Certain shrubs, trees offer year-round interest

by How Does Your Garden Grow? By Sharon Daniels

Dwarf boxwood is an enduring consideration for landscaping or hedging, as are the shrubs and trees we treasure for welcome spring blooms: forsythia, Weigela, spirea, some viburnums, lilac.

However, this past year, like many of you, I was indoors day after day and often leaned on a windowsill taking critical note of my surroundings. In the dull winter months, I especially yearned for something interesting, perhaps something colorful, to look at.

I thought often of a local garden spot which is planted with native Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata). Its leaves are green, like many hollies, but in winter this deciduous shrub drops them to display brilliant red berries. Winterberry requires both female and male plants to produce fruits on the female, but one male can pollinate several females. A popular male is ‘Southern Gentleman.’

There are other choices for year-round landscape interest:

- Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus sanguínea), a multi-stemmed suckering plant which can grow six to 10 feet tall and wide, brightens cold gray days. Its dense root system also makes it a good choice for stabilizing a hillside or stream bank. A few of these shrubs would be especially dramatic if planted with a background of green conifers or evergreen hollies.

- If red isn’t your favorite color, this plant also comes in yellow.

- Mahonia leaves look like holly but are larger and lack prickly edges. The winter interest in this native shrub is in tight clusters of yellow flowers which give way to berries. Flowers on my four Mahonias appeared in snow and are packed right now with clusters of purple berries beloved by birds.

- Evergreen leaves of Winter Daphne are enhanced in late winter by highly fragrant blooms in white and purplish-pink.

- Abelia’s summer foliage is golden-yellow but it turns to bright shades of red and orange in winter.

- Some varieties of Sasanqua Camellia bloom from mid- to late winter and into mid-spring.

If winter color is not a particular consideration, use plants as a landscape design. Italian Cypress, an upright evergreen conifer, may look lonely if only one tree is set in place, but plant them in a row, regularly spaced, and the planting becomes an interesting landscape feature. Italian Cypress is a classic slender tree.

In addition, rows of Italian Cypress could be striking as a property boundary or to mask a utilitarian chain-link fence. Space several Red-twig Dogwoods, or others of your choice, in front of or between slender Italian Cypress trees for enhanced winter interest and color.

Sharon Daniels is a Virginia Cooperative Extension

Master Gardener volunteer.