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South Central Gardening: Creating Winter Interest

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Use berries, grasses, evergreen foliage, colorful stems, and more to create a garden that continues to capture the eye — even in winter.


By Susan Albert


When winter comes to the South Central region, and all the colorful flowers, foliage, and summer harvests give way to drab, flattened perennials and annuals, many of us gardeners wish we’d paid more attention to plants that offer year-round interest.

Well, it’s not too late to add some new plants for this winter — and get started for next year. You can liven up a winter landscape with plump berries, ornamental grasses, evergreen foliage, seed heads, pinecones, colorful stems, and cool-season annuals.

Lenten rose

Here are suggestions for the Texas-Oklahoma region:

Evergreen perennials:

  • Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a low-growing perennial, with white flowers in early spring, and foliage that remains green year-round. It tolerates hot, dry sites.
  • Hardy ferns, such as autumn fern ‘Brilliance’ (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), maintain the shade garden with year-round interest.
  • Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum spp.) are rosette-forming succulents in green and red varieties that are hardy to this region.
  • Yucca (Y. filamentosa) is a striking, strappy-leaved perennial that tolerates drought and multiple types of soil. Variegated varieties are particularly attractive. Seedpods also add to winter interest.
  • Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), pictured, has foliage that stays green all year, and buds form in winter, with nodding blooms by March.
Deciduous Holly

Berry-producing trees and shrubs:

  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica) produces unusual clusters of fuchsia or white berries, quickly consumed by songbirds.
  • Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is prized for its spring flowers, showy fall color, and large, black fruits that persist into winter.
  • Dogwood (Cornus spp.) is a small tree with striking spring flowers and fruit in winter.
  • Southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) is a multi-branched native tree with aromatic olive-green leaves; female plants bear waxy berries.
  • Deciduous holly (Ilex decidua), pictured, drops its leaves in fall to reveal abundant large, red berries favored by birds. Purchase female plants to ensure a good berry show.
Redtwig Dogwood

Attractive stems:

  • Japanese Kerria (K. japonica) loses its leaves, but the stems remain vibrant green all winter.
  • Red-twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), pictured, grow up to 6 feet tall. There is also a yellow-twig selection. Both are drought tolerant.
Dwarf globe blue spruce

Evergreen trees and shrubs:

  • Aucuba shrub (A. japonica), commonly called gold dust plant, thrives in deep shade and tolerates moist, clay soils.
  • Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) grows to 40 feet, with bluish-gray foliage, and attractive cones and bark. It’s drought-tolerant.
  • Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) is a slow-growing, popular conifer, with light green to silvery-blue foliage. It can reach 40 to 50 feet tall and 25 feet wide. A weeping form and dwarf form are available.
  • Dwarf globe blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca Globosa’), pictured, serves as an eye-catching specimen with its dense, silvery-blue needles.
Container evergreen
  • Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichi) is a slow-growing evergreen, with a dense, pyramidal form. It typically reaches 25 to 30 feet and produces showy cones.
  • Camellia (C. sasanqua) has glossy, dark-green leaves, and showy flowers that bloom in fall or winter.
  • Holly (Ilex spp.) varieties come in all sizes, with dark-green foliage and showy fruit.
  • Junipers (Juniperus spp.) include J. virginiana ‘Taylor’, a narrow, upright tree growing 15 to 20 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide.
  • Nandina (N. domestica) is a popular evergreen, used as an edging plant or ground cover, and growing about 2 feet tall. Several varieties offer red foliage.
  • Containerized evergreens, such as this dwarf Alberta spruce, add color and texture to a wintry porch or entryway.
Blackberry lily seeds

Ornamental grasses:

  • Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a drought-tolerant Texas native that has bamboolike foliage, plus attractive seed heads that fade from green to copper in fall.
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’) is a North American native grass with golden fall color fading to tan.
  • Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) boasts graceful, arching stems, with lots of plumes for fall and winter interest.

In addition, seed heads or flower heads can be attractive in winter. Wait till spring to cut back perennials such as coneflower, rudbeckia, sedum, and blackberry lily, pictured.

And don’t forget the cool-season annuals for bright spots of pansies, viola, ornamental cabbage, and kale.

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