Plants for winter interest

Interesting Winter Plants for Colorado.

Winter lasts a good four to five months in the high plains of Colorado.  So you can imagine that a garden’s looks in winter are as important as summer’s.  Unfortunately I’ve tended to forget all about winter when choosing my plants during the growing season.  Then come January I’m berating myself for not having better forethought in choosing plants whose interest won’t fade with the falling leaves.

I took an inventory of my plants while the snow covered most of the hardscape I’ve focused on in the last few years.

The stand outs in Winter are as follows:

Oregon Grape Holly — Mahonia aquifolium

Although is growth is irregular and my neighbor hates the volunteers that spring up each year, I can’t resist its glossy deep chocolately red foliage in winter.  The holly will grow in either sun or shade and doesn’t need any additional irrigation.  This is great for the areas of my yard I don’t have irrigated.

Click on the picture to see the lovely detail of the leaves.

Even in the shade, the leaf color in winter is striking.

The leaves will turn brown if exposed to dry winter winds, so those in a more protected location look best.

I’ve read the holly doesn’t do well in alkaline soils but have yet to see issues in my alkaline clay.  The alkalinity can cause iron chlorosis.

The mahonia’s berries are edible and bluish-black in color.  I’ve yet to taste the berries.

Globe Blue Spruce – Picea pungens ‘Globosa’

I can never say enough good things about the Globe Blue Spruce.  It color is striking in summer and winter, and its shape is a nice round habit that appears neat and tidy.  The slow growing shrub is the centerpiece of my garden.   In winter the color is more muted, and I have often thought it was ailing only to have its perky blue appear the following spring.

Of note, clear off heavy snows to avoid branch breakage.



For Consideration

To create a nice winter scene more evergreens and a nice set of red-twig dogwoods could add life to the back garden in winter.

I began this search with a very nice looking plant called a Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ but found that this plant need acidic soils, and would suffer from iron chlorosis if planted in alkaline soils.  So this is definitely not a plant for Colorado soils.

So back to alkaline tolerant upright shrubs that have  a nice shape that will work well with the picea glauca already planted.

Below are two junipers that could fit the bill for upright plants.



1. Medora Juniper

Information courtesy of Picadilly Nursery

Juniperus scopulorum ‘Medora’

Height: 10 feet

Spread: 3 feet

Sunlight: full sun

Hardiness Zone: 3 – 7

Other Names: Colorado Redcedar


A compact upright, pyramidal evergreen shrub with soft textured blue needle-like foliage all season long and showy blue berries, excellent for difficult landscape and garden situations, makes a great tall evergreen hedge in full sun.

The one shown in the picture looks to have been shaped with pruners to give a more formal look.

2. Skyrocket Juniper

Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’

Height: 15 feet

Spread: 24 inches

Sunlight: full

Hardiness Zone: 3 –

Other Names: Colorado Redcedar


An extremely narrow, rigid tall evergreen shrub, with soft blue-green needle-like foliage all season long. Drought tolerant and adaptable to varied soils.  Good for Colorado soils.  Often used as vertical accent plant.


The height of this plant should be considered in smaller areas.


3. Red Twig Dogwood

Cornus stolonifera

This plant can easily be propagated from cuttings.  I have been driving around to see what plants I might borrow a few stems from and have my eye on a couple.  I will create another post if I decide to do propagate instead of purchasing.

My inspiration:


An amateur gardener who loves to watch the garden grow.