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Winter Garden Plants Ideas

Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii)

When most other plants are hiding away from winter’s chill, snowdrop is eager to get going. One of the first blossoms of late winter, snowdrops are still shy, preferring to hide away in rock gardens and under taller shrubs. Plant these bulbs in fall.

Boxwood (Buxus)

Your winter garden will come alive with shapes and forms that add texture. Evergreen boxwood hedges are easy to grow and shape, and make terrific borders for paths and garden outlines. Along with a quintet of arches and some tall conifers, boxwoods have turned this snowed-in landscaping into a fairy tale.

Camellia (japonica)

Like an unexpected gift, some varieties of camellia will surprise you with a showy display of rose-like blossoms in the middle of January. Check with your local greenhouse to select types that are winter-blooming. Evergreen camellias have thick green leaves, will easily grow 10 feet tall, and can live 50-100 years.

Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)

Looking for that special decoration to impress holiday visitors? Try planting Christmas rose in shady spots along your walkways. This winter-loving plant blossoms from late December through early spring on stout stems that rise above modest snowfalls. Plant this perennial in springtime.

Mock rush (Pennisetum glaucum)

Tough, upright ornamental grasses, such as this mock rush (a member of the fountain grass family) poke through winter’s snows and give your garden lots of visual interest. Those tall flower spikes are full of seeds that attract cardinals, juncos, and other over-winter birds. Plant this annual in early spring, and use the seeds to start next year’s crop.

Why Is Fall Planting The Best?

In the wild, as wildflowers bloom and ripen into seed all summer and into fall, the seed simply falls to the ground and is “planted”. Of course, in general, Mother Nature has unlimited wildflower seeds to sow. In the wild all kinds of things happen; Seed falls on rocks, on other plants, etc., and never reaches the soil. This is the price a wild-sown seed pays, and billions are lost each fall.

When a wildflower gardener tries to emulate this process, we do all we can to “help nature along.” That means, we clear the area, open the ground, provide good seed-to-soil contact for every seed, water if necessary, and do anything else to assure our seeding’s success. It’s easy and the work is the same as required for a spring planting. In fact, some people think fall planting is easier.

Like fall-seeded lawns, fall-planted wildflower seed has a chance to “settle” into your site during the winter, and is ready to burst into growth in early spring. This is why fall-planted wildflower seed is up and in bloom about two weeks earlier than spring-planted seed.

Every fall-planting advocate mentions it. In the fall, the gardener has far more time to get work done for two reasons. First of all, there is a longer period and far more “good days” for planting in the fall than during the tricky weather in spring. Secondly, the gardener always has more time during the fall than during the spring rush to get everything done after winter. (Many wild-gardeners combine wildflower seed planting with fall bulb planting, and that’s always a good idea. The times for both are identical.)

Watering And Pruning Plants In Autumn

The winter damage to which trees and shrubs are susceptible often stems from their inability to draw water from the frozen earth. Although we don’t necessarily equate wintry conditions with desert conditions, the winter landscape in cold climates is, essentially, a desert, making plants susceptible to the “winter burn” I mentioned on Page 1. Properly watering the plants in fall, then, can be an effective means of minimizing injury to trees and shrubs during the winter.

  • Try watering plants sparingly throughout early autumn, until the time when the leaves of the deciduous trees fall. Watering plants sparingly in early autumn will allow them to transition more smoothly from the growing season into the dormant season.
  • In late autumn, after the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, give both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs a deep watering.

Watering plants properly in fall isn’t the only “preventive medicine” to administer to trees and shrubs. Proper pruning can also go a long way toward winterizing them.

And part of proper pruning is knowing when -and when not – to prune.

  • Don’t prune trees or evergreen shrubs in the early part of fall. Pruning at this time would encourage tender growth, which you don’t want.
  • If you need to prune trees or evergreen shrubs, wait till the latter part of the season, late winter or early spring. Look to remove weak branches that might otherwise snap in winter.
  • Early-blooming deciduous shrubs are often pruned after they’ve finished flowering. Later bloomers are often pruned in early spring. Again look to remove weak branches that might otherwise snap in winter.
  • Do you have tall trees near your house? If any of their branches are hanging over the house (thereby posing a safety hazard), have a professional come over to “limb” the trees. This is for the house’s sake, not the trees’!

What To Plant In Fall – Part Two

Spring bulbs

All spring-blooming bulbs need a period of cold dormancy to bloom. Plant bulbs in fall to ensure a beautiful spring display. If deer or other critters frequent your yard, plant bulbs they don’t like to nibble, such as daffodil, crown imperial, grape hyacinth, Siberian squill, allium, fritillaria, English bluebell, dog’s-tooth violet, glory-of-the-snow, winter aconite, or snowdrop.


It’s fine to plant perennials in the fall, especially specimens with large root balls. Fall is a good time to divide and replant hostas. Peonies should always be planted or transplanted in the fall. Avoid planting them too deep — no more than 2 inches above the bud on the root — or they won’t bloom. Late summer and early fall are good times to plant and transplant irises.

Chrysanthemums come into full glory by late summer and early fall, but it’s not the ideal time to plant them. Garden mums do best when planted in spring so they get fully established before winter. Sadly, the big, beautiful pots of florist mums you can buy already in bloom at a garden center won’t survive the winter if you plant them now.

Any fall-planted perennials should be carefully watered until the ground freezes to keep their roots healthy and strong. Don’t overwater, but make sure the plants get at least 1 inch of water one time per week.


What To Plant In The Fall – Part One

Spring may be special, but fall is fine for planting. Trufgrass, spring-blooming bulbs, cool-season vegetables, perennials, trees and shrubs can all be effectively planted in the fall. Fall has distinct planting benefits. Its cooler air temperatures are easier on both plants and gardeners. The soil is still warm, allowing roots to grow until the ground freezes. In spring, plants don’t grown until the soil warms up. Here a couple of suggestions if you’re having trouble deciding what to plant this fall.

Trees And Shrubs

Fall is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. The weather is cool but the soil is still warm enough for root development. Before digging, always check with your local utility companies to locate any underground lines. Always plant trees and shrubs at their natural soil lines. Keep newly planted trees or shrubs well watered until the ground freezes so they get a good start before going into full dormancy during winter.


Fall is the best time to plant pansies because the still-warm soil temperatures give their roots time to establish. By planting in fall, you’ll get two seasons of enjoyment out of these cool-season favorites. Remove spent flowers sot eh plant doesn’t use its energy to set seeds, and keep the soil moist. After the soil freezes, mulch plants to prevent freezing and thawing cycles that can heave plants out of the ground.