top of page
  • Cathy Rees

Color - Are you kidding?

Here I am writing about color in the winter garden! While there is no hope of competing with summer blossoms during the dormant winter season, there ways of incorporating color into your leafless landscape.

Stimulate your visual cortex and your imagination with unexpected color that changes with the winter light or a shade that resonates with adjacent hues of bare twigs, amber grasses or red berries. Because the purpose for colorful foliage and flowers does not apply in the winter – there are many fewer insects to attract for pollination and plants are dormant so do not need green leaves for photosynthesis - winter colors are generally muted. Why should our northern plants waste energy if there will be no reward?

Green is the perhaps the first color you think of in winter. Sure, you can plant conifers that remain green all year, and maybe some rhododendrons. If you are thinking of evergreen rhododendrons for winter enjoyment and you live in the far north like I do, be aware that the evergreen leaves tend to curl over and droop in the coldest weather. A sad-looking evergreen rhodo can be worse than a deciduous cousin or nothing at all. The PJM rhododendrons which have smaller leaves, also curl inward and turn a shade of purple or mahogany in the cold. These darker colors can be great accents in the winter garden. My suggestion would be if you want these selections in your garden, put them in the distance where you won’t be bothered by their droopy leaves, but can still benefit from their winter color.

And to go with the green, red is the next most abundant color. Many varieties of the red-twig dogwood, silky dogwood and large-leaved dogwood all share beautiful red stems when young bark is visible in the winter after leaves fall.

It is often suggested that for best winter color that you shear your dogwoods to the ground late spring to send up fresh, vibrant red shoots in the spring. Here in the far north, shearing every year may or may not work for you. I would recommend that you wait several years after planting to begin cutting to the ground, and then cut only 1/3 to ½ of the stems and see how your plants are responding. If regrowth is vigorous in early summer, you may be able to cut the whole plant back, but a schedule of shearing every other or every third year may be enough to keep your plants vigorous and vibrant. Also, be aware of the dogwood sawfly, the larvae of which can defoliate your shrubs to a larger or lesser degree in mid-summer. While this usually does not kill the plant, it can weaken it by limiting the amount of carbohydrate it can store and draw on for complete regrowth the following summer.

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page