer gardening. Instead a variety of plants are used to add shape, color and texture to create eye-catching displays.

Evergreen trees and shrubs with various shades of greens and blues and interesting shapes are staples of many winter landscapes. Deciduous trees with interesting bark characteristics like paperbark maple or unusual branching habits like pagoda dogwood can also aid in providing winter charm.

Many herbaceous perennials also have interesting fall and winter appeal. Some have foliage like bergenia which turns maroon with the onset of cold temperatures. The foliage of grape-hyacinth emerges late in the season and persists through winter. Perennials like Achillea overwinter with a rosette of foliage close to the ground. Lavender, sage, thyme and other herbs hold their foliage late in the season. Yucca plants possess a unique character especially after a snowfall. Some ornamental grasses are grown specifically for their attractive seedheads in the winter.

The following list contains additional perennial suggestions for winter gardens.

Bugleweed Ajuga reptans
Rock Cress Arabis caucasica
European Wild Ginger Asarum europaeum
Sea Thrift Armeria maritima
Basket-of-Gold Aurinia saxatilis
Bergenia Bergenia spp.
Snow-in-Summer Cerastium tomentosum
Barrenwort Epimedium spp.
Lenten Rose Helleborus orientalis
Coral Bells Heuchera spp.
Evergreen Candytuft Iberis sempervirens
Spotted Dead Nettle Lamium maculatum
Moss Phlox Phlox subulata
Bethlehem Sage Pulmonaria spp.
Autumn Joy sedum Sedum x 'Autumn Joy'
Stonecrop Sedum Sedum spectabile
Lamb's Ears Stachys byzantina
Foam Flower Tiarella cordifolia
Grasses with winter interest
Feather Reed Grass Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
Fall Blooming Reed Grass Calamagrostis brachytricha
Giant Miscanthus Miscanthus floridulus
Small Japanese Silver Grass Miscanthus oligostachyus
Chinese Silver Grass Miscanthus sacchariflorus
Silverfeather Miscanthus Miscanthus sinensis 'Siberfedher'
Moor Grass Molinia caerulea (all cultivars)
Switch Grass Panicum virgatum
Red Switch Grass Panicum virgatum 'Haense Herms','Rotstrahlbusch','Rehbraun'
Fountain Grass Pennisetum alopecuroides
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium
Cord Grass Spartina pectinata
Variegated Cord Grass Spartina pectinata ''Aureomarginata'
Prairie Dropseed Sporobolus heterolepsis
Ferns with attractive winter appeal
Ebony Spleenwort Asplenium platyneuron
Marginal Shield Fern Dryopteris marginalis
Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides

Most people desire a colorful landscape throughout the year. Thoughtful planning and careful consideration of various trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants can provide year round garden interest.

This article originally appeared in the April 5, 1996 issue, pp. 1996 issue, pp. 46-47.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on April 5, 1996. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.