CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shrubs for Winter Interest

Just because its winter (don't let the 60 degree weather fool you) does not mean your landscape has to be boring.   There are lots of plants that add winter interest to an outdoor space from ornamental grasses to evergreen trees.  Even the seed heads of some herbaceous perennial plants can look attractive in the winter.   One group of plants which shines in during the winter due to the variety of feature and types of interest they can create during the season is shrubs.

Some shrubs have twigs which are an attractive color or provide and interest texture to a landscape.  For example, red twig dogwood (also known as redosier dogwood- Cornus sericea) has showy twigs that bring color to a winter landscape.

Red twig dogwood- each year remove around 1/3 of the  the

 oldest stems to help plants retain their color

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') as well as several species of Willows (Salix sp.) have contorted habits which add texture to a landscape.

Contorted Shrub Willow

Other shrubs retain their fruit into the winter which can add interest and color to a winter landscape as well as attracting birds. Many species of hawthorn (Cratagus sp.) retain their fruit into the winter along with shrubs like firethorn and some crabapples.

Due to their spreading suckering growth habits some sumacs (Rhus sp.) should be used with care in smaller landscapes.  However, many species of sumac keep their interesting red fruits through winter.
Fruit of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany 
Most people are familiar with the more common evergreens like pines, spruces and junipers.  However many are less familiar with broad leafed evergreens.  These plants retain their leaves all winter and add both color and texture to a winter landscape.  There are actually quite a few broadleaf evergreens which can be grown in our area including,  curl leaf mountain mahogany, mountain mahogany, winter creeper euonymus, Manhattan euonymus, English ivy, Oregon grape holly, creeping grape holly, manzanita, joint fir, Spanish broom and firethorn.  All of these plants will benefit from winter watering and many will do better in sites which are protected from drying winter winds.   

Creeping Mahonia


  1. Derr has staghorn sumac as Rhus typhina. Rhus trilobata is the three-leaved sumac.

  2. Thanks for catching that. It must have been a freudian slip as I'm much more found of R.trilobata and R.aromatica (and their cultivars) than R.typhina. Staghorn sumac's fruit is just much more showy.

  3. winter creeper and english ivy can be pretty invasive

  4. This is a really good point. In other parts of the country (the Northwest and Southeast and maybe other regions) English ivy and winter creeper are indeed considered invasive weeds. However, along Colorado's Front Range I would say they can be "aggressive" rather than "invasive". They are not plants for small spaces and under the right conditions can definitely take over a space.
    However, at least in my experience, they are not particularly "invasive" in that they are coming up form seed (more than occasionally) in other parts of that garden or natural areas. Actually, English ivy often struggles in our climate if its not planted in a site with the proper microclimate.