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Holly, cranberry bushes add colorful seasonal contrast to landscape
Holly can provide year-round interest and aesthetic wonder with its colorful, bright berries.

Winter does not have to equate to a dreary garden devoid of excitement. There are many types of berry-bearing shrubs, woody plants and winter flowers to brighten the landscape.

The color and bark of these winter plants can become a focal point throughout the cooler months.

Berry-bearing shrubs

Nothing can compare to the vibrant color of red berries during the winter, especially around the holiday season. The American holly (Ilex) shrub can brighten up the winter landscape when the trees are bare and lawns are colorless.

This evergreen can be quite stunning in the winter months when most plants have gone dormant. Holly can provide year-round interest and aesthetic wonder with its colorful, bright berries.

Although there are not an abundance of colorful plants able to withstand cold winters, the holly is considered to be one. Remember, that most berry producing plants will need a male and female for pollination.

Other hardy berry-bearing beauties exist as well. The American cranberry bush (a type of viburnum) sports red berries as well. It can grow to a height of 12 feet. It also has seasonal beauty with clusters of small, white flowers in the spring.

Another shrub, the arrowwood viburnum, has bluish-black berries and contrasts wonderfully with all of the red berry shrubs like winterberry and Hawthorne shrubs. Both the winterberry and Hawthorne plants are a wonderful addition to a winter garden with their bright red berries.

Firethorn pyracantha can be trained up a wall, fence or trellis and produces masses of bright orange berries. Pair close to an evergreen tree to create an appealing vertical accent in the winter landscape.

Don’t forget that most of these shrubs are prized by our feathered friends, so if you love having birds in your yard, these shrubs do attract plenty. And birds are naturally attracted to red.

Ground covers

If you are looking for a colorful winter ground cover, cranberry cotoneaster is a good choice and it will only grow to about 3 feet. The Cotoneaster explodes with red berries and will display tiny pink flowers in the spring.

Trees and bark

A variety of crabapple and Hawthorne plants are beautiful small trees in their own right that provide decorative winter fruit. Also, many evergreen conifers provide winter fruits in the form of shapely cones.

Woody plants, with their stems covered in thick bark, provide pops of color as well. The paperbark maple has an attractive bark that looks like peeling paper. In the winter, this tree turns an orange-brown and provides a stunning contrast against a snow-covered ground.

Japanes kerria is another beautiful plant that retains colorful bark in the winter. The striking yellow and green branches are a perfect addition to variety and shape in the landscape. Kerrias have an interesting branching pattern shooting vertically and horizontally which creates a shapely focal point.

One of my favorite winter plants is the red twig dogwood. This plant loses its leaves in the fall and leaves upright red branches that are beautifully contrasted against any kind of evergreen tree such as arborvitae or cryptomeria on a snowy winter day.


Winter flowers that bloom during the off season can add interest as well. The Lenten rose can have many different colors of blooms ranging from white to pink to purple or a beautiful mixing of the different hues together.

This hardy evergreen is a staple in the Southern winter landscape, and it will bloom until early spring. Winter irises, with their eye-popping purple blooms, are also a good addition.

Plant the lovely camellia japonicas and sasanquas for a show that starts in the fall and continues well into February with white, pink and red flowers.

Bring the beauty indoors and decorate your home throughout the holidays with evergreen, holly branches and colorful twigs full of berries. Almost everyone has a nandina in their yard. Clip branches and decorate away!

Consider buying a beautiful winter blooming tree, shrub or flowering plant for the gardener in your life this Christmas. And promise to do the planting, too. What a nice gift to give to someone to enjoy for years to come.

Remember, winter does not have to be a dreary landscape. A garden can be a vibrant and colorful winter wonderland.

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on

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