A winter landscape at first might appear dreary, with an often-monochromatic color palette of varying shades of gray with only an occasional bit of green showing through. However, this doesn't have to be the case. A well-designed winter landscape can boast red pyracantha berries or barberries, bright crabapples or holly berries in the middle of winter. Red or yellow stems of dogwood can be as attractive as the bushes themselves in the height of bloom. Winter blues can be incorporated using various junipers, spruces and other evergreens. Even native willow stems may range from yellow to orange for added winter color interest.
Beyond potential color in the winter landscape are the interesting plant shapes that are available. Curly filberts or weeping cherries can provide structural interest in a leafless landscape. Evergreen trees continue to contribute to winter beauty in an otherwise dormant yard.
Ornamental grasses are worthy winter interest plants with their leaves, flower stalks and seedpods standing erect or waving and rustling in the breeze. This additional factor of wind-driven sounds or movement is an added attraction. Grasses may grow close to the ground or tower 12 feet. And, they can grow to every size and shape in between. In winter, dried ornamental grasses offer texture, form and color to draw the eye when other plants die back to the ground.
Beyond the living components of the landscape, the hardscape and fixed structural elements can be extremely attractive winter features. Pathways, stairs, planter beds, trellises, arbors, decks, patios and boulders can be constructed or placed with off-season aesthetics in mind. Yard art such as sculptures are obvious winter interest possibilities.
Wander through your winter landscape and examine it from a design perspective. What catches your eye? What softens the empty beds of the season? What says to you, "Look at me; I'm lovely at this time of year?" In my yard l love the spent yarrow stems, even though they are merely sandy colored and dry now. The boulders stand out with their plant neighbors resting and gone until spring. The iron gate my husband made creates a beautiful entry even without summer's glamorous roses surrounding it. The slate-like meandering path is no longer hidden under the penstemons and the stones are able to show off their rambling pattern. The cedars will be quite lovely soon with a gentle flocking of snow.
So banish the winter drearies and make your landscape one that appeals all year long.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.