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"Fall and Winter can be Colorful Seasons too!" by the Whistling Gardener

There is no excuse for a drab garden in the fall, or winter, considering that there is a multitude of plants to choose from that will brighten our gardens over the next five to six months.
Fall colors and textures in the garden. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

I just had the opportunity to sit through a class on plants for fall and winter interest, presented by our chief horticulturist and general manager Trevor Cameron, and it brought back home to me 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 our website under class handouts, titled "Fall & Winter Interest.") You can also try to Google winter plants for the pacific northwest but it probably won’t be as complete.

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 blue Weeping Atlas Cedar, dwarf bright green Hinoki Cypress, Golden Mop Cypress and chartreuse 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 non-stop blooms Pansies and Violas are a must!

Pacific 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!

Sunnyside’s next free online classes will be "Essential Evergreens" on Saturday, October 23, 2021, at 10:00 am; and "Tucking In The Garden For Winter" on Sunday, October 24th, at 11:00 am.

For more information or to sign up, visit

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

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