During the winter months, your custom of gardening outdoors is replaced by gardening indoors, or browsing spring catalogs for new garden plants, seeds and ideas. We usually forget all about the garden, and assume that it's doomed to be cold, grey, lifeless and unfriendly. Designing a winter garden with evergreens (appropriate in your region) and plants with berries and interesting twigs and shapes, makes it something you'd love to look at in the winter months, and a safe habitat for little creatures to find food and shelter easily.

A Winter Garden that looks like a wonderland is no more complicated to design or maintain than any other garden theme. In fact, it turns out to be easier to maintain from afar, because evergreens and perennials will do their own thing without your help all season or before. Any trimming, fertilizing, watering and planting is done before everything goes dormant or does it's winter thing. There won't be weeding chores. Choosing weatherproof items as decor will assure that your garden will look beautiful and will be easy-care while you relax indoors and roast those chestnuts on the open fire. Placing it where you can see it from indoors is best because you can see what the winter wildlife loves about it. Pruning in winter, if needed by your landscape, would be easy if the garden is close to your home. You don't want to trudge along carrying things when it's freezing out. Or place a large, locking weatherproof storage bin for your tools nearby. Put the things you use in the garden for maintenance most often, like pruners, gloves, ties, frost covers, or what-have-you, in that bin. Keep a bag of bird seed in it. No searching for or carrying heavy things across the yard. Walk out and do your thing.

Colorful, weatherproof accessories, and feeders can make your garden a winter wonderland, and is something you might want to install near a window or deck or patio door, so that you can enjoy it until spring brings new life to frozen and sleeping gardens. I like it because I am not going to work in it, I just enjoy the scenery. The garden is full of life for four seasons every year, although we sometimes forget what goes on outdoors while we huddle indoors.

There is no reason why you can't create a Winter Wonderland Garden and Winter Habitat For Birds in any size space. Native songbirds forage for food all winter, and you can help them by placing feeders in your Winter Garden where you can see them, and place them near enough to your house so that refilling them isn't a chore or guesswork. None of us likes to trudge out in the snow to fill and clean feeders. Plant a bird friendly Winter Garden theme containing plants with berries for food and evergreen branches for shelter. Begin the Winter Garden design well before winter to settle the plants in and give them time to produce berries.

Here are some ideas of plantings and ornamental additions you can begin to add to a corner or garden patch for winter. Most of your plants will die back, you can plant evergreens and shrubs that can take their place during the winter months. Plant in Pots. You can move your winter garden easily in early spring, to make room for the perennial plants that live there for the other 3 seasons. Evergreen low-growing ground covers can be planted in-ground between and around your perennials and remain there all year.

Decor - You're not going to sit outdoors and enjoy the garden, but you will enjoy looking at interesting objects and visiting wildlife. Haunt the antique shops and flea markets in summer and collect some beautiful pieces to display in your Winter Garden. Think "Flexible Flyer"....Or find antique reproductions of vintage pieces.  Hang or place the pieces throughout the garden. Place potted evergreen or berry plants on or in some of them. Antique sleigh bells can be hung as you would windchimes. I have a heavy brass set of bells on rope that i hang for the Christmas season.


If you feed and care for birds, or have a bird habitat garden, don't stop doing it in winter. That's when birds need you the most. Put water out for a while and don't let it freeze - or it's container will break. There are some very pretty birdbaths that you can float an ice melter in and keep a fresh supply of water. The birds have a difficult time finding clean and accessible water in winter. Birds that do not migrate, need food and water in winter and may be depending upon you to provide what you provide in the warmer months. Bugs are hidden, in short supply or dead, so a bird feeder is going to provide food for travelers and lodgers when birds require more energy just to keep warm.

Don't fill buckets with water for the birds  - they are too deep and you will have to deal with accidental drownings, because the smaller birds can't climb or fly out when they're soaking wet or in very cold water. If you're going to use containers, use shallow bowls and bring them in before the water freezes, or place a few rocks or small branches in them for birds to grab onto if they slip in. If the sides of the bowl are painted or glazed, they can't grip it to climb up out of very cold water without grabbing onto or standing on something.

Hang suet baskets or suet and birdseed wreaths from dead tree and shrub branches. Birds don't mind pecking at frozen suet with their sharp beaks. So feel free to provide them in hanging suet baskets. In winter, you don't have to worry about bugs and heat melting the suet. If you live in an area that other wildlife may become pests, skip the suet unless they can't reach them. Hang the baskets from hooks on branches, or on bird feeder poles. You can oil the poles or use baffles to keep other varmints like squirrels and such from the food.

Save that Christmas tree - if you get an annual fresh little evergreen tree for the holidays, don't put it at the curb right after Christmas or chop it into little pieces - place it in the garden for the wildlife to enjoy and shelter within it's branches.. I have found that birds love to live and sleep in fallen trees, so it makes sense that they'll love one placed perfectly in a garden filled with berries and food. The branches will also serve as perches. My birds are perched all the time on fallen brush to dry themselves off, sunbathe, or to wait their turn at the feeders.

If you decorate for the holidays using evergreen wreaths and are discarding them - hang them in the garden, and tie branches with berries or suet balls, and hang them on the inside of your fence or from tree branches. Mine have stayed green and fresh-looking throughout the cold winter months.

Berries - Always ornamental, and a healthy, high energy food source for birds and small creatures. There are several plants that bear beautiful, and sometimes edible berries on colorful and seemingly bare branches. Think of all the Christmas card scenes that feature birds, snow, berries and branches. You can be enjoying that scene for real in a winter garden. You may not be able to sit in it, but you can still design it so that the scene is what you want to see from indoors. I did this outside my dining room bow windows. I had the perfect spot to enjoy my coffee and relax, while the birds visited the feeder. We had lots of snow. Spotting a bright red Cardinal or pudgy little Chickadee just outside my window, among all that white, is breathtaking. You can even have some berry-producing plants that the birds aren't fond of eating - to be sure you still have ornamental berries decorating your garden.

Fairy lights - Little bulbs bring lots of joy.
Warm white solar light strings look beautiful wrapped around bare branches, woven among evergreens, stuffed into mason jars and hung - there are so many pretty uses for them. They look amazing through a little snow cover and around white tree limbs. It makes every night feel like Christmas. Mine are outside all year, and they made it through some pretty tough winters. I try to remember to wrap the solar collectors with clear baggies to keep water and snow off and prevent freezing of the solar panel. But even unwrapped, they do just fine. When there's a big snow, I go out there and dig the solar panels out, if I remember, but the stake is usually tall and angled enough to keep them above the falling snow.

Add solar path lights and poke some into potted shrubs and plants to highlight your favorite berry shrubs and the snow.

Some Landscape Ideas - Plants For A Winter Show

Choose plants that are green in summer and bloom or have high interest features in winter.

Use low-growing, low maintenance evergreen groundcovers and ornamental grasses. You can grow most of these in pots, and if you need to rotate seasons in your garden, and potted shrubs are happy to help.

Cold Hardy Camellias
I finally found a Camellia that is perennial in my Zone 6B garden.
An evergreen plant with beautiful white or pink blooms. The stunning blooms are a surprise everyone in the cold, winter months. A winter series of camellias are now on the market, extending it beyond the South where it is a beloved plant. Look for 'Polar Ice', 'Snow Flurry', 'Winter's Hope', 'Winter's Rose', 'Winter's Star', and 'Winter's Charm'. Very pretty, glossy evergreen leaves and flowers reminiscent of roses. Size: Up to 10 feet, depending on cultivars. Gorgeous in pots or in-ground. I found a hardy variety that will bloom in early spring. "April Showers" Zones: 6b–9

Low-Growing Cotoneaster
Beautiful clusters of red berries. There are many varieties, so you are sure to find dwarfs you like. Most types are considered invasive, so grow these in large pots.

Blood twig Dogwood - "Midwinter Fire"
There are many varieties of Dogwood with red winter stems that stand out all season. This pollinator and bird habitat shrub grows to about 6tall, but can be pruned to size and grown in brightly colored pots. Its fiery red and orange stems make a stunning centerpiece through the winter. If not pruned, showy white blooms appear in early summer. It has a beautiful and colorful bark in winter. Deciduous and Perennial in Zones 5-7.

Red Osier Dogwood
Called red willow or red twig dogwood, this is a deciduous shrub. The bright green bark, twigs and leaves of spring and summer turn to a deep red to burgundy in fall. The leaves drop in fall, fully revealing the red stems.  Some cultivars – ‘Flaviramea’ or ‘White Gold’ are available that have  yellow stems instead of red and are sometimes called Golden-twig Dogwood. Size: 4–19 feet tall. Zones: 2–7. If pruned to be kept small, these look beautiful in groups.

Firethorn (Pyracantha)
Bright orange-red berries in winter  It’s an evergreen to semi-evergreen; its leaves might turn a green-brown in fall and winter. It can be used in a hedge or espaliered against a wall or on a trellis. Hardy cultivars to look for are ‘Laplander’, ‘Mohave’, and Yukon Belle.
Size: 3–20 feet tall. Prune to desired size. Zones: 5–9, depending on the variety.

'Sky Pencil" Japanese Holly - A tall, narrow shrub, it adds vertical structure to your space. 'Sky Pencil' hollies fit into small spaces. Their small, tightly-packed leaves look similar to boxwood foliage. Grow in containers and let them serve as evergreen sentries at an entrance, or grow in the landscape as a single plant or in a row to outline a space. I like their soft touch. I like these in a Mediterranean garden design, as well. Size: 6–8 feet tall. Zones: 5–8, depending on type

Winterberry (Deciduous Holly) Unlike the evergreen holly.  Winterberry sheds its leaves each autumn. Hollies need a pollinator plant. Some cultivars to look for are 'Sparkleberry' or 'Winter Red'. Suggested male pollinators are 'Apollo' or 'Southern Gentleman'. Beautiful and moveable in pots.
3–15 feet tall. Zones: 3–9

Euphorbia (up to 18 inches tall) The purple-black leaves that deepen in color in autumn make "Blackbird" a great low-growing choice.
Zones 6-10

Blue Holly
Sometimes referred to as Me serve holly, it is more suited to colder climates than other hollies, being able to withstand the cold temperatures in Zone 4. This broad-leaved evergreen has dense, deep green, glossy foliage and reddish purple stems. Its berries are dark red. It is referred to as blue holly due to its almost blue-green foliage. Size: 8–15 feet high, depending on the variety. Zones: 4–6

Inkberry is another Holly to consider. It is among the toughest hollies for winter conditions. Inkberry is named for its abundance of black berries during the winter. The evergreen shrub is compact with deep green foliage, which might become lighter green in summer. Compact varieties to consider are 'Shamrock' (3– 5 feet) or 'Compact' (4–6 feet). 4–8 feet tall, depending upon the variety. Zones 4-10

Japanese False Cypress
An evergreen shrub with a fine, soft needle or threadlike appearance, 'Golden Mop' is one of the false cypress cultivars that adds a bright golden green color to the landscape, which is a beautiful contrast to dark evergreens. It forms a ground-hugging mound and is actually shaggy or mop like in appearance. Be sure to get 'Golden Mop' or 'Dwarf Gold Thread' or you might end up with a huge tree. Size: 3–6 feet high and wide. Zones: 4–8

Dwarf Arborvitae
Small to medium evergreen that is commonly used as a foundation planting, hedges or screens, and can grow to 8–20 feet. The new dwarf varieties work well in small gardens, even containers or window boxes. Gold foliage options are 'Filip's Magic Moment', which grows to about 6–8 feet in an upright, conical shape.  Anna's Magic Ball is a cute little ball of a plant that grows to 10–15 inches. Its globe shape is perfect for a winter window box or as a filler plant. Size: 1–15 feet, depending on the cultivars. Choose a true dwarf. Zones: 3–9

Juniper - "Lime Glow" low-growing

Himalayan Birch - Known for it's beautiful peeling bark. There are several varieties, and due to it's ultimate height, should be a focal point of the winter garden. "Sichuan Red" is hardy in Zones 5-9.  In a small space garden, grow this in a pot and keep it pruned the way you like it.

Witch Hazel - Large ornamental shrub does well in-ground or in pots to save space, and can be pruned to whatever size you like. Also known as "Winterbloom. Golden yellow flowers in late fall may bloom in winter in some zones. Low-maintenance and adaptable, with a height of about 8-20 feet. A lovely focal point whether in the ground or in pots. Delicate, threadlike petals bloom from late fall to early spring on a multistemmed rounded plant. Its petals curl up at night but unfurl on a sunny day, and it is very fragrant. Flowers range from yellow to red, depending on the variety. Varieties to consider are ‘Advent’, bright yellow blooms; ‘Ruby Glow’ for copper-red; and ‘Jelena’ for red toward base, orange in the middle, and yellow at the tip. m Size: 8–20 feet tall; up to 12 feet wide - Zones: 3–9

Winter Berry Plants and Trees That Birds Love

Black oil sunflower seeds are the best source of winter sustenance for the majority of birds that visit bird feeders. Avoid mixes that contain a high percentage of millet or oats. Below are suggested landscape plants that will sustain the birds over the winter, and add to the Christmas Card Effect, as seen from your windows.

You don't need a bog.....The American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum)
A beautiful flowering shrub with white spring flowers and red fall berries for your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce.
- Brown thrashers, cedar waxwings, and other birds love the long-lasting fruits, which provide a source of food in winter. Size: Up to 12 feet tall, but can be grown smaller in containers. Quite hardy - suitable for Zones: 2-7

To attract the greatest variety of songbirds, select cultivars of this tree with small fruits that hang on the branches through the winter. Size: Up to 40 feet tall, depending on variety. I've grown beautiful smaller varieties under 20 ft. tall. Zones: 4-8. Deer are very attracted to these trees, so put up a barrier of some sort if they frequent your garden.

Pagoda Dogwood
Downy woodpeckers, brown thrashers, eastern bluebirds, and many other backyard birds are attracted to the dark fruits of North American native pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). This small tree is best suited for the edges of woodland areas or shady gardens. Pagoda dogwood has a striking horizontal branching habit. Creamy white flower clusters appear above the leaves in spring. Beautiful in pots. Size: Up to 12 feet tall Zones: 4-8

A viburnum with glossy, dark green leaves and drooping clusters of berries in early fall. Nannyberry can kept small and grown in pots. Berries are blue-black and last long into winter. Up to 10 ft. tall. Zones: 2-8

Highbush Blueberry
Gray catbirds like to nest in highbush blueberry. This native shrub produces berries that bluebirds, robins, and many other birds will love. It has a bright red-orange fall color. Size: Up to 12 feet tall. Zones: 3-9. Grows beautifully in pots and containers.

A very hardy and low-growing shrubby native plant, perfect as winter ground cover, bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) has leaves, flowers, and berries that look like those of its cousin, the flowering dogwood. The white flowers are very pretty in spring. The berries turn red in Fall. Size: Up to 6 inches tall. Zones: 2-7

Arrowwood (Viburnum)
An excellent shelter plant for birds. A very hardy and adaptable shrub. Pretty white flower clusters in early summer. In late summer and autumn, bunches of blue-black berries. Plant near other viburnums to ensure good pollination. Size: Up to 12 feet tall Zones: 3-8

American Elderberry
Native to North America, elderberry (Sambucus) thickets give excellent shelter and are nesting sites for many species of birds. This fast-growing shrub produces very large flower clusters, followed by purple berries in fall that birds can't resist. Size: Up to 12 feet tall Zones: 4-9

One of my favorite garden shrubs. Beautiful clusters of purple berries make beautyberry very attractive to the birds and they make beautiful floral arrangements and in vases. The arching stems of berries last a long time in the garden and in a vase and provides nutrition and fluids for birds in winter. Size: Up to 4 feet tall Zones: 6-8.

Brown thrashers are also fond of chokeberries, and so are cedar waxwings and other songbirds. It spreads by suckering and is a good choice for a hedge. Be mindful of the spreading, and think about growing these in pots if you're not growing hedges. Size: Up to 10 feet tall - Zones: 4-9

Gorgeous when the leaves drop in autumn and the berries ripen. Branches covered with bright red fruit attract mockingbirds, robins, and other birds. This North American native holly needs a pollinator to produce berries, so make sure you have both a male and female plant. Size: Up to 15 feet tall. Zones: 3-9

This is just a shortlist - check out your county extension service for suggestions of winter plants that are perennial in your area.


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