Best Native Plants For Winter Interest In The Garden

Native plants for winter interest are pretty and will keep birds and wildlife happy in the cold months.

(Image credit: KenCanning / Getty Images)

As most gardeners know, winter is an opportunity to enjoy certain aspects of a dormant garden: evergreens, interesting bark, berries, and other cool-weather features. Even in the coldest climates, native plants with winter elements can bring unique visual interest to the garden in the off-season.

Best Native Plants for Winter Interest

When it comes to native plants, winter interest is not likely a gardener’s first consideration. You’re likely choosing natives to support the local ecosystem and wildlife and to save on water and other costs.

When selecting native plants for the garden, don’t forget to consider how they’ll add to the garden’s appeal in winter. Snow and cold temperatures don’t have to mean the garden is totally barren. There are plenty of native species that add beautiful visual elements.

Native Plants with Winter Berries

One of the most attractive elements in certain winter native plants is a bright, striking berry. Many plants produce berries that persist throughout winter, adding visual interest as well as providing a food source for birds and wildlife.

  • American Holly - This is a classic native species for winter interest. Holly’s shiny evergreen leaves are complemented by bright red winter berries. Choose a male and a female plant to ensure you get berries.
  • Winterberry - This holly also produces bright red berries on female plants, but it is deciduous. The leaves drop in fall, putting the berries on full display for winter.
  • Trumpet Honeysuckle - This vining plant is most known for its summer flowers, but it develops orange-red berries that persist through winter and feed native birds.
  • Inkberry - For a dark berry, try this holly. It is a good, native alternative to boxwood, which it resembles.
  • Green Hawthorn - For a small tree that produces winter berries, choose the green hawthorn. It flowers in spring and produces red berries in fall that last most of the winter.

Native Plants That Flower in Winter

Native winter flowering plants are less common than those that produce berries, but if you live in a region with mild winters, you can find them.

  • Coast Silktassel - This species is native to the coasts of California and southern Oregon. It is an evergreen that produces showy catkins in winter. You will need a male and female plant to get winter flowers, though.
  • Pink Chaparral Currant - Native to much of the West Coast and Sierra Nevada foothills, this pretty shrub produces pink blooms starting in fall and all through the winter.
  • Witch Hazel - American witch hazel is native throughout the Eastern states and produces yellow flowers in fall and into winter.
  • Manzanita - This evergreen shrub is native to many western states. It produces white-to-pink flowers in winter that are very attractive to bees.

Native Evergreens

Evergreens, of course, remain green throughout winter, providing color as well as shelter for native birds and other species. There are many choices of native evergreens for North American gardens.

  • Eastern White Pine - This is a tall and stately native species with soft, blue-green foliage and large cones.
  • Atlantic White Cedar - Native to Atlantic coast states from Florida to Maine, this cedar is a tall, narrow tree that tolerates wet soil.
  • Creeping Juniper - For something lower to the ground, try creeping juniper for year-round green groundcover.
  • Rhododendron - While many species are non-native, you can find native evergreen rhododendron shrubs.

Native Trees with Unique Bark

Don’t overlook deciduous trees and shrubs for winter interest. Many species lose their leaves in fall but have textured or even colorful bark that stands out against winter snow.

  • Red or Yellow-Twigged Dogwood - These small, shrubby plants have brilliant stems that really shine in winter when the leaves have dropped.
  • River Birch - For texture, it’s hard to beat the river birch. Its rough and papery bark peels attractively.
  • Flame and Coral Bark Willow - As the names suggest, these shrubs have stems that range from orange-yellow to red.
  • American Sycamore - Native to most of the eastern US, American Sycamore is a tall tree with striking bark. It peels in patches of soft pastel colors.

Winter in the garden can be as delightful in its own way as the summer months. Choose native plants that will support local wildlife during the colder months while also providing visual interest.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.