16 Colorful Shrubs for a Standout Winter Garden
The dreary days of winter become even bleaker if your landscape looks dead, brown, and bare. Cheer up a drab lawn and garden with showy shrubs that offer colorful, cold-weather curb appeal.
It’s fairly easy to have a beautiful landscape in spring and summer, but you’re really showing your green thumb if come wintertime your landscape stands out on a street of leafless, dull brown sticks.
“In a season where we spend more time looking out the window than being on the other side of it, winter interest plants and shrubs that we can see from our homes offer a completely different perspective of the place where we live,” says Rochelle Greayer, a landscape designer based in Harvard, Massachusetts.
Choose winter shrubs like these that do well in your USDA hardiness zone, and select those that are known for their winter beauty. You’ll create a four-season landscape that brings joy to you, your neighbors, and maybe a few birds and other critters.
1. Camellia (Camellia japonica)
Camellia has glossy green leaves and vibrant flowers that bloom throughout winter in several colors, including white, coral, pink, yellow, and red. Some extra-showy cultivars of this shade-loving plant display more than one hue. Camellia’s growing habits vary based on variety, with some resembling trees and others taking the traditional shrub form. As long as you select a winter-blooming variety of this colorful shrub, you can rely on camellia for lustrous greenery and cold-weather color for many seasons to come.
2. Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea)
If you’re looking for evergreen shrubs with color, consider pyracantha. Also known as firethorn, this plant is a low-maintenance evergreen that provides seasonal interest in the form of bright berries that, depending on variety, can be golden, red, or orange-red. It’s easy to grow, versatile, and beautiful in a hedge or as an accent shrub. Many varieties of firethorn thrive in several planting zones, so you should be able to find a number of options that suit your requirements for growth pattern and berry color.
3. Beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.)
Resplendent in thick green foliage during the growing season, beautyberry is among unique colorful shrubs. It produces cascades of glossy, iridescent purple berries in fall and winter. The 3- to 5-foot shrub is a striking addition to any landscape, and beautyberry also provides life-sustaining food for birds and other wildlife. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is hardy and drought-tolerant in Zones 7 to 11, whereas three Asian species (C. japonica, C. dichotoma, and C. bodinieri) are more cold-hardy, and can be grown in Zones 5 through 8.
4. Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense)
Thanks to its rich burgundy foliage, fringe flower brings a unique touch of color and texture to the yard or garden, no matter the season. But the drought-tolerant plant’s main draw is its profusion of long, bright pink flowers that bloom in winter, making it among the most colorful bushes in the landscape. It instantly cheers up an otherwise bleak yard in zones 7 to 9.
5. Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Greayer, who also founded the gardening website Pith & Vigor, is a big fan of plants that add color, such as red twig dogwood. After losing its summertime covering of white flowers and its fall crop of berries and leaves, red twig dogwood’s bright red branches remain colorful throughout winter. The plant, hardy in zones 2 through 7, provides a beautiful counterpoint to snowy landscapes, white-barked birch trees, and dark evergreens like hollies. Plant it in a moist site that gets full to partial sun.
6. Nandina ‘Firepower’ (Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’ )
This dwarf variety of nandina is among the prettiest colorful small shrubs you’ll find. It has a rush of brilliant flame-colored foliage that lasts throughout the cold season, which explains its “firepower” moniker. Unlike its cousin, heavenly bamboo, firepower nandina stays compact, reaching only about 2 feet by 2 feet. Its size makes it an excellent border shrub or accent in USDA zones 6 to 9, where it is fairly drought-tolerant.
7. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Ilex verticillata, commonly known as winterberry, is a deciduous holly that loses its glossy green leaves in winter, then erupts with red berries that are a feast for both the birds and the eyes. Only the female plants produce berries, so be sure you have both male and female specimens in the landscape for proper pollination. Among the most striking of the winter bushes, winterberry does well in Zones 3 through 9 in full sun or part shade.
8. Winterthur Viburnum (Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’)
Species of viburnum typically burst with foliage and fruit in the fall. The shrub’s leaves turn dark maroon, and its tightly clustered berries start off green before turning pink, red, and ultimately dark blue. Winterthur viburnum, hardy in Zones 5 to 9, is also pretty in spring, when it features dark green leaves and groupings of small off-white blooms. Many birds, including robins and bluebirds, enjoy snacking on this viburnum’s berries.
9. Kaleidoscope Abelia (Abelia × grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’)
An easy-to-maintain dwarf evergreen, Kaleidoscope abelia changes color from yellow-gold in spring to orange-red in fall, then becomes peppered with white flowers throughout winter. The shrub is hardy to -10 degrees Fahrenheit and works well as a border, accent, or container plant. Prune in early spring to encourage profuse blooming.
10. Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.)
With holly-like leaves and spiking flower clusters, mahonias lend charm to the garden. There are several varieties of Mahonia available, so ask a local nursery which will do best in your area. Typically, this plant blooms in late winter with a shock of cheerful yellow flowers, and purple-blue berries add interest in the spring. Mahonia tolerates both drought and shade, making it a great choice for gardeners looking for low-maintenance, showy shrubs.
11. Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
The long, arching branches of deciduous winter jasmine spring to life in late winter with abundant, bright yellow tubular blooms that appear before the leaves do. The fountain-like shrub can get to about 4 feet tall or can be trained on structures like a vine, where it will grow to 15 feet. It does well in full sun to partial shade, but will bloom less vigorously in shady environments. Winter jasmine prefers well-draining soil, and will fare well in soil that is not compost-heavy. It is hardy in Zones 6 to 9, but is not particularly drought-tolerant, so it might not be a good choice for dry areas.
12. Winter Daphne (Daphne odora)
This standout among the winter-blooming shrubs produces highly fragrant, pink-edged white flowers that stand out beautifully against the shrub’s large, yellow-rimmed green leaves. Plant winter daphne in part shade, in porous, well-draining soil. It doesn’t like to dry out, so make sure it gets plenty of moisture. Winter daphne can’t take very cold temperatures, and does best in Zones 7 through 9. This dense evergreen will grow to 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide in an upright, mounded form.
13. Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)
Paperbush begins preparations for its late-winter flower display early. Silvery flower buds develop in late summer, offering attractive ornamentation throughout autumn and into winter. When the 2-inch-wide flower clusters open, they beguile with not only their silky white and yellow rounded form, but also with their fragrance. Paperbush is a deciduous shrub that grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide in full or part sun. Hardy in Zones 7 to 10, this plant needs moist but well-draining soil. Interestingly, the plant is cultivated in Japan to make paper for banknotes, proving that money really does grow on . . . shrubs.
14. Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)
In late winter, pussy willow plants produce silky catkins—slim, cylindrical flower clusters—that “are a famous symbol of the changing of the seasons,” according to Aaditya Bhatta, editor and founder of Plants Craze. The catkins give the winter garden ”a charming touch and a unique texture,” says Bhatta. Characterized by an attractive weeping form, this large deciduous shrub/small tree needs full sun and plenty of water. A fast-grower, pussy willow likes climates with cold winters and does well in zones 2 to 7.
15. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
In late fall through early winter, witch hazel produces clusters of fragrant flowers with papery, ribbon-shaped yellow petals. Witch hazel—from which the liniment is indeed made—can be grown as a shrub or a small tree, reaching 15 feet tall in the right conditions. Native to the woodlands of eastern North America, this one prefers average, well-draining soils with medium moisture. Plant it in full sun to part shade, but consider that it will flower best in a sunny spot. This might be a good selection for gardeners in more northern climes, as it is hardy in Zones 3 to 8.
16. Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)
This woody shrub looks as odd as its name. Its gnarly, twisted branches—burdened in late winter with masses of yellow catkins— offer intrigue and interest from the moment they shed their leaves. This plant “is an absolute stunner in the winter landscape, especially when coated with a film of ice or snow,” says Lorraine Ballato, an advanced master gardener based in Brookfield, Connecticut. Harry Lauder’s walking stick does well in full sun to part shade and likes moist, loamy soil that’s a bit on the acidic side. It’s hardy in Zones 4 through 8.