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With bare tree branches and an overwhelming lack of blooms, winter can certainly be bleak for green thumbs here in the Midwest. Don’t get us wrong—we certainly appreciate the breathtaking beauty of a snow-covered winter scene, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t missing that extra pop of life and color that the other seasons bring. While most plants are dull and dormant until spring, there are a few others that find their time to shine in the winter. Here are some excellent plants for winter landscaping in the Quad Cities area that will compliment your landscape all year long.


The Benefit of Evergreen Trees for Winter Interest

We’ve discussed the amazing benefits of evergreens for your landscape before, but as the champions of winter, they’re worth mentioning again. Evergreens are just that—ever green. While deciduous trees put on a stunning fall show and go out with a bang, evergreens are an unwavering source of greenery all year long. Those beautiful green boughs are especially beautiful in the winter when the rest of our landscape is composed of brown, bare branches, dead plants, and white snow, often leaving evergreens as the sole source of color and life in our yards.

The simple fact that they cling to their needles over the winter is probably reason enough for you to want to plant some evergreens on your property. Evergreens offer such rich green colors, sometimes tinted with gorgeous, silvery-blue hues that sparkle in the crisp winter air. After a fresh snowfall, their white-dusted boughs will turn your yard into a winter wonderland. Plus, many conifers carry berries and cones that add color and texture, while attracting some of the most beautiful yard accents of all—winter birds.

Native evergreens that naturally thrive in our midwest environment are excellent choices for the landscape since they’re naturally more resistant to weather-related damage like winter burn. We recommend Eastern White Pine and Eastern Red Cedar. If you’re content with nurturing your young evergreens a little bit, try Arborvitae, Colorado Blue Spruce, or Norway Spruce



Decorate Your Yard with Showy Shrubs

If you’re planning on doing some winter shrub landscaping this year, look for shrubs with interesting features like attractive bark, or colorful fruits that remain when the leaves have fallen. Of course, evergreen foliage is a bonus, but there are several deciduous shrubs with reputations for winter beauty. Here are some of our top picks.

Holly: A festive favorite, holly is a family of both evergreen and deciduous plants that range from dense shrubs to pyramidal trees. Their iconic dark green, glossy, lobed leaves and bright red berries are hallmarks of the holiday season—and are just as beautiful in your backyard as they are when woven into a wreath on your front door.) We recommend the bushy, deciduous variety, Winterberry Holly. Don’t worry; the red berries are even more striking against the snow without any leaves left to cover them up!

Red Twig Dogwood: Dogwoods are already popular for their four-season appeal, but the red twig dogwood takes the trophy for winter interest. It’s impossible not to notice this shrub’s vivid red branches during the fall, let alone the stunning contrast it provides against the white snow. If red is a little too festive, you can also find orange, coral, and golden dogwood varieties.

Beautyberry: The delicate, arching branches of this deciduous shrub might lose their leaves in the fall, but they gain a pop of color with their bright berries. It’s not hard to see where this plant gets its common name since their berries display a stunning shade of purple that’s unique as far as berries go. These berry clusters persist into winter, adding interest to your landscape for months at a time.

Evergreen Azaleas: Flowers aren’t typically what you expect to see peeping out of the snow, but spring comes early with the late winter blooms of some evergreen azaleas. We especially love the deep purple-pink color of Karen Azaleas. You can carry the color on into spring with the red blooms of Girard’s Hot Shot or the elegant white of White Cascade.

Ninebarks: With their exfoliating River Birch-like bark, Ninebarks add texture and interest to your landscape not just during the cold season, but for the rest of the year too. They bloom in late spring, bear fruit in the summer, and their fall foliage is stunning. They’re classic garden shrubs that require very little care.




Vines add a decorative touch to your garden all year long. Whether they’re wrapping around structures, climbing trellises, or even climbing your house, they bring texture to your lawn and landscape. Here are a few that continue their interest into the winter season:

Climbing Hydrangea: After their white blooms have faded and their golden fall colored leaves fall off, climbing hydrangeas leave behind a branched skeleton of their former self. It’s actually much more charming than it sounds—their exfoliating bark and spreading branches give off a nice cottage garden feel. 

American Bittersweet: This attractive vine adorns itself with bright orange-red berries that last well past autumn. Be careful not to confuse it with Oriental Bittersweet—a very aggressive and invasive species can smother your trees. While it’s actually illegal to sell in Illinois, it’s also very hard to tell the two apart and mistakes have been made in the past. As long as you take steps to ensure you’re bringing home the American vine, such as buying from garden centers and questioning the staff, you’ll be delighted with the extra pop of winter color. 

Hardy Kiwi: As a tropical fruit, you might not think about planting kiwi vines up here in Illinois, but this cold-tolerant variety has adapted to our cold season weather quite nicely. Its slender branches look similar to grapevine or wisteria, and easy embellish structures like trellises and fences by twining around them. Plus, they might produce small, sweet kiwi fruits that are about the size of a grape in the fall—and you don’t even need to peel off a fuzzy skin to eat them! (I have a few customers and have never seen a fruit)



Ornamental Grasses

Evergreen foliage and colorful berries might be the backbone of winter interest, but ornamental grasses can also add color and charm in their own, unique way. Even though they may be dormant, their faded leaves are still a reminder that there are plenty of plants hiding under the blanket of snow, ready to spring back to life in just a few months. These ornamental grasses are some of the best outdoor plants for fall and winter.

Carex: Carex is a family of mounding grasses, often with strappy leaves that can display many different shades of green. It often retains some of its green color year-round, which is a refreshing sight to see in the dead of winter.

Switchgrass: A tall prairie native, many switchgrass varieties provide stunning fall colors in blazing shades of orange and red. Others fade to a more subtle brown but still look stunning under a layer of frost. Plus, switchgrass provides shelter for birds and other wildlife, so it’s a win-win!

Little Bluestem: Another native to the prairies, little bluestem is a little shorter than switchgrass, although larger bluestem varieties do exist. Throughout most of the year, this ornamental grass displays a gorgeous, green-blue hue, but its the copper-orange fall color that stands out beautifully against the snow once the cold season arrives.


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These plants add interest to your winter landscape by accentuating the natural beauty of the season. They encourage us to appreciate the cold and snow, rather than just tolerate it—and with the long-lasting, freezing temperatures here in Illinois, that’s often easier said than done!


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