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Our Favorite Winter Plants for Four-Season Gardens

Hello there! Fall is underway in Middle TN and what a beautiful one we've had! With so much color to enjoy whether it be Red Maples, Burnish Bushes, Mums, or aging Crape Myrtle foliage, there has been a bounty of beauty to see the past couple of months. As we head into winter next month and with fall being (technically) the best time to plant most trees and shrubs, we want to focus on four-season gardens.

Four-season gardens are just what they sound like- gardening beds with year-round interest. Usually this will not come from a single specimen of plant, but rather several different plants that each have their own time to shine throughout the year, where you can enjoy some kind of interest and beauty in your gardening beds at all times of the year. It's easy to find spring and summer interest, isn't it?! Autumn, even; it is pretty easy to find plants that look spectacular in fall. But what about winter? Let's talk about plants that look amazing in the coldest months of the year!


  • 'Bud's Yellow' Yellow Twig Dogwood and 'Little Rebel' Red Twig Dogwood (shown above): make the perfect focal points during winter. Their stems turn bright red or bright yellow (depending on variety) throughout the year so that when they lose their leaves in late fall, you can enjoy their striking color throughout the winter months. These are a must-have if you're looking to add winter interest and want to create an interesting year-round gardening bed! They look stunning in front of evergreens or anywhere where you can see their vibrant color displayed. They do best in full to mostly sunny locations. Any type of shadier spot will lessen the color of their stems in winter.

'Bud's Yellow': grows to be approximately 5-8' tall and wide (yellow in color)

'Little Rebel': is a smaller (red) variety that grows to be approx. 3-4' tall/ wide

  • 'Sky Pencil' Holly: practically all evergreens are going to be beautiful during winter, but we need to showcase 'Sky Pencil' because of its versatility in almost any gardening bed, regardless of size. Shown above, 'Sky Pencil' offers (non-prickly!) bright, green foliage that matures to be only 3' wide and approximately 10' tall. It loves full to mostly sunny locations and thrives in well-draining, fertile soil.

It's perfect mixed in a privacy screen with other smaller evergreens or works well as a foundation planting to help visually soften the corners of a house/ add to a focal point (such as flanking steps to an entry). The possibilities are pretty endless with this slender shrub!

  • Witch Hazel: a very hardy plant and traditionally used in medicinal formulas and certain cosmetics, this shrub boasts several varieties. Its deciduous foliage falls in autumn and in late fall or winter (depending on variety), it produces bright, fragrant, spidery flowers (shown above). Depending on variety, blooms will be bright yellow or reddish orange.

These flowers make for a real show-stopper in winter! Depending on variety, you can expect it to grow between 10-20' tall and wide. It makes an excellent addition to a woodland garden or natural area where it can have some room to grow. It loves full to part sun locations.

  • Camellia: Camellias (above) are a beautiful shrub that bloom in winter to early spring. They do exceptionally well in states south of us, however, we can grow several types of Camellias with just a little extra care here in Middle Tennessee. Several varieties (although not all Camellia varieties; rest assured all we offer at Riverbend are fine for our plant hardiness zone) of Camellia do well in our area, although they do need a little extra care because we are in the upper most northern zone of what they enjoy- they prefer milder weather. Most varieties bloom in the winter or early spring, making this shrub a wonderful addition to your landscape when you are trying to achieve bloom and color year round. Colors of blooms include shades of pinks, reds, white, & coral.

Camellias love morning sun with afternoon shade. Protection from afternoon sun is important for these shrubs; they will not tolerate the harsh sun in the afternoon and it will turn their beautiful glossy green leaves brown. Many varieties can reach 10′-12′ tall, making this shrub even more delightful to see it full of blooms in the cooler months! Camellias need some protection from wind. Planting them near a fence or against your house where they can have a barrier from gusts would be helpful. On the north side of your house against your house is often a good location. In really cold weather or snow and ice, you will want to place an old sheet or blanket over your Camellia temporarily to protect it from the cold temps. We offer frost blankets that are specially designed to let light in but protect your shrub if we were having, for example, icy harsh weather for a couple of days.

Plant Camellias in well-draining, fertile soil. Spring is an excellent time to plant this shrub. Many varieties of Camellias grow great in our area, and with just a bit of extra care here and there, they are sure to thrive in your garden and bless you with their brilliance of color and showy blooms year after year!

  • Harry Lauders Walking Stick: also known as Contorted Filbert, this slow-growing shrub catches the eye of every gardener when it's spotted at the garden center in winter. It is relatively easy to care for once it's established. Be patient when growing this one as it matures slowly, therefore any major pruning will leave you with a small plant for quite awhile. It matures to be 8-10' tall and wide, loves full to part sun, and offers interest in every season of the year.

It features curlicue stems in winter that remind one of a contorted walking stick. In spring, it grows long, yellow catkins that dangle and add an abundance of color and interest. In summer, it is the least showy, with foliage covering its twisted branches, but it is still an excellent backdrop at that time of the year for smaller showy, summer shrubs, perennials, or annuals in front of it. In autumn, it briefly features brightly colored foliage before dropping its leaves to reveal its interesting bark once again.

  • Lenten Rose: it's not a tree nor a shrub, but we had to feature Lenten Roses. They are not apart of the Rose family as their name suggests. These perennials bloom from winter to mid-spring, depending on variety. Their blooms last several weeks and brighten up any shady (yes, this one loves shade!) gardening beds.

At other times of the year when it's not blooming, it sports very pretty star-shaped foliage that remains all year. They mature to be approximately 1-1.5' tall and wide and spread some each year and can be divided to plant elsewhere or share with a friend.

Ask us questions at the garden center regarding year-round gardens! We are happy to help.


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