Add Color into Winter Gardens

Colorado is often pictured as a snow covered winter wonderland.  Although our mountains may have snow from October to May,  the Front Range often sees extended cold and dry conditions.  Here dry means a drab grey landscape in a sea of brown grass.

To beat the blahs,  look to these bright beauties for a winter pop of color.

acer senkaki – Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ (its Japanese name means “Coral Tower”, formerly Acer ‘senkaki’), is one of the coral bark maples and is one of our favourite Japanese maples since it gives interest and beauty in all seasons of the year. The attractive bright coral-red of the young branches is particularly visible during winter and early spring.

Salix alba ‘Britzensis’

Plants to consider are bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), including the ‘Midwinter Fire’ and ‘Winter Beauty’ cultivated varieties; redosier dogwood (C. sericea); and yellowtwig dogwood (C. s. ‘Budd’s Yellow’), which has yellowish stems. Another option is coral embers willow (Salix alba ‘Britzensis’). These plants can be planted separately or mixed together, for a tapestry of winter color.

Regular pruning in late winter before new growth resumes keeps these plants vibrant. For the dogwoods, cut about a third of the oldest stems back to the ground to encourage new, more colorful stems. It is best to cut coral willow stems completely to the ground each year.

Evergreen doesn’t mean “ever the same.” Make use of the evergreen shrubs that are often forgotten. These include Boxwood (Buxus spp.), Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.), Broom (Cytisus spp.), Euonymus (Euonymus spp.),Firethorn (Pyracantha spp.), and Yucca (Yucca spp.).

emember that many perennials have evergreen foliage (although “evergreen” in some cases can mean more red or purple than green). These include Hardy yellow iceplant (Delosperma nubigenum), Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), Pine-leaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius), Fleeceflower (Polygonum affine), Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus), Stonecrop (Sedum spurium), and Partridge feather (Tanacetum densum). The following images reflect thoughtful plant choices that provide a variety of color and textures.

The shiny red-brown bark of Manchurian cherry (Prunus maackii)

Amur chokecherry,

pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Colorful fruit:

  • American cranberrybush viburnum, Compact American cranberrybush viburnum
  • Staghorn sumac and smooth sumac
  • Barberries
  • Winterberry (cvs. include ‘Red Sprite’, ‘Shaver’, ‘Afterglow’, ‘Aurantiaca’, ‘Winter Red’)
  • Crabapples (‘Donald Wyman’, ‘Red Jewel’ ‘Sugartyme’, ‘Red Splendor’, ‘Indian Magic’, ‘Ann E.’, ‘Adams’, ‘Firebird’)

Colorful stems:

  • Red stemmed dogwood (‘Cardinal’, ‘Ruby’, ‘Baileyi’, ‘Sibirica’)
  • ‘Elegantissima’ redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’)
  • Yellow stemmed dogwood (‘Bud’s Yellow’, ‘Silver and Gold’)
  • Flame willow (Salix ‘Flame’)
  • Coral bark willow (Salix alba ‘Britzensis’)

Shiny bark:

  • Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii)
  • China Snow lilac (Syringa pekinensis ‘China Snow’)

Peeling bark:

  • River birch
  • Three flowered maple (Acer triflorum)
  • ‘Snowflake’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’)

Seed heads:

  • Coneflowers
  • Sedums
  • Martagon lilies
  • Balloon flower
  • Hydrangeas
  • Japanese tree lilac
  • Grasses – Miscanthus (‘Purpurescens’, ‘Silver Feather’, ‘Malepartus’, ‘Gracillus’)
  • Asters (Aster spp. and cvs.), Z 4–8
  • Bee balms (Monarda spp. and cvs.), Z 4–9
  • Burnets (Sanguisorba spp. and cvs.), Z 3–8
  • Coneflowers (Rudbeckia spp. and cvs.), Z 3–9
  • Goldenrods (Solidago spp. and cvs.), Z 5–9
  • Mountain fleece (Persicaria amplexicaulis), Z 5–8
  • Orpines (Sedum telephium and cvs.), Z 4–9
  • Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea and cvs.), Z 3–9
  • Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Z 4–8
  • Yellow wax-bells (Kirengeshoma palmata), Z 5–8

Branching habit:

  • Pagoda dogwood
  • Sumacs
  • Japanese tree lilac
  • Amur maple
  • Burning bush (Euonymus alatus)


  • ‘Emerald Gaiety’ wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’)

Plants that provide structure

  • Autumn snakeroots (Actaea simplex and cvs.; formerly Cimicifuga simplex), Zones 4–8
  • Culver’s root (Veronicastum virginicum), Z 3–8
  • Jerusalem sages (Phlomis spp. and cvs.), Z 4–10
  • Joe Pye weeds (Eupatorium purpureum and E. maculatum and cvs.), Z 3–9
  • Meadow rues (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium and cvs.), Z 5–9
  • Miss Willmott’s ghost (Eryngium giganteum), Z 5–8
  • Queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), Z 3–9
  • Sages (Salvia nemorosa and cvs.), Z 5–9 (after a cutback and a second crop of flowers)
  • Sea lavender (Limonium latifolium), Z 4–9
  • Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’


Plants with a distinct winter shape

20. Eulalia grasses (Miscanthus sinensis cvs.), Z 4–9*
21. Feather grasses (Stipa spp. and cvs.), Z 7–10
22. Feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis acutiflora and cvs.), Z 5–9
23. Fountain grasses (Pennisetum alopecuroides and cvs.), Z 6–9
24. Prairie dropseeds (Sporobolus heterolepsis), Z 3–9*
25. Purple moor grasses (Molinia caerulea and cvs.), Z 5–9*
26. Switch grasses (Panicum virgatum and cvs.), Z 5–9*
27. Tufted hair grasses (Deschampsia cespitosa and cvs.), Z 5–9*

*Denotes a grass that turns a distinctive color in autumn or early winter.

An amateur gardener who loves to watch the garden grow.

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