Archived Story

Spruce up your winter landscape [UPDATED]

Published 9:48am Monday, November 26, 2012 Updated 11:51am Monday, November 26, 2012

After the snow covered his yard, Bunkey took a walk around it and discovered it was boring. There was no color other than the tree bark. “We need to get some color in this place” he told Petunia. Luckily, there is a lot he could do next spring to improve the situation.

The first thing that comes to mind when we think of winter color is conifers. A green tree in a white landscape is a treat to the eye. However, do consider how big that tree will get. A 50-foot tall white pine makes a ranch house look like it is cowering under it. There are a number of conifers that stay compact if you have a small yard or a small house. Trees that have been allowed to get tall and scraggly need to be removed, even if you do have a large house.

Another tree to consider is a crabapple. Many of them hold on to their apples until the birds eat them. The red, orange or yellow apples are a bright spot in the winter landscape.

Mountain ash is a smaller tree that not only has large blossoms in the spring but bright orange/red clumps of berries in late summer. Cedar waxwings and robins will flock to the tree when the berries are ripe. Watching a row of waxwings, passing a berry bird to bird is reward enough to plant this tree.

Of course River birch, with its peeling orange bark is a standout against the white snow.

If you are looking for texture, our native bur oak has a strong, thick, rather horizontal branching habit.

Another sculptural tree is the pagoda dogwood. It bears blue berries that seldom last a week after ripening. Its branches are very horizontal. Unfortunately, it can be quite short lived.

Another tree that is underutilized is the Amur chokecherry. The bark on this beauty is an almost metallic copper color. A new cultivar of this tree should be available this spring. It is smaller and even more eye catching.

There are other plants that hold their fruit if you don’t have room for another tree. Rugosa roses, if not deadheaded in the late summer, develop hips, a red/orange fruit that is actually the ovary of the flower.

We have a holly, Ilex Verticillata, better known as winter berry whose stems are nearly obscured by small, brilliant scarlet berries. This is another bird friendly shrub. They love the berries.

Highbush Cranberry bears clusters of red fruit that hang on most of the winter.

Don’t forget bittersweet. There is a new cultivar that doesn’t need a mate. The older vines required you to get a male and female. Usually you got three vines, hoping at least one was of the opposite sex. If they were all the same sex, no berries. That is the berries.

Don’t live with a boring landscape. Do some winter planning and spring planting. As someone once said “gardening is better than therapy, and you get tomatoes.”


Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.

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