A Pop of Valentine Color in the Winter Garden

Bright red stems of Arctic Sun® Cornus sanguinea provide colorful winter contrast and interest in the landscape. Photo courtesy Proven Winners.

There’s a quiet solitude to winter. Our monochromatic landscapes lie hushed by a blanket of snow. It’s easy to imagine the slumber going on, both above and below the frozen tableau. The beauty of its simplicity is hard to deny.

But there! What was that? A flash of red stabs the veil. Perhaps it is a cardinal flitting past, or an errant crimson leaf that escaped the pile you meant to clean up in the fall. Whatever it was, it demonstrates the power that a glimmer of bright color has on the garden in winter. That’s because in this month of Valentine’s Day we’ve got red on the mind. We are bombarded with scarlet red hearts and bows and roses everywhere but in our gardens. And we want that touch of red to arouse our senses.

Colorful fall foliage of Arctic Sun® Cornus sanguinea is just one reason to plant this native cultivar. Photo courtesy Proven Winners.

Now imagine where just such a flash of red could go to light up your landscape as it hibernates, both with or without snow. Forget roses for the moment, unless they are the florist kind. This is the dead of winter, and there’s a different sort of Valentine red in the garden now. Whether it is mixed with evergreens or deciduous trees and shrubs, a colorful red twig dogwood shows its true colors this time of year.

Arctic Sun® Cornus sanguinea has bright red, orange, and yellow stems that enliven the landscape with or without snow. Even the fall foliage of this variety is colorful, making it a sought-after native cultivar in all seasons.

This variety is compact (three to five feet), making it a good fit for most landscapes. Largely trouble-free, Arctic Sun® works well as a hedge or in rain and cutting gardens. It can stabilize banks, too. C. sanguinea has fairly good deer resistance but isn’t quite as good as C. sericea. Still, it’s a really useful plant that’s hardy to USDA Zone 4 and grows in full sun or part shade, even in slightly wet or boggy areas.

Arctic Fire® Red dogwood has beautiful red stems and a compact habit. It simply pulsates with color in the winter sunlight. This dwarf variety reaches just three to five feet, rather than the eight to 10 feet of conventional red twig dogwood. Its smaller size makes this variety a great breakthrough for smaller gardens or residential landscapes. It tolerates a wide range of soil and light conditions. You may want to plant a few extra to use in winter arrangements and holiday décor. It is native to North America and cold hardy to Zone 2.

Goblin® Red Winterberry Holly Ilex verticillata is a hardy dwarf variety with loads of brilliant red berries is perfect for smaller landscapes. Photo courtesy Proven Winners.

Scores of brilliant red berries make Winterberry holly an awesome plant for winter landscapes, but many homeowners don’t have room for a traditional variety. Berry Poppins® winterberry holly solves that, with a dwarf habit that can be used nearly anywhere. Native to North America, this deciduous holly loses its leaves every autumn, but it makes up for that with a heavy berry display that truly shines in the winter landscape. A male pollinator is required in order to set fruit; use Mr. Poppins® winterberry holly. Other Winterberry hollies include Little Goblin® Red and Berry Heavy® and an orange-berried variety, Little Goblin® Orange.

We still need evergreens and other color in winter. Physocarpus and Heptacodium are more subtle options for winter interest. Their berries are great, too. Viburnum, Callicarpa, and Ilex verticillata have lots of personality in colder months. Not only do these landscape additions add color, but they provide winter shelter and food for wildlife.

A fragrant landscape rose would be perfect for any Valentine. At Last® is a compact and hardy landscape rose. Photo by Lynette L. Walther.

While winter color is a great addition to any landscape, when it comes to Valentine flowers, there’s no substitute for a rose. This year we have a new choice, a delightful addition to rose selections—a fragrant, disease-resistant, and cold-hardy landscape rose. At Last® is special enough to be designated as a Proven Winners’ Rose of the Year. At Last® rose grows about three feet tall and three feet wide with masses of delicate apricot blooms. And deadheading is not necessary. It is hardy to USDA Zone 5, and like all roses it grows best in full sun.

This rose is spectacular as a specimen plant, but it also makes a great mass planting or hedge. Of course, we’ll have to wait for summer for this one to shine.

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