3 Great Plants for Winter Color in the Virginia Landscape

Winter and I have a challenging relationship. I don’t love the way business slows down for a few months, I’m not a fan of the fact that it causes my construction jobs to take longer, and let’s be honest – I’m not a fan of being cold and wet. Winter in this industry often leads to lots of both.

On the other hand, I love the holidays and the time with family. I also like snow (when it doesn’t hang around too long). Having a wife who’s a college professor means that even at age 36, I get the thrill of watching the morning news to see if we’re getting a snow day.

I also enjoy the way that some plants take winter as an opportunity to step out of the shadows and strut their stuff. Here are three of my favorites:

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

I won’t lie, this deciduous holly elicits a big ol’ “meh” from me most of the year. Once the berries are out and the leaves drop, however, I’m a huge fan

Beautyberry (Callicarpa)

Callicarpa is a useful plant because it provides nice massing, it tolerates some pretty miserable site conditions (including shade and wet feet), and the deer tend to ignore it. Early winter is its go-time, though. When the leaves fall, we’re left with huge clusters of vibrant purple berries. This one’s become a standby for me.


Wait, you cut yours back in the fall? Aw, come on! Grasses (like the miscanthus above) can take on a magical quality when tipped with frost or frozen rain. They’re also a nice way of getting movement and height in the winter. Let them be till spring, they’ll be fine!

What works for you in the winter landscape?



    December 5, 2011 REPLY

    Wish my Ilex looked like the one in this image. The birds eat all my berries even before the leaves drop! But I do have another couple of winter favorites: Redosier Dogwood (also a North American native). Its red twigs stand out spectacularly especially in contrast with snow. The other shrub I love in our landscape in winter especially is our dwarf Hinoki Cypress. So green and lush when everything else is dormant.

      December 5, 2011 REPLY

      Marty – I took that Ilex photo two days before Snowpocalypse hit. Trust me, the berries were all gone a week later. I love the other two plants you mentioned. I use the heck out of Hinoki Cypress and I’ve come around to the dogwood too.

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