Color for Your Winter Garden

by Michelle Wallace

Tired of the way your landscape looks in the winter after the fall leaves have dropped?  Are you already waiting for spring to bring new life into your garden?  There is no need to wait.  You can achieve year round color in your garden without stringing up 10,000 Christmas lights.

There are some plants that bloom in the winter, but color can also be achieved by including berry producing plants, plants with beautifully colored bark, and exceptional evergreen foliage.  By including a few plants of each type, instead of dreaming for spring you will look forward to seeing and experiencing your winter garden.

If you do want your garden to bloom, Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ blooms in December with bright red single petals and bright yellow stamens.  This is an evergreen shrub that grows to be approximately 8’ tall and 6’ wide.  Camellias in general prefer moist well drained soil, are acid loving, and prefer partial shade.


Another spectacular winter color plant is Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’.  Sparkleberries are deciduous hollies.  Most of the year sparkleberries go unnoticed in the garden.  They are multi-stemmed shrubs that reach a height and width of approximately 6’ to 10’ when fully grown.  The leaves are olive green and the shrub forms an oval shape.  But when the leaves drop, thousands of red berries are displayed producing a really amazing winter display of color.  Deciduous hollies do require both a male and female plant in order to set fruit, Ilex verticillata ‘Apollo’ is the recommended male mate.  Ilex verticillata species naturally grow in wet swampy areas and will grow well in moist heavy clay acidic soils in full sun to partial shade (Manual of Woody Plants by Michael Dirr).


Several woody trees and shrubs exhibit colorful stems and bark that go unnoticed most of the year.  Cornus sericea ‘Isanti’ (Redosier Dogwood) is a primarily cultivated for its winter look.  When naked of leaves it’s stems are bright red.  This plant, unlike the Florida dogwood, is a shrub with a spreading habit.  It grows to be about 6’ tall and thrives in moist soils.  Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ (yellow twig dogwood) has a similar habit to the redosier dogwood but has yellow twigs.


Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ (Golden Mop falsecypress) is one of those evergreen shrubs that exhibits beautiful foliage year round.  This plant has a pyramidal habit, drooping yellow string – like foliage that grows to be about 6’ tall and 4’ wide when fully grown.  Golden Mop likes full sun and moist well drained soil.


The key to making your winter garden colorful and lively is to make sure you have a variety of different plants that exhibit different features. Plants whose characteristics change over the course of a year also increase our anticipation for when the changing event occurs.  By adding just a few plants to you garden you will begin to look forward to seeing and experiencing your winter garden.

If you have questions about gardening, landscape diseases, and pests contact our Master Gardener Volunteers at 919-560-0528 or

photos from NCSU websites except Sparkleberry holly, from the National Arboretum