When most of us think of the winter season, we envision cold mornings, gray skies, frosted lawns, and bare branches. However, if you spend some time walking through the neighborhood when the weather is pleasant enough, you will see plants displaying pops of color for pollinators and people alike to enjoy.
We’re here to keep your spirits up and encourage you to look out for those cold season garden gems. You may find something that brings a smile to your face, and that your garden can’t be without.
Low-growing plants like hellebores and heather can be found in shades of pink, maroon, or white underneath or in between larger plants.
Shrubs like camellia, witch hazel, fragrant sweetbox, and daphne are fabulous blooming shrubs that stand out in the winter garden with either their colorful blooms or sweet fragrance. Learn more about our winter-blooming favorites below:
Consistent durability, year-round leaves, long-lasting bright flowers – few plants match the appeal of heaths and heathers. The difference between the various sorts of heathers and heaths are important to plant geeks and botanists, but most gardeners simply refer to the entire category broadly as “heathers”.
While all varieties are wonderful additions to the landscape, of particular value are the winter-blooming heaths. Low shrubs or groundcovers, they offer dense blooms of small bell-shaped flowers in colors ranging from white to light pink to bright magenta. The flowering period of the winter heaths is particularly long: about four months, with individual varieties blooming November to March, December to April, or January to May.
Plant winter heaths in full or nearly full sun, in well-drained soil. Most prefer at least occasional summer water. Size can vary – some are quite low and rather slow-spreading, but many often reach 2-3 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide; and a rare few, the “tree heathers”, are more upright shrubs exceeding 4 feet in both height and spread.
In late winter we need some inspiration to make it through the days and weeks to spring. Just after the start of the New Year, Sweet Box shrubs open tiny white flowers, their strong sweet scent filling the air. Glossy evergreen leaves hide most of the flowers, and people not already acquainted with these winter delights look around, puzzled by the fragrance drifting through the almost freezing air without more dramatic visible blooms.
There are several varieties of Sweet Box available:
Tall Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) is the earliest to bloom by a couple of weeks; it is an arching upright shrub to 4-5 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide, and the flowers are followed by red berries.
The groundcover form, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, reaches 1 to 3 ft. tall and slowly spreads to 3 ft. wide or more, with berries of black.
A new release, Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Fragrant Valley’, is an improved form of the lower type, with a shorter and more consistent habit (18 inches tall by 3 feet wide), a faster growth rate, and slightly smaller and denser leaves making for a nice full look.
The flowering period is usually 4 to 5 weeks. Berries for all types are not usually listed as poisonous, but are not recommended for consumption; in fact, even most birds ignore them and they persist after flowering long into the spring. All forms of Sweet Box need partial or full shade and pretty good drainage – they are one of the better landscaping options for deep shade.
The Winter Daphne is a sensational performer in the landscape because of its clusters of lovely scented flowers that bloom in late winter to early spring. Daphne odora, also known as Winter Daphne, varies in leaf color from bold green to variegated yellow-green but all varieties have a distinctive scent.
Winter Daphne grows best in part sun to dappled sun, preferring morning sun and afternoon shade. If daphnes are planted where there is too much afternoon sun, the leaves can burn. Provide well-draining soil that stays moderately moist through the summer; amend the soil with lime to create a neutral pH for best performance.
WINTER PROTECTION TIPS
Plants with thick, succulent broad-leaf evergreen foliage are most susceptible to damage. Flowering plants that mature their flower buds over the winter, such as rhododendrons, can also take damage to the flowers during severe cold events, even if the foliage is hardy. New, young plants are also more tender; provide protection with a mulch and lightweight row cover material, or use heavier material as a windbreak to reduce dehydration
Here is a partial list of plants that are worth giving some protection:
Star Jasmine Vine
Sarcococca, Fragrant Sweetbox
Bay Laurel (Sweet Bay)
Phormium, New Zealand Flax
Some Salvia, Hyssop