Winter is a beautiful and exciting time, full of celebrations, hot cocoa, and snowball fights. With that said, your backyard can begin to feel a little drab and bleak, especially if you’re used to all the color from summer and the beautiful fall foliage. So, how can you brighten up your winter landscape with low-maintenance, winter-hardy plants?
There’s no need to think of winter as a lifeless time in the garden. In fact, winter is the perfect opportunity to display a few berry bushes that will add texture, depth, and color to your yard. Learn all the details on each plant to determine which winter shrubs fit best with your needs!
Also known as American cranberry or Viburnum opulus var. americana, the highbush cranberry boasts bright red berries. A sprinkling of snow glistens beautifully on the plant, with graceful bare branches and vibrant berries from summer through winter. The shrub grows about 4 to 12 feet in height and width with white blooms in late spring and maple-like colorful foliage in fall for year-round beauty.
The plant is hardy in zones 2 to 7 and tolerates full sun to partial shade. When it comes to care, keep the soil moist with a pH of 6.8 to 7.2. This bush is also noted for attracting wildlife, such as birds. Rich in vitamin C, the fruits are tart and best enjoyed after a frost, making a delicious addition to jams.
Note: Viburnum opulus var. americana is a native species, but you may also find the invasive European species commonly sold under the name Viburnum opulus var. opulus, which is toxic. The name Viburnum trilobum can refer to both plants, though it typically refers to the native species.
The difference between the two is easiest to spot when looking at the glands at the tip of the leaf stalk: the invasive species has glands that are typically shorter than wide, oval-elliptic, and concave.
The spindle tree, or Euonymus europaeus, is a spindly, deciduous shrub or small tree that grows wider and rounder as it matures. Dry, shaded areas and well-drained loamy soil work best for this shrub. Keep soil moist when planted in full sun. The plant will survive full shade but it won’t show off its beautiful fall colors.
This plant is an elegant addition to your yard, featuring sweet little yellow-green flowers in the spring. It also has large green leaves that turn into a rich burgundy in the fall. In late fall and early winter, you’ll notice bright pink and red capsules that slowly open to reveal vibrant orange seeds.
Remember that no parts of this shrub is for eating! The berries from spindle trees are toxic when consumed in large quantities. Also, the plant labelled invasive in some areas because of its ability to spread quickly.
Skimmia japonica, commonly known as Japanese skimmia, is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. It is best planted in full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil. This shrub blooms creamy white flowers in April and has small crimson red berries in fall and winter.
Japanese skimmia is perfect planted as hedging along a fence line or driveway as it adds greenery and privacy during the warmer seasons and pretty fruit during the cooler months. In winter, the dark red berries will pop against the evergreen foliage. Do not ingest the flowers, leaves, or fruit on this plant because they are poisonous.
Known as the American beautyberry, Callicarpa Bodinieri can reach 9 feet in height, featuring lengthy arching branches and warm yellow fall foliage. This plant also features white and pink blooms throughout the spring and summer, meaning it offers plenty of color year-round. Still, it is most favored for its iridescent purple berries that form eye-catching clusters in fall and winter.
Plant this shrub in partial shade and keep soil moist. The arching shape is perfect to fill in space beneath trees. You can either prune it back to 12 inches from the base each winter to encourage compact growth or allow it to grow into a tall woody shrub. Beautyberry foliage is loved by deer while the berries are particularly appealing to birds.
Checkerberry bushes, or Gaultheria procumbens, are rather small, growing only about half a foot in height. Because of this, the shrub is best planted as groundcover. The plant features glossy, large dark green leaves and petite, bell-shaped white flowers from June to July.
By fall, the leaves adopt a dark purple shade that persist through winter. In winter, the shrub grows bright red, round berries that pop against the dark purple backdrop and add interest to container gardens and as groundcover around the base of trees. Plant checkerberry shrubs in well-drained, moist soil and partial to full shade. The edible berries are also attractive to wildlife such as dear and squirrels.
Juniperus communis, or the common Juniper, is a shrub or small tree that grows anywhere from 4 inches to 50 feet in height. The plant’s seed cones are often referred to as “juniper berries” since they look similar to rounded, dark blue berries. They are commonly used in gin and to season a number of winter dishes.
The dark green needle-like leaves flatter the rounded shape and dark color of the “berries.” This creates a woods-y and welcoming feel. Plant in containers around your patio or in well-drained soil and a sunny location in your backyard. Also, planting with other colorful berry-producing winter shrubs, such as the highbush cranberry, will really make the colors pop.
There’s no greater sight than snow glistening atop brightly colored berries, especially when paired with unique pine trees and winter-hardy plants. Fortunately, each of these winter shrubs are low-maintenance, so you don’t have to work very hard to enjoy their beauty!
Do you know of any winter shrubs with colorful berries? Share in the comments below!