Wintergreen adds a pop of red to the garden all winter long. (Getty Images)

Wintergreen adds a pop of red to the garden all winter long. (Getty Images)

Though they’re cold, fall and winter can be colorful seasons too

You have no shortage of choices when it comes to planting for fall and winter interest in the garden.

I recently had the opportunity to sit through a gardening class presented by our chief horticulturist and general manager Trevor Cameron on plants for fall and winter interest.

The class brought back home to me the idea that there is no excuse for a drab garden in the fall, or even the winter, considering that there is a multitude of plants to choose from that will brighten our gardens over the next five to six months.

From conifers and broadleaf evergreens, to tons of deciduous shrubs and trees, not to mention evergreen perennials, the Northwest gardener has so many choices that the hardest part is deciding what you actually have room for.

Here are a few of the options Trevor discussed. (For a complete list go to under the “Class Handouts” tab, there’s a page titled “Fall & Winter Interest.”)

Conifers: Needle-leafed evergreens become the sentinels of our gardens in the winter. Just the other morning, I was looking out my front door, peering through the fog, and there was my weeping blue atlas cedar, dwarf bright green Hinoki cypress, “Golden Mop” false cypress and lemon cypress — all literally glowing through the dense shroud of the morning fog.

Conifers come in an incredible range of colors beside just plain, old, boring green. Some, like “Carsten’s Wintergold” mugo pine and “Chief Joseph” shore pine, actually turn golden yellow in winter and then back to green in the summer. Other conifers will turn a nice plum to purple in the cool months of winter. For a low mounding conifer, try “Moonfrost” Canadian hemlock, with its striking white on green needles.

Broadleaf evergreens: Here the choices continue to expand, with azaleas like “Johanna” and “PJM” that turn a dark purple in winter. “Sundance” Mexican orange retains its bright golden foliage all winter long, while Nandinas and Leucothoes turn a delicious bronze. Several broadleaves like Daphne, Sarcococca, strawberry trees, Camellias and Skimmia actually bloom in the dead of winter, often with added fragrance. And don’t forget winter heather!

Deciduous shrubs and trees: Way too many here to list, but I would be remiss not to mention Japanese maples for their fall color and winter bark. Oakleaf hydrangeas have incredible fall color that often hangs on until spring when the new growth finally pushes off last year’s leaves. “Pink Dawn” Viburnum is a large shrub/small tree that starts blooming in November and continues through March with extremely fragrant pink flowers. Twig dogwoods and vine maples have good fall color and brightly colored twigs, especially the “Pacific Fire” vine maple. Witch hazels and winter hazels both sport bright yellow fall color and colorful yellow blooms in late winter. Now is prime time to shop for fall color on deciduous shrubs and trees.

Perennials and winter color: Evergreen perennials, such as Bergenia, Euphorbia, Hellebore, Heuchera, wintergreen and grasses (like bronze sedge, orange sedge, blue oat grass and blue fescue) are all examples of hardy perennials that will keep their foliage all winter long. Of course, for nonstop blooms pansies and violas are a must!

Northwest gardeners have no shortage of choices when it comes to creating winter interest in the garden. Now is the time to check them all out at your favorite garden center and take a few new treasures home to brighten up your landscape. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

Two free classes

Sunnyside Nursery’s free gardening classes are online for now. An “Essential Evergreens” class is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 23, followed by a “Tucking in the Garden for Winter” class at 11 a.m. Oct. 24 via Zoom. With registration, you’ll receive a Zoom link to attend the online class. For more information or to sign up, visit

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