Monday, February 3, 2014

Turn a Winter Landscape into a Winter Scene

Guest blog from Jenn Stumer, Appalachian Creations Inc.

As I drive through the Lehigh Valley every winter I am continually amazed at how dramatically evergreens stand out in the stark winter landscape.  Then my eye is drawn to other plants offering winter interest.  It’s like all of a sudden I am seeing them for the first time.  The vivid evergreens and attractive deciduous plants are providing a winter scene for my enjoyment.  I’ve put together a discussion of how including these types of plants can do that for your winter landscape.

While evergreen shrubs and conifer trees undeniably add visual interest to winter landscapes, many other plants can add value to winter landscapes.  A winning plant for winter landscapes will have one or more of the following characteristics: 

  • Bears evergreen foliage 
  • Readily catches snow in its branches 
  • Contains colorful berries (that attract birds) 
  • Has bark that is colorful or that has an unusual texture 
  • Has an interesting branching pattern 

Conifers (cone-bearing) encompass the majority of evergreen trees seen towering in the landscape and standing out amidst the deciduous trees along roadsides and in forests.  The wispy kelly-green of White Pine, the subtle hunter green of Norway Spruce and Douglas Fir, the graceful lilt of Canadian Hemlock, the brilliant slate-blue of the majestic Colorado Blue Spruce are just a few of them.  All bear evergreen foliage and all are truly an amazing sight laden with snow.

Winterberry Holly is a popular native holly shrub that actually loses its leaves in the winter.  All the attention is drawn to the plant's display of red berries, with no foliage to obstruct the view. China and Blue Holly also sport red berries but have the added bonus of their pointed, glossy leaves as a backdrop.

And even I have to admit that Yews can have their place in the winter landscape.  I tend to prefer the Repandens Yew (also known as the Dwarf English Yew) because of its adaptability to shade or sun and the tendency to weep gracefully rather than grow upright.  Plus the bright red berries show up in the fall and last through winter (or until the birds eat them).  

But let’s not forget those rarely seen gems like the Red Twig Dogwood.  Actually a shrub, the Red Twig’s maximum height reaches 6-10’.  Their stems are only visible once they are bereft of foliage and are an eye-catching fiery red against a backdrop of crystal white snow.

Two examples of deciduous shrubs with characteristics for winter interest are the Winged Euonymus (also known as the Burning Bush) and the Japanese Barberry.  The stems of the Winged Euonymus have a “wing” or flap of bark running along their edges that can catch and hold snow.  The Japanese Barberry develops oval red berries that can last well into the winter.

Perhaps one of the best unusual texture trees has to be the Birch.  The Paper Birch and the River Birch are both well-known for their shedding bark.  Not only is the bark interesting on these trees but the clump form (having 2 or more trunks) lends to an interesting branching habit.  Some other intriguing branching habits include pendula (weeping) and contorted (twisted).  White Pine, Norway Spruce, Alaskan Cypress and Blue Atlas Cedar are a few examples of evergreens that can be found in pendula forms while the most popular deciduous is the Weeping Cherry.   Lavender Redbud and Walking Stick are examples of a contorted form.  All can promise distinctive interest in a winter landscape.

Incorporating color, texture and intrigue into a planned “man-made” landscape is absolutely a must and can end up being quite striking.  Mother Nature does it for us all the time.  The trees and shrubs mentioned here are just a few examples of plantings that can turn any drab winter landscape into an unforgettable winter scene.


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