How to Landscape for Winter

fire pit

“Haul out the holly” and “put up the brightest string of lights you’ve ever seen” aren’t just the beginning words to a classic Christmas song, they’re also a pretty good start to a list of winter landscaping ideas. Other ways to landscape for winter include boosting curb appeal with evergreens, building a fire pit, and designing a year-round garden.

Put a few of these tips into play, and you won’t have to wait for a fresh snowfall to create the winter wonderland of your dreams. 

Add pops of color

Your yard never has to succumb to those cold weather blues. By sprinkling in shades of purple, yellow, pink, and red, just to name a few, you’ll ensure your outdoor space stays looking lively against a backdrop of grays, whites, and browns. For added plant protection, place a few layers of mulch around the roots to keep them warm. A few of the best plants to help transform your winter garden from dreary to dreamy include:

  • Hellebores

Whether you call them Christmas roses, winter roses, or Lenten roses, varieties of these blooming perennials give off colorful green, pink, purple, or burgundy flowers, in addition to white or cream ones.

  • Winter pansies
Colin Smith | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

To get even more bang for your bloom, incorporate bi-color winter pansies into your landscape design. Boasting two colors in one flower, this cold-hardy species will effortlessly add splashes of color throughout your flower beds. These winter flowers, which can last through early spring, also come in single-hued varieties of pink, yellow, white, purple, and red.

  • Winterberry holly
winterberry holy

Also known by its scientific name, ilex verticillata, this deciduous shrub puts on quite the colorful display with its show of bright red berries. Able to survive in temps as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit, winterberry holly also makes the perfect holiday decoration. Snip some branches to adorn wreaths or table centerpieces, or add as colorful accents to mantel garland.

  • Crabapples
crabapple autumn leaves
raimg | Canva Pro | License

Come autumn, when the leaves fall from this deciduous, ornamental shrub, the bright red, yellow, or orange fruits have their chance to steal the show. The small fruits are edible, too, not just for animals but people, as well. But beware: Crab apples need a lot of attention, as they can be prone to insects and diseases. 

  • Witch hazel
witch hazel

More than just your go-to facial toner, witch hazel is a full-blown, large shrub that saves its flashy blooms for the colder months. A stand-out from January through March, witch hazel brings bursts of yellow, orange, or red to your winter garden.

  • Dogwood trees

While dogwoods lose their leaves in autumn, what’s left remains visually appealing. Some trees bear bright red fruits, while others show off their statement bark. For example, the Arctic Fire dogwood’s bark is a dark red hue, and the yellow twig dogwood boasts golden-colored stems.

Spruce up curb appeal with evergreens

If you’re looking for an easy way to give your yard that aspirational vibe, consider infusing no-fuss evergreens into your landscape design. Perfect as foundation plants, front porch accents, focal points, or a garden boundary, these gems will bless your home with year-round greenery. Here are a few to consider that aren’t the typical boxwoods:

  • Heather

While its blooms only last until early fall, heather’s evergreen foliage provides rich color throughout the winter. In fact, as the weather cools, the leaves change their tone— what was once an orange hue in summer can turn red in winter. Depending on the varietal, heather’s leaves can appear red, gold, orange, and of course, green.

  • Evergreen azaleas
evergreen azaleas

A type of rhododendron, these bushes are cold hardy up to climate zone 6. Not only do they continue to produce purple, red, or white flowers in the wintertime, but their evergreen leaves retain their color, as well. Smaller than the deciduous varieties, evergreen azalea foliage can be green, red, reddish-brown, or yellow.

  • Japanese yew
Japanese yew
Keisotyo | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY SA 3.0

A great privacy tree, the Japanese yew is low-maintenance, tolerant of all shade/sun conditions, and besides its year-round foliage also puts forth small, red fruit.

Build a fire pit

Easy to DIY from a kit (or purchase from your local hardware store), a fire pit is a great way to extend your patio season a bit. Not only does it provide warmth and entertainment (who doesn’t love roasting marshmallows?), but it also makes for a lovely focal point on your patio or deck. Or, if you’ve already got a fire pit in another section of your landscape design, you can, alternatively, warm up your outdoor living space by installing a gas or electric heater on a ceiling or wall.

Design a year-round garden

Of course, there are some places where the cold is so extreme, even a fire pit won’t keep it from chilling you to the bone. And, if it’s too cold for you, it’s definitely too cold for most flowers. If this is the case where you live, think about creating a Zen garden. 

This meditative gardening style, invented by Japanese Buddhist monks, uses very little in the way of plants, instead incorporating rocks, gravel, boulders, wood, sand, sculptures, benches, and lighting. If you do choose to insert any greenery, the best landscape plants for this project include:

  • bonsai trees
  • bamboo
  • rhododendrons
  • ornamental grasses

Establish your Zen garden at the end of a walkway in your front or back yard; or, place it underneath another landscape statement piece like a pergola.

Light things up

The winter months lend themselves to the sights and sounds of the holiday season, where string lights of all colors set landscapes aglow. Whether you prefer traditional colored lights burning red, green, yellow, and blue or white lights mimicking snowfall as their icicle forms drip from the rooftops, their luminescence is a welcome landscape feature. A few other design ideas to consider:

  • Wrap string lights around a statement tree
  • Hang them from a balcony 
  • Lay them across boxwoods or other bushes
  • Place them in an empty wine bottle or glass jar or bowl to create an accent piece for your patio tabletop

FAQ about landscaping for winter

How do I prepare my landscape for winter?

In addition to the tips above, you’ll also need to winterize the landscape you already have in place. Here’s how:

● Shut down your irrigation system if you have one
● Aerate your lawn
● Fertilize grass, trees, shrubs, and garden beds
● Clear beds of annual plants

What other plants do well in winter?

Besides flower beds and evergreen shrubs, another winter landscaping idea is a vegetable garden. Some veggies that grow well in the colder months include:

● kale
● leeks
● carrots
● radishes
● Brussels sprouts
● broccoli
● beets
● Swiss chard
● spinach

When to hire a professional

Love the results of a good landscape design, but don’t have the chops — or the desire — to do it yourself? Hire a team of landscaping professionals to select the best plants, build a cozy fire pit, or carry out any other winter design ideas you have.

Then, as you cuddle up under your sherpa blanket watching holiday movies and sipping cocoa by the fire, you can enjoy the view of your revamped yard all winter long.

Main Image Credit: Texas Custom Patios / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Andréa Butler

Descendant of the Fulani tribe, Gettysburg-obsessed Marine Corps brat, and lover of all things writing and editing, Andréa Butler launched Sesi magazine and has penned articles for sites, such as LivingSocial, Talbot Digital, Xickle, Culturs magazine, and Rachel Ray. Andréa holds a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an M.A. in magazine journalism from Kent State University.