Field notes: Add winter interest to your landscape

Advising homeowners on tree and shrub selection is one of my favorite services.

I always start with a series of questions to learn what the homeowner's interests are. Most often they will ask for suggestions that offer spring flowers or good fall color.

While these are important seasons to add interest to the landscape they are very short lived. Considering that the flowers or fall color on most woody plants last less than a week I always include winter interest as an important consideration.

It is understandable why most people overlook the winter aesthetics of their landscape because most homeowners spend little time in their yard during the winter months.

There are, however, areas in every landscape that are highly visible during the winter. With this in mind, there are key locations to place plants to provide winter interest.


Areas I consider first are locations that are viewed from living areas within the home. Views from a living room, dining room and kitchen are important to consider. Front entries of homes can also be a priority for with plants with nice winter interest.

When helping a homeowner select location for key plants, I commonly place a stake in the yard and ask them to view it from indoors. This enables them to move the stake and maximize visual benefit from inside the home as well as from outside.

Trees and shrubs can offer many types of winter interest. Here are a few characteristics to consider and some of example of plants for each:

Fruit can add bright colors against a backdrop of white snow, as well as attracting birds for additional interest. Plants to consider are crabapples, eastern wahoo, viburnum, winterberry, cranberry cotoneaster, snowberry, black alder and mountain ash.

Stems can offer interesting textures, colors and forms. Consider red and yellow twig dogwoods, winged euonymus (burning bush), pagoda dogwood, gray dogwood, blue beech, birches, aspen, Kentucky coffeetree, contorted hazelnut, corkscrew willow and larch.

Foliage of evergreens flocked with snow or frost is always a treat to view on a winter day. Evergreens also make a nice backdrop for colorful fruit or stems. Some old favorites and less common evergreens include spruce, arborvitae, juniper, yew, fraser fir, concolor (white) fir, balsam fir, white pine, Swiss stone pine, Canada hemlock, winter creeper, meserve holly and boxwood.

Even though the planting season is over, winter is a great time to start thinking about how to improve your landscape views from inside your home. A quick web search for the plants mentioned here should help generate landscaping ideas for next spring.

Most of these plants can also be found on Plant Finder at . This is a great time to contact a landscape designer or consulting arborist for advice as well.


Doug Courneya is owner of Courneya Horticulture Services. Doug has bachelor's and master's degrees in horticulture and is a certified arborist with more than 25 years of experience. Send plant and garden questions to or email Doug directly at

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