Great Landscape Plants For Winter Color and Interest

Many landscapes might be beautiful in Spring, Summer, and Fall but be lacking in color and interest in the Winter time. Winter color can be addressed in the planning stages of your Landscape Design, or by adding some plants that are selected specifically for their Winter color or structural interest.

Miscanthus ornamental grass

Ornamental grasses

Winter color in the landscape can come from foliage color, berries, and a few blooms. Just because it’s Winter doesn’t mean we can’t have color. And structural interest can come from the bark on the trees and shrubs, leaf shape, the shape and structure of limbs, twigs and overall shape of the plants.

Depending on where you live in the United States, you may or may not be able to use these plants, this is not an all-inclusive list, but just a means of getting your mind working to generate some landscaping ideas and help you find some plants with Winter color and structural interest to liven up your landscape for the Winter.

You may need help in deciding what plant to place where in your landscape. Reading the labels on each plant will help with that, based on their size of mature growth and horticulture habits. If you need more help, there are some great books available to help you in Landscape Design.


Plants With Winter Color


Winterberry is a deciduous Holly, that grows in  zones 3-9, 6-8′, it has white blooms in June-July, and grows best in full sun to part shade.

When people think of Holly, they usually think of a green leafed NON-Deciduous plant (keeps its leaves) shrub with pointed leaves that will stick you if you touch it. First, not ALL Holly have pointed leaves, and not ALL Holly are NON-Deciduous.

Winterberry, a great plant for Winter Color

Winterberry Holly, a deciduous Holly with bright red berries

This beautiful shrub is all the more showy because its lack of winter leaves, its berry display is the money in this shrub.  After the leaves have turned yellow and have fallen off, you are left with a breathtaking view of thousands of brightly colored berries clinging to every stem.  What a joy to have such color in the middle of winter.

This variety from Proven Winners is  “Ilex verticillata” it has a great geographical range, growing from Michigan in the North, all the way down to Florida, and West to the Western parts of Missouri. It also grows well in low areas, wet areas or wetlands. If you are looking for a smaller plant, ‘Red Sprite’ is a fantastic low mounded selection that matures at 3 to 5 feet. It has attractive, clean, dark green foliage, and tight branching right down to the ground. This plant makes a great low hedge or mass planting.

For those looking for something a bit different, try ‘Winter Gold’. This is yellow-berried

Ilex verticillata Winter Gold

Winter Gold Holly Ilex verticillata

variety of ‘Winter Red’.  The berries are not really gold, but instead and attractive pinkish-orange that lighten up with age. The name is a bit misleading since the berries aren’t exactly “gold”.

With these two varieties of the same plant you have two different colors to add to the Winter Color of your landscaping.

It’s important to remember that when you are adding a certain plant for a certain purpose, in our case we are trying to add Winter Color to the landscape, don’t over use any one plant. These are the types of plants that you would want to use for a splash of Winter Color, and not use them as a foundation planting with 4, 5 or even 8 in a row against the house.

A better use for a plant like this would be to use it in an isolated area away from the house. Or in a spot in the landscape that requires one plant, because of the spacing or placement of other shrubs next to it, you need one plant to fill a spot. This is a great place to add something like the Winterberry Holly.

Witchhazel is a plant that will grow to the areas of zone 5 and grows 20 to 30 feet tall with a slightly narrower spread. It grows in full sun to part shade but blooms best in full sun.

Winter Color for your landscape, witchhazel

Yellow and Orange Witchhazel

Flowers: Bright yellow flowers bloom along the old wood.

Bloom Time: Late winter – February into March

Foliage: Green in the summer turning bright yellow in the fall

It is available in yellow and orange blooming varieties. This is another plant that should be used sparingly for accents of Winter Color in your landscape. These types of plants look best with used by themselves, or in a grouping of 2-3 off to themselves in their own landscape bed, or on the edge of the property, maybe in a bed on the corner of the property to help mark and designate your property lines.

Coral Bark Japanese Maple

The coral bark Japanese maple is a great plant for winter color, mainly for its bark color.  The previous year’s growth is a bright red color in the winter.  So the effect is that the branch tips are a bright red while the older stems are duller.   As with all colored stem, the closer the plant is to the house the brighter its color will appear.

Winter Color of Japanese Maple - Coral Bark

Coral Bark Japanese Maple Winter twig color

This is another great plant for Winter Color that you might not think of. Most homeowners are usually thinking about blooms for color. This is a great example of color, combined with a structural interest in a single plant. In this case a tree.

The Japanese Maple family makes up a great group of interesting plants for your landscape, most of them for their foliage color, stem color or shape in the Weeping Japanese Maple. It is also one of the few non-purple leafed Japanese Maples as it has green leaves in the Summer. This alone makes this variety of Japanese Maple interesting.

This tree should be pruned in late winter or in the spring.  This is so you don’t cut off the colorful part of the stem with summer or fall pruning.  The Coral Bark Japanese Maple is hardy in zone 5-8 and growths to 15 to 20 feet tall and wide.

Arctic Fire Red Twig Dogwood

Another great plant (tree) that will have red colored twigs or branches in the Winter is Red Twig Dogwood. This one shown is the Arctic Fire variety. This one grows in a smaller

Arctic Fire Red Twig Dogwood for Winter Color in the Landscape

Arctic Fire Red Twig Dogwood

clump type growth growing 3 to 4 feet tall and has green leaves during Spring and Summer. Its showiness and Winter Color comes from its stem color. Since it grows sort of low and wide it looks more like a large shrub than a tree.

The Artic Fire variety that is shown, needs pruning regularly to keep it cleaned up and kept from getting too unruly, even though it will only get around 3 or 4 feet tall. Again, when pruning, don’t cut it back in late Fall too much because you’ll cut off all of the red colored twigs which is what we are after for the winter color. It is a fast growing shrub that can be used in combination with several others for a border plant along a property line. They look impressive when bunched together to form a hedge along a border.

Pink Dawn Viburnum

A showy shrub that will bloom in late Winter to early Spring, depending on where you are located. It has beautiful pink/white blooms, and will grow 6′ tall and spread 8′ wide. The height and width growth habits on any plant are all subject to exactly where it’s planted.

Winter Blooming Pink Dawn Viburnum

Pink Dawn Viburnum, Winter Color with its blooms

One plant may reach this height and width if planted in its perfect cultural conditions on one landscape, when planted in another landscape with different conditions it may only reach half that height. This is a common theme with any plant. Just because the horticulture information on a tag says that a plant will reach 10′ tall, doesn’t mean it’s going to every time. What determines the ultimate height and width of a plant will be determined by it’s location planted, the zone it’s planted in, and your own pruning practices. When the tag says it will be 10′ tall, that is assuming it is planted in a perfect condition for that plant or shrub, and it never gets pruned. There are several boxwoods that are kept at 3′ tall as a foundation planting that have cultural tags on them saying they will reach 10′ tall.

Mahonia Underway Holly

This variety of Holly is planted for it’s unusual looking leaves and bloom color. This one will have yellow blooms with leaves similar to the Mahonia Beliegh and will bloom from

Winter Blooming Color from Mahonia Underway

Mahonia Underway, great plant for Winter Color

January through March. It can grow 6 to 9′ high and wide, but again, your results may vary according to the location its planted in. They are grown for their attractive foliage and fragrant, showy winter flowers. They provide an invaluable source of pollen and nectar for winter colonies of bumblebees and other pollinators.

This variety is a compact mahonia with an upright habit. It’s bright yellow, fragrant flowers are produced in late autumn, earlier than other mahonias, followed by blue-black berries.

Mahonia x media ‘Underway’ looks particularly good at the back of borders. For best results grow in moist but well-drained soil, in partial shade.

Burning Bush “Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus”

Burning bush is a great plant for Winter Color in late Fall to early Winter. It’s foliage is a deep green through the year, then as the cooler weather comes the foliage starts turning red. Depending on where it is growing and the conditions, exposure to sun, etc. it will turn

Burning bush for winter color through it's foliage.

Burning Bush for Winter Color through foliage

a very bright red color. Another bonus you get from Burning Bush is the shape and interest of the limbs when the foliage drops. The stalks that grow out of the base have an interesting shape with a raised “fin’ on the sides of it. This plant looks stunning in the snow when snow sticks to the plant and highlights the structure of the shrub.

It can grow 6 to 8′ tall and looks great planted by itself or planted in rows on a border of the property or a favorite is to use groups of 3 in a  triangle  as a property marker or as a principal plant along both sides of a driveway. It grows best in full sun, but will grow in some shade.

You can buy 10″ tall bare root Burning Bush here. They will be small, but they grow very fast. If you have more patience than money, get these and grow your own!

Mount Airy Fothergilla

Mount Airy Fothergilla is a deciduous shrub with deep blue-green leaves has attractive fall color. Honey-scented, brush-like flowers appear before the leaves. It is a beautiful addition to shrub borders or for background in semi-shaded borders. It looks good planted in combination with Burning Bush. Get them here

Fothergilla gives white blooms for Winter Color

Mount Airy Fothergilla

This is another plant that shouldn’t be used right along the house as a foundation planting. It is deciduous, and will grow rather large, 5 – 6′ tall and wide, although it is a slow grower. The Winter Color from this plant will be in late Winter when it flowers before the foliage comes on. It has curly white flowers that are very interesting.

Fothergilla also has a very showy fall foliage. It will turn from green to yellow, burgandy as the cold weather comes in. This plant is

Fothergilla in Fall, foliage provides early Winter color

Fothergilla in the Fall

one of those that gives us some bonus benefits through foliage, bloom and stem interest.

There are only a handful of plants, trees, perennials that will give you the trifecta of landscape benefits. Fothergilla is one of them. It is also a plant that will take over the space it’s planted in, so it’s best planted off to by itself on the edge of the planting, or as a border, or part of a multi-layer border or landscaping where it doesn’t have to be the anchor plant. It is best used as a special plant to add a burst of color, interest and a change of pace from the usual round green shrubs.

Globe Blue Spruce

Is a great “focal point” plant to use as a showy piece in a landscape. It could be placed as a focal point next to a doorway, step, or by itself in a cove or indented brick area along the house. It is a slow growing plant but is also a hybrid, so it will need a little “special” care.

Globe Blue Spruce, winter color from foliage

Globe Blue Spruce for Winter color from foliage

To keep the globe shape it will require a bit of pruning through the year. A pair of hand pruners is the best tool for this, You will selectively cut just a little growth off of the longest of stems.

This plant is hardy down to 50 below, so it will grow in most areas of the US. This variety is grown from the Colorado Blue Spruce, which grows to 50′ tall or more. This hybrid will only be around 3′ tall. Cold weather won’t hurt it, but it will have trouble growing South of the Transition Zone.

This is another shrub/tree that is meant to be a focal point and be planted alone. It isn’t one that would make sense to be planted in a row or grouping. Besides, the cost of these would probably deter most of us from planting more than one.

Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses provide a few different benefits for the landscape. Winter color is provided by the colorful foliage of some varieties. The shape and flowing nature of the tall foliage provides some movement and a different texture to the landscape. It’s good to

Ornamental grass for winter color

Miscanthus Purpurascen a purple fountain grass

have as many contrasting colors, textures, and plant structure as you can in the space you have to work with. If you only have the front of a small house to landscape, you won’t be able to fit many varieties of plants in to start with, so your plant selection will be limited and possibly, more important to get the most bang for your buck with each plant selected. Available Here

The maintenance for most ornamental grasses is fairly simple, just let it grow through the year, then in Spring take your hedge clippers and cut the whole thing down to 6″ to 2′ tall, depending on the variety of the plant. They are easy enough to prune that even a set of battery powered electric hedge clippers will cut them back.

Flame Grass Miscanthus purpurascen

“Flame Grass” will grow 4 to 5′ tall and 3′ to 4′ wide, it grows in zones 5 through 9. It has green foliage that starts to turn reddish pink as the Summer turns to Fall, the white plumes appear in Fall and stay through the Winter for a nice show of Winter color. With the pink/reddish foliage coupled with the white plumes this plant is another of the trifecta plants that gives your landscape more than just one benefit. The tall, thin, flowing grass givs movement to the landscape as a bonus to the colors.

This one works great in a triangle spacing in certain spots in the landscape. A good use is for bordering, screens, or in a water themed landscape.

There are hundreds of varieties of ornamental grasses, each with similar habits that can be used for Winter color, flowing movements in the landscape, and interesting structure. These are some favorites

Pampas Grass

One of the taller of the ornamental grasses. It has one of the coarsest stalks of the larger grasses also. It can grow to 6′ tall with flower plumes extending a few feet up past that. It will spread up to 6′ also, so placement is critical when deciding where to put it.

Pampas Grass

Pampas Grass

This is one of the more common grasses planted in landscapes, especially when homeowners are planting themselves. It has a common name that most people know, so when they go to a Nursery they see this and recognize it and buy it. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you want to be a little different. Step outside the box in your landscape design and choose something a little more showy, and different.

Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly Grass is a variety of ornamental grass that has a great Winter color for the landscape. It’s flower plumes are pinkish to red and very showy. Available Here

Pink Muhly Grass for winter color

Pink Muhly Grass

The grouping in the picture to the right is a great way to plant this ornamental grass. It’s height can reach 10′ tall with the plume, so they will need to be planted somewhere that they don’t block your view of your property from your house, (your personal view) but because of that height, they make a great plant to use as screen block, to specifically block someone else’s view of your property, (the public view) to give you some privacy on your deck or swimming pool.

Switchgrass for Fall and Winter Color in the landscape

Panicum Switchgrass

The ornamental grass to the right is Panicum Switchgrass. It is another ornamental grass that has a different look in it’s leaf color and the flowers it has. It also has been used in research for using it to make biofuels. Extensive studies have been done to determine if there is a value for the biofuel market.

For landscapes, just like the other ornamental grasses, it’s value is it’s color, shape, size, motion and interesting structure.

This selection of plants to provide Winter color is just a small sample of what is available. Simply go to Google, and search for Winter blooming plants, or plants with Winter color, and you will get enough suggestions to keep you busy through the rest of this season.

Planning ahead is one of the keys to a successful landscape, so don’t expect to rush out and buy a plant now and plant it for a beautiful plant this year. But, get your plan drawn out this Winter, then next Spring put it into action and start planting some of these in great spots. It will take some thought on your part to find a great spot for each plant. One plant may work in one spot where some of the others would not.

Get started and have confidence, you can do it. For more information on Landscape design drop by our Landscape Design Page on our website.