We become accustomed to the bright, bold growth and blooms we enjoy from early spring until late fall in Central Texas. In the warm-weather garden, color, texture and form typically compete for the spotlight for up to 8 months a year.
Winter gives rise to another tale. While relatively short-lived, the void left as the perennial season comes to an end often means a bare, stark garden throughout winter.
With planning and preparation, you can breathe life into your cold-season landscape. Color, texture and form also have a place in the winter garden, and it’s easy to add year-round interest.
First and foremost, a balance of both evergreen and perennial plants remains key to a four-season garden. As colorful perennials wane, foundation plantings take the stage. Evergreen doesn’t always have to mean green. Mix up your deciduous plants with burgundy, gray, and variegated leaves to provide continual contrast. Then, vary your shades of green and leaf forms and textures such as fuzzy grey Jerusalem sage, waxy hunter green holly, or delicious Twist of Lime abelia shrubs.
Striking sculptural plants provide drama any time of year. Consider including bold focal points such as agaves, yuccas, grasses and trees with weeping forms, intricate intertwining branches or beautiful bark.
Sculptural agave Parryi, bright edge yucca, and big muhly grass are all worthy of a special spot in the garden. In winter, the interesting trunks and branches of Crape Myrtles and native persimmons are only outdone by their striking bark. The bright, bold colors and magical branches of Japanese maples shine year-round. My favorite harbinger of spring is Japanese flowering quince. In either a shrub or tree form, its gnarly, thorny branches stand out in the garden through the winter, until the blooms emerge at the first sign of spring. Only after blooming is complete will it develop delicate leaves for the warmer season.
Resist pruning most dormant plants until spring. As they transform from verdant green to hues of wheat and gray, think of these branches, leaves, and seed heads as attractive contrasts in the depths of winter.
Uncut grasses like feathergrass, gulf muhly and miscanthus offer texture, movement and a soothing gentle rustle in the landscape. The broad array of seedpods shapes also brings contrast and dancing echoes on the wind.
Retaining dormant plants in the garden also provides essential food and habitat for wildlife. Birds, bunnies and other animals need shelter from predators and survive the winter on nature’s buffet of nuts, berries, foliage, fruits, sap and seeds. Even bees, butterflies, frogs and toads overwinter under dormant ground cover and leaves.
I don’t know anyone who isn’t moved by the brilliant red seeds of yaupon or Possumhaw holly berries, or the vibrant fuchsia berries of American beautyberry in the dead of winter. Planting coral berry, juniper, sumac, wax myrtle, viburnum, native Texas persimmon and fruit trees in your landscape will provide attractive winter interest and will support wildlife. Another winter favorite of mine, frostweed, is just fun to watch in winter. This hardy, large-leafed plant grows in partial or full shade and can grow up to 4 feet tall. Like most wildflowers, it’s tough. Mine grows naturally in the wooded area of our property. Clusters of white flowers at the end of summer attract pollinators, but the show comes after the first freeze. The stems burst and make magical ice sculptures. Like shimmering, silky white taffy pulls, it’s one of those great garden moments — at least for geeks like me.
Don’t forget to water in winter. While many plants are dormant, their roots continue to grow through winter, building strength for the growing season to come. Periodic winter watering is key to a strong spring if we don’t get rain.
Garden art and pottery offer another fun way to add color to the cold garden. Bold ceramic pots, one as a focal point or a trio, can draw the eye. They provide interesting texture and form, with or without plants. Water features bring music to the outdoors, when winter’s quiet sets in. They also serve as a key source of water for wildlife in winter. Sculptures, driftwood, seating arrangements can all perk up your landscape when the perennials have passed.
Fall is the perfect time to assess your garden and install plants for winter interest if you need more balance in your landscape.
Even as warm-weather plants fade, and the subtle greys of winter take over, with forethought and creative planning, your winter garden can be delightful.
Kirbyprovides landscaping tips and writes a gardening blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.