Top 10 Pretty Winter Plants

From winterberry and paperbark maple to witch hazel and pink muhly grass, these winter plants are pretty, yet tough. They shine brightest in cold weather, because they add height, texture and structure to your backyard space. Plus, many of these colorful winter plants have wildlife benefits, but witch hazel is a particular backyard bird favorite. Witch hazel’s year-round foliage and flowers offer shelter and protection from predators, while the fall seeds feed songbirds.

You can go the extra mile and spread Christmas cheer with your winter plants, too. Who says holiday decor has to stay indoors? Boost the winter appeal of blue spruce and other large evergreen trees with festive lights, ornaments or garland. Check out the nature and bird ornaments your Christmas tree needs.

photo credit: Nadiia Korol/Shutterstock

1. Blue Spruce

Picea pungens, Zones 2 to 7

Blue spruce is a large tree, but small shrublike cultivars max out at 5 to 15 feet high. The blue-gray foliage is particularly alluring in the winter landscape when a dash of color is sorely needed. For a more blue color, select a cultivar known for its intense blue color. Check out 9 tiny evergreens to grow.

Why we love it: The lovely foliage, but also the range of shapes—mounded to lollipop to pompom.

Where to buy it: Fast Growing Trees

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robin in winterberryCourtesy Francis Hoefer

2. Winterberry

Ilex verticillata, Zones 3 to 9

Grown as a small tree or a shrub, winterberry doesn’t get much attention during the growing season. Come winter, though, this wallflower demands to be seen when it bursts to life with bright red berries. Learn how to create winter shelter for birds.

Why we love it: The impressive collection of fruit lasts for months—if the songbirds don’t gobble it up first. Plant winterberry in groups for big impact.

Where to buy it: Proven Winners

photo credit: Monrovia/Doreen Wynja

3. Paperbark Maple

Acer griseum, Zones 4 to 8

Like many other maples, paperbark has showy, orange to red fall foliage. To ease your pain when the show is over, the tree delivers shiny, coppery peeling bark in winter. Many gardeners intentionally “limb them up,” which means to remove lower branches so there’s more of the bright bark in view. 

Why we love it: It’s a good-looking tree that tolerates partial shade. Grow this maple where it can be enjoyed!

Where to buy it: Monrovia

Via Proven Winners

4. Redtwig and Yellowtwig Dogwood

Cornus sericea, Zones 2 to 7

They display flowers in spring and respectable leaf color in fall. However, redtwig and yellowtwig dogwood are really known for their bark. Remove older stems every few years because the youngest growth produces the most color.

Why we love it: Dogwoods are easy to maintain pretty winter plants, requiring little more than annual pruning.

Where to buy it: Proven Winners

pink huhly grass winter plants

Paul Brennan/Shutterstock

5. Pink Muhly Grass

Muhlenbergia capillaris, Zones 5 to 9

Many ornamental grasses provide exceptional winter interest, but muhly grass, also known as pink hair grass, gets a nod for its distinctive airy, pink flowers that bloom into late fall. After that, the drama continues as the plant sways in the winter wind.

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Why we love it: Muhly grass is simple to grow, tolerates poor soil, looks great in masses and survives drought conditions.

Where to buy it: Spring Hill Nurseries

photo credit: Monrovia/Doreen Wynja

6. Witch Hazel

Hamamelis spp., Zones 3 to 9

Is it overstating things to say witch hazel is, ahem, bewitching? Not when you see it unfurl its spider-like flowers in middle to late winter. All but autumn witch hazel (a fall bloomer) are bare when in bloom, making the golden yellow, sometimes reddish orange flowers more conspicuous. Check out the top 10 winter blooms for your flower garden.

Why we love it: Witch hazels are tough, undemanding shrubs with stunning fall foliage and winter flowers.

Where to buy it: Monrovia

photo credit: Monrovia/Doreen Wynja

7. Coral Bark Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku,’ Zones 5 to 8

The coral-orange-red bark is brightest and most noticeable in winter. Ample moisture, afternoon shade and protection from winds help keep coral bark maple looking its best.

Why we love it: The bark’s unique color. And this slow-growing, relatively small tree is a perfect fit in almost any garden.

Where to buy it: Monrovia

photo credit: Monrovia/Visions

8. Hinoki False Cypress

Chamaecyparis obtusa, Zones 4 to 8

This little gem isn’t so little in its native Japan, where it reaches 70 feet tall. Most nursery-grown cultivars are shorter than 10 feet, making them a perfect fit for small backyard gardens.

Why we love it: The tightly packed, swirly, golden-green foliage makes hinoki false cypress an absolute rock star, especially in winter.

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Where to buy it: Monrovia

photo credit: Monrovia/Doreen Wynja

9. Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta,’ Zones 3 to 9

This small, contorted shrub-like tree is known to make people long for winter. Sure, there’s golden yellow foliage in fall, but once the leaves drop, the artistry of its gnarled shape steals the show.

Why we love it: The twisty gray branches are an architectural sensation and look particularly beautiful when covered in a dusting of snow.

Where to buy it: Monrovia

cedar waxwings eating crabapples

Courtesy Christine Darnell

10. Flowering Crabapple

Malus spp., Zones 4 to 8

This beloved backyard tree offers year-round interest. Outstanding spring blooms and brightly colored red, orange or yellow fruit in fall and winter are crabapple’s top selling points.

Why we love it: It comes in a range of forms. The newer cultivars are disease resistant and yield more colorful fruit.

Where to buy it: Fast-Growing-Trees

5 Must-Have Features on Winter Plants

Foliage: Besides evergreens, look for deciduous trees, such as younger pin oaks, that hold their foliage in winter.

Bark: Some is colorful (white birch), some is textural (musclewood) and some is just odd enough to be interesting (hackberry).

Berries: They attract birds and wildlife. And their color gives life to the dreary winter scenery.

Shape: Add architectural interest with contorted (Lavender Twist redbud), pyramidal (dwarf Alberta spruce) and umbrella (Japanese maple) shapes.

Movement: Ornamental grasses wave and nod in the wind to make your landscape less static.

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