Farm Horizons, December 2014
Tips on planning a winter garden
By Christine Schlueter, McLeod County Master Gardener
Winter gardens are something one has to plan for. If you want your garden to look good in the winter, as well as during the summer, you have to incorporate structure.
Structure is very important to the winter garden. Since the flowers are several inches under snow, the structures of gardens and larger plants will make it interesting to look at.
One way to give structure is to lay out paths between planting beds. One thing you must keep in mind is how to keep these paths clear of snow. Use materials that lay flat; for easy winter shoveling or snowblowing. If you plan to snowblow your paths in the winter, you will also need to make certain that the paving material will not come loose and get caught in the auger of the snowblower. Paths need to be flat and secure. If you decide to use the lawn grass for the path, you can just snowblow over it.
Some other items you could use would be concrete, gravel, or brick pavers. Be sure to use a shovel for removing any leftover snow.
You could also use tree and shrub plantings to add depth and interest. The shrubs and trees will show above the snow, and provide beauty as the snow falls. Place them where they will accent your gardens.
Do not crowd them in one area, but don’t place randomly either. Always allow room for them to grow. Shrubbery works well as a backdrop, or to add height to the planting. When you choose shrubs or trees, look for winter colors. Favorites are the red-twigged dogwood and Redmond Lindens. The red is a wonderful contrast to the white snow. Other interesting trees include birch, and tall, weeping, spreading, or rounded shapes.
Consider using evergreens in a variety of colors to add extra dimension. Look for dwarf varieties for those you want in, or around your flower beds.
Another easy thing to add some structure to the winter garden is garden accessories. These can be endless, with all the choices out there. Garden benches, statues, fountains, and bird feeders and baths will definitely add the touch you need.
Here again, you need some type of plan. Vary heights and shapes that are pleasing to the eye. Do not just plop items here and there. A tall obelisk would not look good on one end, with a short, rounded object in the middle of your garden.
Place taller items in the middle, or symmetrical with the two ends. Or, group like-shaped objects in groups. The best way to achieve a balance is to use odd numbers, just like when you plant. Perhaps a group of three rounded types, or five long, tall, and narrow trellises for places where vines can grow.
Garden lighting is another really underused asset in winter landscaping it could be electric or solar. Sometimes solar lighting will not work every day, depending on the amount of sunshine.
You will be amazed at how good lighting looks in your gardens or yards during the winter. The snow glows in the evening, and the actual light structure will be a place for snow to land and form interesting shapes in the garden.
Ornamental grasses left uncut are a vital part of the winter landscape in any garden. In addition to the color and texture, taller ornamental grasses add movement to the winter garden.
Fruits and berries also add color. Crab apples and bittersweet and viburnum would be examples of those plantings with fruit.
Retaining walls can be decorative in the winter landscape, even if they are not dusted with snow. The key is to select colors or textures that will will show in the snow.
Don’t forget the perennials, such as cone flowers and hydrangeas. Leave those up and do not cut them back. The flower remains in the dried form, and when the snow lands on them, they will look like a winter wonderland.
Start to think of items you would like to add as you are looking out at that winter landscape, jot them down, and start checking all those new garden catalogs that are arriving in the mail. Look at landscaping books at your local library and online. Garden magazines are also another wonderful resource for ideas.