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  • Chelsea Harding

Perennials with Winter Interest to Add to Your Garden

Updated: Feb 1

Here are 12 great perennials to improve the texture and visual impact of your landscape during the dormant season.

Ornamental grass and upright sedum in winter

Perennials are an important part of the landscape. However, many of these plants die back completely to the ground in the winter and can leave the garden looking bare. There are a number of perennials that can add to the winter garden. Some offer evergreen, or semi-evergreen foliage that will peak out from under snow or add color during dry winters. Others boast sturdy stems and attractive seedheads that, when left unpruned, can be a boon for visual impact, as well as providing forage for birds.


Consider adding these plants to your landscape to ensure you have interest in your garden year-round.

Hellebore foliage under frost

Bergenia

Dianthus

Echinacea

Geranium

Heuchera

Helleborus

Iberis

Lamium

Rudbeckia

Sedum

Thymus

Veronica

 


Bergenia cordifolia - Pigsqueak

Zone 3, Full Sun to Part Shade

Grown primarily for its evergreen foliage, which turns shades of burgundy in the fall and winter. Scapes of pink flowers bloom in early spring. Bergenia grows as a large rosette. It is incredibly low maintenance, only needed a quick clean out of any dead leaves and spent flower stems. Here in Utah I find it does well in afternoon shade and plenty water to prevent leaf burn in our hot, dry summers. I love to use it in containers.


Recommended varieties: Eden's Magic Giant, Miss Piggy, Pink Dragonfly, Winter Glow



Dianthus spp. - Pinks

Zone 4, Full Sun to Part Shade

Dianthus is a diverse genus that gives us carnations - the cut flower, as well as some great perennials for the garden. My recommended varieties below list those with fine-textured foliage that are evergreen in milder winters. They are short statured plants with profuse blooms that are great for rock gardens or front of the flower bed - plus they are heat tolerant! They can be massed together to form an attractive ground cover. Shear back after first bloom to keep the plant tidy and encourage free blooming throughout the summer.


Recommended varieties: Devon Xera, Neon Star, Paint the Town Red, Paint the Town Fuchsia, Tiny Rubies



Echinacea spp. - Coneflower

Zone 3, Full Sun

A stalwart, must-have American wildflower. When left unpruned, Echinacea provides wonderful winter structure, not to mention forage and shelter for wildlife. It performs wonderfully in summer heat and well-drained soil conditions. There are a stunning variety of newer cultivars coming in nearly every color, although you may find older varieties to be longer lived. Cut back last year's growth during your first spring cleanup in the garden after you've enjoyed their structure all winter long.


Recommended varieties: Cheyenne Spirit, Green Twister, Magnus, PowWow Wild Berry, PowWow White, Tennessee



Geranium cantibrigiense - Cranesbill

Zone 4, Full Sun to Part Shade

This species of Geranium is a mat-forming, semi-evergreen perennial. They offer profuse blooms in the spring and a slight reddening of the foliage in fall. Very low maintenance, but can be sheared back during the summer if needed to revitalize and encourage fresh growth. Geranium cantibrigiense will appreciate afternoon shade during hot summers.


Recommended varieties: Biokovo, Karmina



Helleborus orientalis - Lenten Rose

Zone 4, Part Shade to Full Shade

This is diverse genus of winter or spring blooming plants with evergreen foliage. They are often the first perennials to bloom in a garden. Hellebores will slowly colonize the area they are planted and are a great choice for underplanting multistem trees or large shrubs. There are a huge number of varieties with unique colored blooms (shades of red, pink, white, green, yellow, slate, blue, and black) and varying foliage - many gardeners have become avid hellebore collectors! Hellebores make great cut flowers. Minimal maintenance required, clean up ratty looking leaves as needed. These sold out fast at the nursery every spring. If you find a unique cultivar that you love, don't wait to buy it!


Recommended varieties: Frostkiss Anna's Red, Frostkiss Penny's Pink, Honeymoon Rio Carnival, Ivory Prince, Merlin, Pink Frost, Wedding Party Flower Girl, Winter Jewels Onyx Odyssey



Heuchera spp. - Coral Bells

Zone 4, Part Shade to Full Shade

Another genus with a stunning amount of diversity, Heuchera is a staple plant of the shade garden. Their beautifully colored foliage sticks around during winter months. Any old, unattractive looking leaves can be removed as needed to keep the plant looking tidy. It's worth exploring all the colors this perennial offers and consider how to pair them with surrounding elements to create contrast in the landscape. Dainty bloom spikes in late spring are an added bonus.


Recommended varieties: Caramel, Champagne, Dolce Apple Twist, Dolce Cherry Truffles, Dolce Wildberry, Fire Alarm, Lime Rickey, Midnight Rose, Obsidian, Ruby Bells



Iberis sempervirens - Candytuft

Zone 4, Full Sun to Part Sun

Candytuft is a great ground cover that stays together as one mound, rather than spreading around and becoming invasive. It offers evergreen foliage as winter interest. Truly a straightforward, easy to grow perennial. Shear back after it blooms in spring to keep it looking tidy.


Recommended varieties: Alexander's White, Purity, Snowsurfer Forte, Tahoe



Lamium maculatum - Dead Nettles

Zone 4, Part Shade to Full Shade

Lamium is a nice ground cover for shady areas, offering beautiful variegated foliage. Good for pairing with darker colored perennials like Heuchera to help them pop in the landscape. Semi-evergreen to evergreen in milder winters. It's an efficient spreader but should be easily controlled by pulling or digging out of unwanted areas. Can be trimmed back in late winter if needed.


Recommended varieties: Ghost, Lemon Frost, Orchid Frost, Pink Pewter, White Nancy



Rudbeckia fulgida - Black-Eyed Susan

Zone 3, Full Sun

Similar to Echinacea, Black-Eyed Susan is a classic summer blooming garden perennial. Though its value for winter texture may be missed as people get in the habit of cutting everything back in the fall. Leave their stems up to be enjoyed by you and the birds throughout the winter. Then cut back at the very beginning of spring.


Recommended varieties: City Garden, Goldsturm, Little Goldstar, Viette's Little Suzie



Sedum telephium - Stonecrop

Zone 4, Full Sun

Sedums are a hardy succulent that come in a beautiful range of colors and forms. The upright varieties add nice structure and texture to the winter garden when left unpruned until spring. Late summer to fall blooming. They are heat and drought tolerant, require well-drained soil, and prefer not to be fertilized. Pretty much as low maintenance as you can get! Be sure to check out the different cultivars available because there are some stunning ones.


Recommended varieties: Angelina, Atlantis, Autumn Fire, Candy Cherry Truffle, Dazzleberry, Firecracker, Matrona, Neon



Thymus spp. - Thyme

Zone 5, Full Sun

Thyme is not only a culinary herb, but also a wonderful garden perennial that is semi-evergreen. There are several species that come as a ground cover, and mounding or shrubby forms. The ground covers aren't useful for cooking but most others are harvestable, with fragrance and flavor varying depending on the species. Thyme requires well-draining soil. The mounding and shrubby forms can be sheared back lightly throughout the growing season.


Recommended varieties: Archer's Gold, Elfin, Silver Posie, Woolly



Veronica liwanensis - Turkish Veronia

Zone 4, Full Sun to Part Shade

This species of Veronica is a single variety of ground cover with wonderful semi-evergreen foliage. In spring it's absolutely covered with dainty blue blooms. It doesn't mind occassional foot traffic and can grow between stepping stones, in park stips, or as a lawn substitute. It's a fast growing ground cover with a healthy spread, but not too aggressive. Weed suppressing with little to no maintanence.


 

We don't always think of perennials when talking about winter structure. As your landscape evolves, take note of any bare spots in the winter and ponder how perennials can play their part in keeping your garden beautiful all year long. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite winter perennials!


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