10 Great Winter Plants

by Ben Bowen
A "bag tree" grows in Brooklyn.

A "bag tree" grows in Brooklyn.

When I lived in Brooklyn I had a favorite winter plant- the "bag tree".

You have probably never heard of this variety, which is ok, since I made it up. In the winter, with all the leaves off the trees, you could see all the garbage that had blown up into the branches and become stuck there. For the most part, it was plastic bags. Some large trees had what looked like a dozen or more plastic bags in them. And sadly, in the winter in that part of Brooklyn, that was the most interesting plant around!

Back home in Portland, Oregon we have so many more appealing plants to enjoy.

Even once all the leaves have dropped, grasses have been cut back, annuals have died and perennials are dormant there are still a plethora (What does plethora mean?) of fantastic plants. And if you have incorporated these into your landscape design you will be very happy you did!

Ten Awesome Winter Plants

Snowberry. When the leaves drop you are left with slender branches holding groupings of big white berries. I don't love these in summer, so group them towards the back of a bed of perennials. They will brighten up the area when you need it most!

Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine. This dwarf conifer is one of my favorite plants period. What makes it a winter star? The foliage turns bright yellow, very unusual for a conifer!

Coral Bark Japanese Maple. Another year-round wonder. The beautiful bark of this mid-sized maple can be spotted from a mile. Once the leaves fall you will be glad you chose a tree that looks like more than a bunch of sticks.

Hydrangea. Speaking of a bunch of sticks... that's what you get if you cut these back in the fall. But if you leave the flower heads they stay all winter, looking like your grandma's dried flowers- which in your front yard is kind of cool.

Snakebark Maple. The bark is the appeal here too, much like the Coral Bark Maple. The Snakebark may be even more striking and is certainly less common.

BeautyberryBrings characteristics similar to the Snowberry- but in a form that is more attractive year-round. Clusters of small purple berries will stick through most of the winter.

Plume Cedar. This soft, almost bushy, conifer turns a beautiful (and unusual) bronze in the winter. Make sure to get "Elegans", or you might not see the winter color you desire.

Witch Hazel. Large shrub or small tree with a layered, spreading habit. Ribbon-like flowers show on the branches from late fall through winter.

Winter Daphne. One of my favorite foundation plants, it looks good year-round. But late winter is when it earns it's spot in our landscape designs. Fragrant blooms cover the Winter Daphne, letting you know that spring is coming.

Feather Reed Grass. Yes, they die back during a typical PNW winter. But don't cut them back too soon. The blades and flowers will stay upright, even when dormant. If we get snow or ice it will cling to the plant- beautiful. Just cut them back in February, before new growth starts.

Hellebore. This perennial is shade loving (rare enough) but also blooms late winter (very rare). So brighten up the darkest parts of your garden during the darkest days of the year with this great choice.

These ten should give your winter garden a boost. Now you just need some Portland area nurseries to buy them from!

Have more suggestions? Comments are open below!


More Winter Plant Suggestions:


Snoweberry via Plantlust

Snoweberry via Plantlust

Chief Joseph Pine

Chief Joseph Pine

Plume Cedar via PlantLust

Plume Cedar via PlantLust

Hellebore Flowers via Sunshine Farm

Hellebore Flowers via Sunshine Farm