With care, gardens can thrive in winter snow and cold

Veronica Lorson Fowler

Backyard winter landscaping is seen in Veronica Lorson Fowler’s backyard in Ames.
Veronica Lorson Fowler Backyard winter landscaping is seen in Veronica Lorson Fowler’s backyard in Ames.

Your yard and garden may be deeply asleep right now, but this is the perfect time to think of “winterscaping” your landscape.

After all, the Iowa growing season may be just eight or nine months long, but you look out of your windows and at your yard 12 months of the year. Why not make your winter landscape just as attractive to look at in February as it is in July?

A successful winter landscape is one that is pretty to look at even in the coldest month when nothing is actively growing. Think bare trees, evergreens, dormant perennials, berries and hardscape such as stonework or accents laid bare.

The first step is to determine how you look at and use your landscape in the winter months. Which windows and doors do you look out? When you’re outside, what part of the landscape do you see? The area along the drive? Beside the garage? The path to the back door? And don’t forget what your neighbors see in the front yard, as well as guests walking to your front door.

Then fill those spaces with hardscaping and planting that will look good throughout the year. Evergreens, of course, are a natural. They’re gorgeous all year long, but especially when dusted with snow. Paths, stonework and raised beds also should be designed to look good even in winter.

Also keep in mind those shrubs and perennials that are attractive when dormant. Tall sedums dry to attractive brown and stand all winter long, providing winter interest. Red-twigged dogwood drops its leaves in fall to reveal beautiful bright red stems that pop against the snow. Let purple coneflower go to seed in late summer and the black ball-like seed heads will be pleasant to look at in cold weather (they also attract goldfinches).

Hardscape and accents play a role, too. At my back door, instead of a slab of concrete, we laid a pretty brick round patio of aged brick, which looks attractive and welcoming no matter what the weather.


I leave my birdbath up in the backyard as a focal point as well as a wooden bench with matching chairs even when it’s impossible to use them. I enjoy looking at them as informal sculpture and accents in my backyard. The same holds true for a handful of small sculptures tucked in here and there in my flower beds.

Blocking unattractive views also is important for the winter garden. In summer, that neighbor’s peeling garage or unkempt backyard may be partially hidden from view by greenery. In winter, however, the sight lines might be depressingly open. This can be solved with attractive fencing, strategic plantings of vines, as well as various shrubs and low, faster-growing trees.

Of course, now is not the time to actually execute these plans — it’s merely the time of year to look at your landscape with a critical eye to plan for plantings and projects this spring and summer. That way, come next winter, you’ll have a landscape to look forward to, no matter what the weather.

l Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at www.theiowagardener.com.



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