If you think a pretty snowfall is the only way to give your brown, dormant landscape a winter pick-me-up, reassess your vision for your outdoor space — and consider getting advice from a professional.
“Winter landscaping goes hand in hand with a good overall landscaping project,” says Robert Lehnhoff of Lehnhoff’s Landscaping in Kingsville. “You should have visual texture in your yard throughout the year.”
Richard Whitaker, owner and operator of Whitaker’s Landscaping in Annapolis, agrees, noting that winter landscaping is critical in this region because so many plantings die back in the cold months.
“You don’t want your yard to look dead,” he says.
Even for do-it-yourselfers, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
"Evergreens are a relatively easy way to give yourself winter color, and they have the added benefit that you can string lights on them," Lehnhoff says. For the Baltimore and Chesapeake Bay region, he recommends arborvitae, spruce, pine, firs and holly. Whitaker adds rhododendron, laurels, evergreen azaleas and boxwood to the list.
Lehnhoff cautions homeowners to be careful about where they place evergreens, particularly those that will grow into large trees. "You could end up blocking windows or making your house look small," he says. When adding taller trees and shrubs, place them away from the house and off to one side.
Many trees and shrubs have different varieties and sizes homeowners should take into consideration, Whitaker points out.
"Boxwood, for example, can come in varieties that range from 2 to 30 feet high," he says, adding that evergreens can also act as privacy screens to shield your home from the street or neighbors' views.
Popular small evergreens include winter gem boxwood and soft touch holly, which can even be sculpted. Search for shrubs with blooms or berries like winterberry, barberry, grape holly and viburnum to add other hues to the green and brown. These varieties can be nestled into landscaping close to the house; just be careful to plant them out from under roof overhangs so they still receive ample irrigation from the rain.
Beautify your bark
Winter trees and shrubbery don't have to be limited to evergreens. Many deciduous varieties that lose their leaves in the fall have colorful or textured bark that adds interest to the landscape.
Lehnhoff likes the cinnamon-colored bark of crape myrtles. "It's really pretty against the snow," he remarks.
Other trees with beautiful bark include lacebark elm, crabapple trees and red twig dogwoods with their vibrant, deep red covering. Whitaker is especially fond of river birch for its attractive wintertime bark that "exfoliates" in the cold season, peeling in papery strips to reveal colorful inner bark that ranges from cinnamon to pinkish brown. He also recommends witch hazel, willow and wax myrtle for their interesting bark and leaves.
Many perennial ground covers stay beautiful throughout the year, and some, like hellebores, even bloom. Homeowners can enjoy the white, pink and dark purple flowers of hellebores in February, and those plants can be potted to adorn walkways and entryways as well. Other hardy winter blooms include winter clematis, dianthus, liriope and sedums. Ajuga, with its dark red to purple foliage, would make a hardy and colorful perennial to plant between stepping stones.
Beautify your landscape with fauna as well as flora — yes, even in the winter — by planting trees and shrubbery that attract birds like cardinals and chickadees as well as white-tailed deer. Few things are lovelier than looking out a window onto a snow-covered lawn with red cardinals fluttering nearby and a doe with her nose tipped into winter fruit-bearing trees.
Birds like the fruit of the snowdrift crabapple, according to Lehnhoff, and the fruit is also a lovely red addition to the winter landscape. Crabapple trees work best for roomy yards, though; they can get messy in spring when fruit and foliage drop.
Don't forget about hardscaping
Often homeowners overlook the beautifying benefits of hardscaping, particularly in winter landscapes. Add some drama to the landscape with an arbor, trellis, bench or maybe even a simple statue. You can also make your winter yard amenable to outdoor entertaining and relaxing with an outdoor fire pit or fireplace.
Lehnhoff has started using permeable eco-pavers with clients in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Because they allow snow to drain through them, they make for a safer walking surface in winter. He says another option is to install heating elements under pavers or other hard surfaces.