Winter Interest Shrubs & Grasses Add Cheer to Zone 5 Gardens
Mid-winter in Maine leads many gardeners to dream of spring while looking out at a somber landscape. But cold temperatures don’t have to mean a lackluster yard. There are plenty of opportunities for Mainers to integrate color and interest in their winter gardens. Many shrubs, trees, and grasses take Maine winters in stride, putting on a show of blooms, bright stems, and colorful accents through freeze, frost, and snow cover. Here are a few of our favorites.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a must for Northeast gardens. When blooms are a distant memory, winterberry puts out bright red holly-like berries that brighten up the fall view. This deciduous plant loses its leaves in late fall, but the burst of berries sticks around long after the raking is over. Plant both male and female to ensure fruit; plant in spring or fall.
Arctic Fire Dogwood
Plant this multitalented shrub in your garden, and let it surprise you when it drops its leaves to reveal branches of fireball red. An excellent eye-catcher for a snow-covered and otherwise dormant garden, the fiery twigs of the Arctic fire dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) produce berries in the winter months (for which birds will thank you) and white blooms in the spring. Plant in full or partial sun in spring or summer.
A popular deciduous shrub, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) provides bloom-deprived Mainers with bright orange, red, and chartreuse foliage that announce the fall season. Flowers embellish the late fall with blooms that unfurl during the day and provide a lovely fragrance. Choose from diverse color options ranging from yellow to red depending on the cultivar, and reserve a spot in your backyard that will accommodate its 15 to 20-foot height.
Those looking to add a splash of bright golden color to the winter landscape will do well to include a False Cypress (Cupressaceae) in their garden. This shrub forms a shaggy mound of thread-like foliage that brightens up many a green-dominated yard. There are several hundred cultivars, variants, and related species, including those with Zone 5 hardiness. “Golden Mops” are a colorful choice that will fit a more compact space.
Those seeking winter interest will enjoy adding grasses to their garden to provide stature and movement throughout the harshest winters. Look to Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) to broaden your color palette. Container gardeners love this grass for summer, perhaps forgetting that it thrives in Zone 5. The dark purple leaves provide contrast and deliver fall berries to boot. Color lovers should also give Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata) a try to accent a small space garden. Its tips redden as it matures, providing blood red color by fall. Reaching 12-18” tall and spreading 24-35” wide, varieties are available that are hardy in Zone 5.