Five Great Winter Shrubs

Many homeowners don’t even want to look outside in the dreary days of winter, but with some imagination and good plant choices, the view from the window can be transformed into one of colour even in the depths of winter.  The choices listed below are just a sample of what can be used to extend the season in the garden:

  1. Witch hazel (Hamamelis sp.): These shrubs are a versatile and attractive addition to any winter planting. Ranging between 6 and 15 feet in height and spread they can be planted in full sun to part shade in a woodland bed or as a specimen plant in a shrub border.  The plants flower on bare wood with colours ranging from yellow to dark red depending the variety.  Autumn leaf colour is also strong with colours ranging from burnt copper to yellow.  The Virginia witch hazel (H. virginiana) has 6” leaves which turn yellow in autumn and bears small yellow flowers in autumn.  The fragrance of some of the varieties is also delightful. Varieties include:
  • Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’: This has dark copper red flowers in mid-late winter, with autumn leaf colour ranging from red to yellow/orange.
  • Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’: This has large copper orange flowers in mid-late winter with autumn leaf colour ranging from orange to red.
  • Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’: This has large yellow flowers in mid-late winter with autumn leaf colour ranging from yellow to deep orange.
  1. Winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei cultivars): These evergreen shrubs have a broad range of colour in their leaves that could satisfy most palettes. They grow best in full sun although they tolerate shade, and can be trained to cover walls and shady stumps although the possibility of winter burn does exist depending on the severity of the winter winds and the plants exposure to this. Their height ranges from 24” to 15’ depending on the use chosen.  Varieties include:
  • Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’: This is a compact form that can reach 3’. It has bright green leaves that have white margins.  These can become tinged with pink in cold winter climates.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  • Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n Gold’: This bushy shrub has green leaves with broad gold margins that can also turn pink in winter.                     
  • Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’: This upright and bushy shrub can reach 8’ if used as a shrub or up to 20’ as a climbing plant. It has dark green leaves with white margins.   
  1. Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata cultivars): These shrubs can also become small trees if left alone to grow. They have small white flowers in mid spring which turn into bright red fruit, often lasting into the following spring.  Varieties include:
  • Ilex verticillata ‘Nana syn. ‘Red Sprite’: A female shrub that produces many bright red large fruits. This form can reach 4’.                                                              
  • Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’: This is another female form that has long lasting vibrant red berries and can reach up to 8’.                                              
  1. Blood twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea cultivars): These upright, deciduous shrubs are stunning in the depths of winter. The shoots turn vibrant red by autumn and bear white flowers in summer.  They can grow up to 10’ and have round blue/black fruit.  Varieties include:
  • Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’: This bears orange-yellow shoots tipped with red in winter. Grows 5-6’ tall.                                                                   
  1. Red Osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera cultivars): These are vigorous shrubs that like to sucker and have dark red shoots in winter. They tolerate wet soils and can reach up to 6’.  The ‘Osier’ in the name reflects the close similarity of the branches to the Osier willow.  A great effect can be achieved by combining the blood twig and yellow twig dogwoods in either a shrub border or as a hedge.  Varieties include:
  • Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ (Yellow twig dogwood): Reaching up to 6’ this plant bears white flowers in early summer. The stems are a vibrant yellow green and this plant grows well in full sun or part shade.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • Cornus stolonifera ‘Kelseyi’ syn. ‘Nana’: This is a dwarf variety reaching just over 2’. The winter shoots are yellow-green but have red tips.