With some well chosen winter plants, the colder months will not be seen as a period of dormancy in the garden, but rather a season when new plants, shrubs and trees can take centre stage. Whether you want to fill gaps in the garden borders, create a winter garden bed, or a container garden by the door to welcome visitors, there are many plants with winter interest.
As well as flowers and bright berries, the beauty of bark and vibrantly coloured stems can create dynamic effects as the bare structure of the garden is revealed.
The following winter interest plants and trees are guaranteed to keep your outdoor space looking great throughout the cold season.
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14 plants for winter interest
Sorbus are deciduous trees with berries in white, pink, yellow, orange, red and blue. They have small spring flowers and some have vibrant autumn colour. They do best in full sun or dappled shade in fertile, well-drained soil. Plant in a prominent position and underplant with early-flowering hellebores or bulbs, such as crocus.
Holly is a great evergreen choice for a winter interest plant, with red, yellow or orange berries. Plant in spring or autumn in well-drained, slightly acidic soil in full sun, though they will grow well in part shade. They make lovely topiary specimens in containers of winter plants, or in a border.
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Mahonia is useful for scented floral colour in winter plants and has attractive evergreen pinnate leaves. Good in well-drained or moist soils in shade or part-shade. Cut back after flowering to keep a manageable size. It provides a good backdrop to all other winter interest plants.
Daphne may be slow-growing and quite expensive, but is worth it for its highly scented blooms. Place this winter interest plant in a sheltered spot by a path to enjoy the fragrance close up. Daphnes need moist, well-drained neutral to slightly alkaline soil.
5. Chimonanthus Praecox
Chimonanthus Praecox is a deciduous shrub with pendulous yellow blooms. Plant in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil in a protected spot where you can enjoy the perfume of this winter plant. Bring a few sprays inside as it looks wonderful in arrangements.
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Callicarpa is a shrub grown for the jewel-like purple berries that cluster on its stems throughout autumn and winter. Does well in sun or dappled shade in most fertile soils. Cut back in spring to encourage berries. Works well with ornamental grasses and late season perennials for winter interest.
7. Viburnum Tinus
Viburnum Tinus has white flowers emerging from pink buds from December to April. Suits full sun or part shade in moderately fertile, well-drained moist soil or plant in containers and use to brighten a corner.
8. Prunus Serrula
Prunus Serrula has eye-catching bark that peels away in bands as the tree ages. Group in a small copse or as a specimen tree and underplant with cyclamen and snowdrops for a pretty effect of winter plants. Grow in moist, well-drained soil in sun or part shade.
9. Cornus 'Midwinter Fire'
Cornus 'Midwinter Fire' is a dwarf variety dogwood and does best in rich, slightly damp soil in full sun for the best colour. Plant this winter plant en masse, as an informal hedge and underplant with snowdrops. Coppicing hard in early spring ensures good coloured stems.
Hellebores prefer a sheltered position in semi-shade; they do well planted under deciduous trees. They tolerate most soils, but do best in rich, moist, free-draining soil or in raised beds so you can admire the nodding flowers more easily.
11. Hamamelis (Witch Hazel)
Hamamelis (witch hazel) are deciduous shrubs with spider-like velvety flowers in golds, oranges and reds, which last around five weeks and can withstand frost. Plant these winter interest plants where you can get close to enjoy the scent. Witch hazel grows best in neutral to slightly acid free-draining soil in an open, sunny position.
12. Skimmia Japonica 'Fragrans'
Skimmia Japonica 'Fragrans' is a compact evergreen shrub that is ideal for containers of winter plants, or a shady spot such as a woodland bed or border. They need fertile, moist, well-drained humus-rich soil. These plants are easy to care for and require little pruning. Attractive buds open to flowers in early spring.
Salix, or willow, can be grown as a multi-stemmed pollarded shrub. This winter interest plant is fast-growing in moist, well-drained soil in sun or part shade.
14. Eucalyptus pauciflora
Eucalyptus pauciflora is an evergreen snow gum with bark that flakes attractively to pink, cream, grey and green patches. Grow for winter interest in well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered spot.
Winning winter plant combinations
Try some of these combinations of plants with winter interest for a strong impact:
- Tangles of ghost brambles with vertical punctuation from prunus trunks, waving ornamental grasses and sweet-scented daphne
- Fringings of copper-toned Bergenia 'Sunningdale' under spidery witch hazels, accompanied by wafting pampas grass, contrasted with architectural small phormiums
- Soft pink heather underplanting small copses of silver birch
- Mass plantings of dogwoods
- The power of monochrome - white-barked birches underplanted with inky black mondo grass and white snowdrops