Plant for the 4th Season too – Winter!

mountain ash in the winter

Quite often, when plant shopping, folks focus on certain, well known plants attributes (such as leaf colour, flower timing & colour, fall colour, presence or lack of fruit, etc).  But lately, I’ve noticed another trend of criteria that plant buyers have used when determining which variety of trees, shrubs, evergreens and grasses to plant.  That is, how will this plant enhance my winter landscape?

‘Winterscaping’ is a term used more and more in prairie gardening circles to describe plants that enhance the winter scene. After all, most of the prairies experience snow from late October through to April. In Alberta, snow may come and go again and again all winter.  In Saskatchewan and where I live, in Manitoba, snow is a permanent feature for 4-5 months.

Certain plants provide unique colours, shapes and textures through their bark, branches, lingering fruit, or foliage (evergreens). Some plants especially tall grasses, attract and hold onto hoar frost presenting a very striking appearance against the often strong blue winter prairie sky.

Let’s explore some of the varieties that really serve to enhance the prairie winter scene……


Exfoliating (peeling) bark and often lingering seed heads. ‘Dakota Pinnacle’ holds its brown leaves all winter.

Rosyblooms / Flowering Crabapple
Many varieties (especially ‘Starlite’) are renowned for holding onto apples that are the perfect size for attracting hungry birds most of the winter. Fruit colours range from red to purple and even yellow & orange.

Amur Cherry
Golden bronze bark that exfoliates (peels). The bright tones glint beautifully in the prairie’s abundant winter sunshine.

Like Rosyblooms (above), abundant orange-red berries attract and feed birds all winter.

American Elm
The huge, vase-shaped trees create a dappled sunshine in winter unlike any other tree.

Shrubs and Grasses

Some varieties have intense red stems (Ivory Halo, Siberian, Red Osier, Isanti & Arctic Fire). Others are bright yellow/gold (Bud’s Yellow & ‘Silver & Gold’).

Not too interesting during winter, but just as winter gives way to spring, a powerful profusion of daffodil-yellow blooms on bare stems that blares “spring is coming!”.

Where the snow doesn’t cover them, hydrangea seed heads (especially the ‘Paniculatas’) add an interesting effect to the winter scene.

Karl Foerster’s Feather Reed Grass
This tall grass with long heads of golden yellow blooms create an elegant view in the winterscape. It is especially attractive when hoar frost clings to its stems.


Choose from upright varieties that mature at various heights from 7’ to 18’. (be certain to water cedars heavily in late fall to ensure better over-wintering). Skybound, Brandon, Holmstrup and DeGroot’s Spire all do a great job at softening the winter landscape.

The upright varieties provide a blue background to winter’s white. Very hardy. Varieties range in heights from 5 to 16 feet.

These are the backbone of any winter landscape. From the rich green teardrop shaped Black Hills to the elegant silvery-blue Baby Blue Spruce. Hardy, reliable and long-lived. If possible, avoid planting spruce on north exposures to maximize winter sun’s access to northern windows.

Pine trees create a winter bird-attracting serenity that almost no other tree can. You can enjoy fresh pine scent all winter as well as peeling golden bark.

Happy Gardening!

For more ideas ask your local garden center professionals and make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest for other help tips and hints.


Guest post by Jan - Bylands Account Representative

I’m very proud of my 4 children.  All 4 of them, worked many summers in the garden centre, they love plants and gardening too – but opted for totally different careers.  You can sometimes find Jan as a guest on ‘The Gardener’, a radio program in Winnipeg on Sundays.