by Val Engel
This time of year, the bare bones of our gardens become more apparent than ever. We see the shape and texture of walkways, edging, and walls; evergreens, the silhouettes of ornamental grasses and perennial seedheads, the subtle changes of color and habit of bare branches. All of these are vital architectural elements to keep in mind when designing a winter garden. The real stars against this wintry backdrop however are the blooming shrubs and trees that brighten our landscape and our spirits. Camellias are the staple winter-bloomers in the South, but did you know there are many other trees and shrubs that bloom in winter? Here is a list of some of our favorites:
Viburnum bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’ (Pink Dawn Viburnum)
Pink Dawn Viburnum is a gorgeous shrub that is much under-used in the landscape in our opinion. In mid-winter it bears fragrant pale pink flowers on bare branches, but it can also have a second bloom at the end of summer. The dark green, leathery leaves hold onto branches much longer than most other shrubs, and turn a deep burgundy color in December. Soon after the leaves drop, it will begin to bloom. In the fall, it produces blue berries. This is a very ornamental shrub, beautiful in all seasons. At maturity it reaches 8-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide. For partial to full sun.
Daphne odora (Winter Daphne)
This is a real star in the winter garden! In late winter, intoxicatingly fragrant pink flowers open on evergreen branches. Cultivars like ‘Aureomarginata’ display green leaves edged with yellow, and are stunning alone even without flowers. A relatively fussy plant, it needs light shade and very well-drained soil; don’t move it after it is established. It does not take pruning well, so only prune out dead branches as needed. ‘Aureomarginata’ reaches about 24” x 24” at maturity. ‘Marginata’ reaches 5’x5’.
Learn more about Winter Daphne in our additional article here.
Hamamelis x intermedia (Witch Hazel)
While most other trees are lying still dormant and bare, Witch Hazel bursts forth its magnificent yellow flowers, lightly scented spicy-sweet, on bare branches.This tree is native to the western regions of our state, where you can find it covering whole hillsides with it golden color in January.
In the landscape, it is most ornamentally significant in winter and is stunning planted in masses or as an accent against a backdrop of evergreens. This small tree is multi-stemmed, with oval green leaves of average texture, and benefits from being balanced by plants of coarser texture. At maturity it reaches about 15 feet tall and wide. For sun or shade.
Corylopsis pauciflora (Buttercup Winterhazel)
This multi-stemmed shrub features fragrant butter-yellow flowers that hang from bare branches in later winter/early spring. The heart shaped leaves, green in summer, turn an excellent yellow color in fall. At maturity it reaches about 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Larger species of Corylopsis like C. sinensis and C. spicata bloom slightly later. For sun or partial shade.
Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine)
In late winter, this low growing shrub is covered in scentless yellow blooms, which emerge from burgundy colored buds, along bare branches. Winter Jasmine’s weeping habit and mounded form make it perfect atop walls or as a stabilizer for slopes. In summer, the leaves are green; its greatest ornamental value is in late winter during blooming. At maturity Winter Jasmine reaches 4 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry Dogwood)
This tree makes a bright display with its yellow blooms in late winter. Its exfoliating brown bark gives it additional ornamental interest at this time of year. In summer and fall, it produces red berries. Leaves are dark green but there is no significant fall color. At maturity, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood reaches 15-20 feet tall, depending on the cultivar.
Learn more about Cornelian Cherry in our additional article here.
Sarcococca spp. (Sweet Box)
There are many different species of Sweet Box, all of which bloom in fall or winter, but our favorite is the dwarf sweet box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis), a low-growing evergreen shrub that only reaches about 12 to 18” high. In late winter, it bears deeply fragrant white flowers. The evergreen leaves are deep green and make an attractive groundcover all times of year. In early summer, it produces an abundance of black berries. For shade or partial shade.
Learn more about Dwarf Sweet box in our additional article here.
Daphne mezereum (February daphne)
February Daphne is a small multi-stemmed deciduous shrub that puts on a stunning show of very fragrant lilac-colored blooms on bare branches in late winter. In mid- to late summer it produces red berries. Foliage is blue-green in summer. It does not develop any significant fall color. Like Winter Daphne, it is fussy about it’s placement and needs very well drained soil and light shade. At maturity it reaches about 4 feet tall and wide.