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Shrubs attractive in winter

Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red'
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)
Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red'.
Species or cultivar Fall and winter interest
Alnus incana ssp. rugosa Large shrub without much interest, but early blooming. Its long catkins add a touch of soft green to dull early springtime gardens. Marescent leaves and fruit. For poorly drained corners.
Amelanchier spp. Large indigenous shrub or small tree with abundant white flowers, edible blue berries resembling blueberries, showy fall colours and decorative streaked bark.
Aralia elata Few large upright prickly branches. Known as “Devil’s walking stick.” Very large compound leaves, tropical looking, can reach 45 cm. Late blooming, flowers quite spectacular in compound umbels.
Aronia melanocarpa Indigenous shrub with lovely dark glossy foliage, persistent black fruit and showy fall colours. Attractive in bloom. Under-used.
Aronia arbutifolia Similar shrub to the previous one, but with small red fruit.
Aronia prunifolia Intermediate shrub, between the two previous ones, with small purple fruit.
Berberis thunbergii and cv Japanese or Thunberg’s barberry has bright yellow flowers and clusters of persistent red fruit, as well as lovely fall colours. Spiny, however. Previously banned, many cultivars with green, yellow and purple foliage are now available.
Betula nigra FOX VALLEY™ ('Little King') Peeling salmon-coloured bark. Compact shrubby version of the black birch. Unusual.
Buxus spp. and cv Shrubs with small round, persistent leaves. Tolerate pruning well. Often used for low hedges and topiary.
Calluna vulgaris Late blooming toward the end of summer. Several cultivars with colourful foliage in winter.
Celastrus scandens Climber. Persistent orange and yellow fruit on female specimens.
Clematis tangutica Climbing plant with yellow flowers in August. Round feathery fruit, persistent in winter.
Cornus sericea Indigenous shrub, interesting for its red shoots in winter. Use in mass plantings. An essential part of any winter garden.
Cornus sericea 'Isanti' Purplish-red shoots. Compact habit.
Cornus sericea var. flaviramea Yellow shoots.
Cornus sericea 'Cardinal' Flamboyant orange-red shoots.
Cornus alba var. sibirica Coral-red shoots.
Cornus alba 'Kesselringeri' Dark red-purple shoots, almost black. For a novel touch.
Cornus alba 'Siberian Pearls' Lovely burgundy fall colour. Dark red shoots.
Cornus sericea 'Bud's Yellow' Brilliant yellow shoots. Less subject to canker than C. sericea var. flaviramea.
Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' Red shoots and pale green leaves with cream margins turning a pinkish hue in the fall. A Quebec horticultural classic.
Cornus alba IVORY HALO® Similar to the previous one but with a more compact habit.
Cornus alba 'Alleman's Compact' Dark red shoots. Compact habit. Disease resistant.
Cornus mas Another dogwood (Cornelian cherry), but with very early small yellow flowers before the leaves open and with tart, edible red berries. No red shoots here.
Cornus racemosa Another dogwood, with white fruit and contrasting red pedicels. No red shoots on this one either.
Corylus avellana 'Contorta' Hazel with corkscrew branches. Very early blooming catkin flowers.
Dirca palustris Very early yellow flowers before the leaves open. Unusual silhouette. Small compact tree, known as leatherwood because its flexible stems can literally be tied in knots.
Erica carnea Heather, or heath, is a spreading plant with persistent leaves, for acidic soils. Very early bloomer. Several cultivars with colourful winter foliage. The famous briar pipes are made with a Mediterranean species, not this one.
Enkianthus campanulatus Also a shrub suited to acidic soils. Can reach 2 m, with excellent orange-red fall colours. Pretty small flowers in pendant racemes.
Euonymus sachalinensis (E. planipes) Orange and yellow fruit. Long peduncles resembling long earrings. Lovely fall colours. Artist’s charcoal is made from a similar species.
Euonymus alatus Spindle tree with stems notable for their four corky ridges or “wings.” Unique pink-red fall colours, very uniform and constant from year to year.
Euonymus europaeus 'Aldenhamensis' European spindle tree cultivar with lovely red fall colours.
Euonymus fortunei and cvs. Spindle tree with persistent leaves. Several cultivars with variegated leaves take on a pinkish hue in the fall. Some cultivars, like 'Sunspot', 'Surespot' and 'Blondy' have striking yellow variegations. A good choice if you’re looking to brighten up dark corners and like strong contrasts.
Exochorda serratifolia 'Northern Pearls' The pearl-bush (its flower buds look like pearls) will surprise you with its pure white flowers and pretty decorative dry fruit with five ridges. Hardy cultivar.
Forsythia spp. Yellow flowers, very early in the spring. Go for cultivars with hardy flower buds, e.g. 'Northern Gold'.
Forsythia ovata 'Robusta' Remarkable dark purple fall colours. Hard to find. Unreliable bloomer.
Forsythia mandshurica Very hardy forsythia, with unique orange-red fall colours unlike any other forsythia.
Hamamelis virginiana Large rare indigenous shrub, blooms very late in the fall. Pleasant fragrance unique to witch-hazels. The last shrub to flower.
Hamamelis mollis Yellow flowers, very early in the spring. Several cultivars available.
Hamamelis japonica Yellow flowers, very early in the spring. Several cultivars available.
Hamamelis vernalis Yellow flowers, very early in the spring.
Hamamelis x intermedia Yellow flowers, very early in the spring. Several cultivars available.
Heptacodium miconioides Late-blooming white flowers, with sepals that then turn reddish very late in October. Peeling bark. Tree recently (1980) discovered in the wild in China.
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' Large round blooms. Interesting for dried flowers in the winter.
Hydrangea paniculata and cvs. Blooms in white panicles that later turn pink. Also interesting for dried flowers.
Hydrangea quercifolia Oak-leaf shaped leaves, with excellent red fall colours. Shoots with peeling bark. Not much of a bloomer in our climate.
Hydrangea petiolaris Climbing plant with aerial roots and lovely glossy foliage. Attractive peeling cinnamon-coloured bark.
Ilex glabra Holly with olive green persistent leaves. Persistent black fruit.
Ilex x meserveae Holly with dark green, glossy leaves with toothed margins. Persistent red fruit on female specimens. Perfect for Christmas.
Ilex verticillata Indigenous holly with deciduous leaves. Persistent red fruit on female specimens. Several cultivars available. Underestimated. A must for any winter garden.
Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' Zig-zag shoots that stay green in the fall and during mild winters. Yellow pompon flowers in spring and summer.
Mahonia aquifolium Persistent holly-like leaves. Often purple fall colours. Yellow flowers. Blue fruit. Plant in a protected spot.
Myrica pensylvanica Semi-persistent flowers, lovely rich green. Waxy bluish fruit (you can make candles out of them!) persisting all winter on female specimens. Remember to plant a few male specimens, too.
Pachysandra terminalis Ground cover with persistent leaves. The 'Green Sheen' cultivar is especially interesting, with its glossy foliage.
Prunus maackii Small tree or large shrub with lovely bronze-yellow, glossy, peeling bark. Very hardy. A must!
Rhododendron ‘P.J.M.’ (Lepidote, or small-leaf, group) Shrub with persistent leaves for acidic soils. Spectacular blooms in May and purple colours all winter. The 'Black Satin' and 'Thunder' cultivars are best if you are looking for intense fall and winter colours.
Rhododendron 'Nova Zembla' (Elipidote, or large-leaf, group) Large, glossy, waxy green persistent leaves with an odd texture. They fold and unfold in winter depending on the temperature. Spectacular fuchsia pink, almost red, blooms in June.
Rhododendron maximum A large elepidote (large-leaf) rhododendron, late blooming in July.
Rhus typhina Striking fall colours. Tips of branches covered in fine down. Persistent red fruit in panicles. Invasive species.
Rhus glabra 'Laciniata' Similar to the previous one, but leaves have highly serrated margins and twigs are hairless. Exceptional fall colours.
Robinia 'Twisty Baby' Compact habit, for a locust (3 m). Branches very twisty.
Rosa spp. (shrub forms) Choose species and cultivars that are interesting for their persistent fruit or their thorns.
Rubus cockburnianus Bramble with chalky white new stems.
Salix alba 'Britzensis' ('Chermesina') Willow with coral-coloured new shoots. May be grown as a small tree.
Salix matsudana 'Golden Curls' Willow with twisty yellow shoots.
Salix 'Scarlet Curls' Willow with dark orange shoots in winter, and twisty branches.
Salix 'Curly Locks' Weeping habit. Twisty branches.
Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys' Willow with black catkins. Odd looking.
Salix sachalinensis 'Sekka' Willow with fasciated twigs.
Salix chaenomeloides Willow with very large white catkins early in the spring and red buds in the fall and winter.
Salix caprea The pussy willow used by florists.
Salix discolour Indigenous willow with catkins similar to the previous one.
Symphoricarpos spp. Persistent white or pink fruit, depending on the species.
Viburnum cassinoides Lovely fall colours. Glossy leaves.
Viburnum dilatatum Persistent red fruit.
Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur' Glossy leaves turning a lovely burgundy in the fall.
Viburnum trilobum Persistent red fruit. Lovely red fall colours.
Vinca minor Ground cover with persistent leaves.
Yucca filamentosa Long, persistent, leathery, lanceolate leaves, with threads on the leaf margins.
Yucca glauca Long, persistent, leathery, lanceolate leaves. Even hardier than the previous one. Develops a small trunk with time.


Based on an article by Robert Mineau in Quatre-Temps magazine, Vol. 26, No.4.

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