Just add texture: Winter garden standards

Does your garden stand out or melt away in winter? Striking forms and contrasting textures can make all the difference this season.

It’s easy to create a gorgeous summer garden by including lots of colorful blooms. But winter often reveals the truly outstanding landscapes as blossoms and leaves fall away, uncloaking the garden itself. When planning, remember to add a little texture to your yard to create visual interest in winter.

Striking Contrasts

The bold leaves of agaves stand out year-round and contrast nicely with many plants. Or instead of going big, make a splash with the finely-textured leaves of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle.’ Its silvery-green, aromatic foliage make this a good backbone plant for your garden. Other eye-catching options include sotols and nolinas.

Seed Heads with Staying Power

Some perennials’ showy blooms give way to standout seed heads. My favorites include purple coneflower, bee balm and gayfeather.

Inland sea oats develop lovely drooping seed heads that turn from green to tan. You may want to trim them back in late winter if they get too scraggly. The seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals, but be aware they reseed easily and can spread aggressively.

Bunchgrasses often add punch to a landscape, so consider including our native Lindheimer’s muhly in your garden. Its elegant seed heads form gorgeous silvery plumes that wow all through fall and winter. I enjoy watching birds dart into mine to retrieve the leaves for nest-building in the spring. Don’t bother cutting this one back.

Little bluestem is another stunning native bunchgrass and bird favorite in winter. Its leaves turn from silvery-blue to a coppery color in late fall and it carries delicate, fluffy white seed heads.

Beautiful Bark

When branches are laid bare, some tree barks will steal the show in a winter garden. I’m partial to crape myrtle, Texas persimmon and Mexican sycamore, whose bark peels naturally to reveal different shades below. Their bark is fascinating to kids and adults alike and I have fond memories of using shed crape myrtle bark to build tiny houses and boats with my kids — a little mess is worth the memories!

A little textural contrast and distinctive forms will reveal your garden as a neighborhood standout in winter. A final tip: Take a photo of your yard using a black-and-white filter. By removing the color, you can really see the visual texture of your landscape.

Picture of Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet is a conservation planner whose large garden attracts a myriad of wildlife and curious neighbors with minimal water. At SAWS, Kodet develops outdoor programs to help people create their own beautiful, water-saving landscapes. She draws on her two decades of experience as a naturalist, botanical garden educator and event planner. Kodet enjoys (really) long walks in the woods and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.
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