Winter color in the garden isn’t limited to coniferous evergreens (though evergreens, both conifer and not, are needed in the garden, click here and here for more on that). Many perennials—hellebores (mine are just starting to bloom and I’m so happy) heuchera, autumn fern, angelina sedum, acorus and bergenia (to name a few)—are evergreen and add color to our containers and landscapes throughout the winter months. And shrubs like red and yellow twig dogwood are a striking contrast to a bleak landscape, and certain deciduous trees, like witch hazel are the first to bloom, generally in January. Their bright, sulfur yellow, or red-orange blooms are a happy pop of color on these grey, overcast days. If your eyes are dying for a spot of color, take heart, there’s plenty of winter color for your garden.

The brilliant stems on the red twig dogwoods are the youngest stems on the shrubs so pruning these in early spring is essential. Older stems lose the vibrancy of color and must be removed. For a good tutorial on how-to prune red twigs, click here.

Hellebores are the perfect perennial. They prefer dry shade, are evergreen and bloom in January, holding their bloom through March and even into April. They make an excellent groundcover. Check out how easy they are to grow here.

Witch Hazel trees begin blooming in January and their bright, sulfur yellow (or red-orange for some cultivars) are a welcome sight for sore eyes itching for color. Their small size 20’ x 15’ mean you don’t need a lot of room to tuck one of these in, just make sure it’s full sun.


Mahonia aquafolium  blooms in February/March, with brilliant clusters of yellow blooms. It has red fall color with dark blue “grape-like” berries in fall, giving it it’s common name—Grape leaf holly.

Mahonia aquafolium blooms in February/March, with brilliant clusters of yellow blooms. It has red fall color with dark blue “grape-like” berries in fall, giving it it’s common name—Grape leaf holly.

Some plants are what we call four-season plants, they offer us something of interest in every season. Dogwoods fit this bill with early spring bloom, red berries and dark red fall color, and a striking winter architecture. Not every plant offers four season interest however and picking what works for your yard is a thoughtful process. Red twig dogwoods are an example of this. Winter is the only season they really stand out, but often there are cultivars like, ‘Elegantissima’ that have variegated leaves to give interest throughout the summer. Determining what needs your landscape has is key, but who couldn’t use a bit of color in winter? Then there are plants that give color all year. It’s like they’re on steroids. Yucca ‘Bright Edge’ and ‘Color Guard’ are examples of this.


Yuccas are evergreen, colorful and drought tolerant, maintaining their bright colors year-round. Color hues do get deeper with cooler weather but these plants are a standout year-roun.. They work well with succulents and in gravel gardens.

Yuccas are evergreen, colorful and drought tolerant, maintaining their bright colors year-round. Color hues do get deeper with cooler weather but these plants are a standout year-roun.. They work well with succulents and in gravel gardens.

I hear it all the time: I don’t want to waste money on annuals. Point taken and saving money is a valid concern for all of us, but if you’re like me I crave color in the winter and I figure it’s like a good bottle of wine—enjoyable, even if temporary. And the best thing about pansies? They may look a little sad on the coldest of days but come early spring the hard work is done—they’re planted—and they pop back up giving us color in the garden until it really heats up in May or June. That’s worth the cost of a flat of pansies.

Don’t forget annuals—pansies, cabbages and kales—for a winter pick-me-up.


Pansies

Don’t forget your houseplants. My ‘Neon’ pothos, with its chartreuse leaves, is hard to kill. prefers filtered light and infrequent watering but adds color to my indoors. Dracena, Rex begonias and African violets are all happy companions while the garden sleeps.


Don’t forget the indoor blooms. My African violets have been showing off these last few weeks, blooming their little heads off. African violets are easy to grow, but if you find you’re having trouble, check out this video from   Espoma  .

Don’t forget the indoor blooms. My African violets have been showing off these last few weeks, blooming their little heads off. African violets are easy to grow, but if you find you’re having trouble, check out this video from Espoma.

Winterberry shrubs (deciduous hollies) hold their bright red berries until late winter. Combine these shrubs (typically 8′ x 10′ – 6′ x 8′, but dwarf versions stay closer to 3′- 4′ x 3′- 4′) with perennial grasses like switchgrass ‘Heavy Metal’, and not only is the combination beautiful but the winter color of both is so worth it. (If you’re ever driving past the airport, they have rows of winterberry with tons of berries now, check it out if you’re unfamiliar with them.) I could go on and on but go check it out for yourself, the store is loaded with color and staff is happy to help you select what works for you. This week’s drop in temperature remind us that cold weather is official, but that doesn’t mean, we can’t still enjoy some color in our gardens. 

Cinthia Milner is the garden coach, and blog writer for BB Barns Garden Center.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.