16 of the best shrubs for winter colour
At this time of the year, the rest of herbaceous perennials are dying down and colour is slowly disappearing from our gardens. Luckily, there is a selection of shrubs bringing colour and sparking up our outdoor spaces in the winter.
But first, it would be wise to mention their other benefits if you would like to access their full potential.
Larger evergreens planted towards the centre or back of the border provide an exceptional background for a flowering display in front of them in spring and summer.
Some deciduous shrubs cake care of the spooky-like display at Halloween with their silhouettes of bare branches prior to flowering. Others can create a contrast in height, colour, leaf texture or shape and some simply fill the gaps, suppressing weeds growth in the growing season.
If you would prefer winter flowers only, click here.
Throughout this article you will find our recommended shrubs for winter colour and how they can be used in your garden:
- Witch hazel (Hamamelis)
- Japonica (Chaenomeles japonica)
- Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’)
- Skimmia (Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’)
- Daphne (Daphne odora)
- Viburnum tinus
- Holly-leaved barberry (Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’)
- Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa)
- Wintersweet (Chimonanthus preacox)
- Winter cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)
- Winter clematis (Clematis armandii)
- Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
- Grey-leaved euryops (Euryops pectinatus)
- Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’)
Witch hazel (Hamamelis)
Our ancestors recognized the hidden benefits of Hamamelis in treating inflammation and skin irritation.
We mostly grow it for yellow, red or orange flowers emerging in the winter, providing us with warm colour during cooler days. The green, alternate leaves drop off in the autumn, leaving bare silhouettes of branches ideal for a Halloween theme.
Tip: point a spotlight to the bare silhouettes of branches using green light at Halloween.
Witch hazels are hardy shrubs benefiting from moist soil on acid to neutral side. For best results, plant in full sun, although partial shade can be tolerated.
Japonica or quince (Chaenomeles japonica).
Japanese quince or simply Japonica, can be found in various sizes ranging from one to about five metres in height. It is a plant widely used in Japanese Zen gardens.
In Europe and Northern America Chaenomeles’s cultivation provides white, pink and red flowers in late winter, followed by fruit production in the summer. The apple-like fruit is edible but hard and not particularly tasty when fresh. However, it can be used in cooking, baking or jam making.
We advise planting this shrub towards the back of the border. The dark green foliage serves as a very good background for any colour.
Japanese quince is hardy to –20C and does best in moist but well drained soil of most pH’s. Full sun to partial shade is an ideal position.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’).
This is a deciduous medium to large-sized shrub, reaching a size of 10 x 10 feet and is native to China.
Callicarpa produces lilac-shaped flowers in the summer, but its main interest are the berries produced in the autumn. Due to their bitter taste, the wildlife, such as birds, are normally not attracted to the berries, making them last through the winter.
The leaves, discolouring in the fall, produce a wonderful display of red foliage.
Placing them in the centre or rear of the border is an ideal position for this interesting shrub.
Callicarpa thrives in full sun or partial shade when planted in well-drained soil. Acid, neutral or alkaline soil pH’s are all acceptable.
Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’).
This is a smaller shrub of a compact shape reaching size of approximately 5 x 5 feet. Rubella is a male shrub, and as opposed to females, it doesn’t produce berries.
But there are other benefits. The flower buds of deep red colour are forming in the autumn, lasting all the way through winter, finally opening in the early spring, producing white flowers.
Skimmia is an evergreen shrub and can be positioned in the centre or towards the front of the border, leaving space for a colourful ground cover edging.
It can be used in shadier areas of the garden, planted in well drained but moist soil. Skimmia prefers soil on slightly acidic sites but too much acidity can turn the leaves yellow similarly to the full sun aspect. Hardy to –20C.
Daphne (Daphne odora).
Daphne odora is a disease-free shrub native to China. Its smaller eventual size, 4 x 4 feet, allows it to be planted closer to the border’s edge.
It is a great addition to any winter garden as daphne produces nicely scented pale pink flowers in late winter and because of the scent, we recommend planting it closer to the house or a door.
Daphne is hardy to –5C to –10C, flourishing in partial shade and tolerates all types of soil pH, providing the soil is moist and well-drained.
Note: all parts of Daphne are poisonous to humans and most domestic animals when digested.
Viburnum tinus is a large evergreen shrub, bearing leaves similar to bay trees. It is native to Europe and North America.
Scented white flowers, with a touch of pink, are formed from red buds in the winter followed by deep blue of purple berries.
The large size of this evergreen shrub allows it to be planted at the back of the border as the background if grown to its full size. Smaller round shapes can be achieved by regular trimming.
Viburnum tinus is hardy to –10C, benefiting from well-drained soil of various pH’s. It is suitable for all aspects, making this shrub a good addition to shady areas.
Holly-leaved barberry (Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’) .
As the name would suggest, mahonia produces holly-like leaves of an opposite pattern on longer stems. Clusters of upright yellow flowers are formed in early winter and are followed by formation of blueberries.
What makes this shrub stand out is the colour of its foliage. In the winter sunset, the dark green leaves visually turn blue, creating stunning foliage to flower contrast. Mahonia is generally larger in size and needs to be planted in the background.
This shrub is hardy, can be planted in sun or shade, and tolerating any soil and its pH, it makes a perfect choice.
Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa).
This medium-sized evergreen shrub is one of the easiest to grow. It can flourish in full sun or shade and can easily be contained to a small size as low as half a metre. It could be a great alternative common boxwood when selecting a new hedge.
Sweet scented white bell-shaped flowers, produced in the winter, are followed by black fruit production, attracting birds to your winter garden.
Another great benefit this plant offers is that it can cope in any soil pH and texture.
The flexibility of the size allows it to be positioned anywhere within the border.
Wintersweet (Chimonanthus preacox).
Wintersweet is a medium to large-sized deciduous shrub which reaches a height of approximately three metres. It is tolerant to hard pruning if you are willing to sacrifice next year’s flower production.
Yellow flowers are produced in late winter. Because of the flower’s scent, with the hint of spice, the branches are often used in various arrangements decorating indoors.
We recommend to plant chimonanthus closer to the house, if permitted, to truly appreciate its scent. Wintersweet reaches its full potential in sunny position, planted in acid neutral or alkaline well-drained soil.
Winter cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum).
Winter cherry is technically a perennial but due to its ‘woody’ stems we decided to include it in our list. It is part of the same genus as potatoes and tomatoes. Ironically, in some countries it is classified as a weed.
Solanum produces orange and reddish fruit remaining of cherry tomatoes, hence the name. While the wildlife such as birds are attracted to them, they are toxic to humans when eaten.
Due to a slightly tender nature, we don’t advise to expose this plant to severe frosts. It can, however, be used as a colourful addition to your pots as a terrific companion to bedding plants.
Winter clematis (Clematis armandii).
Clematis armandii is a fast-growing evergreen climbing plant, native to China. It’s dark green leaves of an oblong shape provide an excellent screening all-year-round. Scented white flowers of a star shape are produced in masses in late winter or early spring.
When planting clematis, keep away from the trees and shrubbery. An ingrown clematis can often be difficult to remove from tree’s or a shrub’s branches.
For the best results, plant in full sun in well-drained neutral soil. It is hardy to –10C if planted in a sheltered place.
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum).
Winter jasmine is a deciduous climber native to, again, China. It usually grows up to three metres high with dark green leaves produced during the growing season. Yellow flowers, formed in winter, mostly emerge from the main framework of branches.
When strategically positioned, Winter jasmine creates a magnificent screening, bringing warmth to cooler winter months.
Full sun or a partial shade is desired together with well-drained acid, alkaline or neutral soil.
Camellias are perhaps the best-known winter shrubs. They are evergreen, medium or large plants with dark, thick green foliage but regular trimming can help to restrict the growth. Personally, I saw established camellias as low as one metre.
Single or double flowers, produced in the winter can be seen in different colours including white, cream, yellow, red and all imaginable shades of pink
Camellias can be used as single centrepieces or as a part of a more complex planting scheme serving as a background.
Regular deadheading helps to promote longer-lasting bloom,but beware of wasps hibernating inside the flowers in early spring.
Plant camellias in partial shade and well-drained acid soil. Too much sun can lead to leaf discolouration and we do not recommend choosing them in climates where the temperature drops below –5C.
Grey-leaved euryops (Euryops pectinatus).
This is a small to medium evergreen shrub native to South Africa and is commonly found in the Mediterranean. Silver foliage is very characteristic for this plant. Yellow, margherita-like flowers are produced in the winter, and in warmer climates, most of the year.
Euryops can be used centrally located within the border, underplanted with a cooler colour such as blue e.g., lavender. If you would like to learn more about colour schemes and combinations,click here.
Plant in full sun and well-drained soil in areas with a minimum temperature no lower than –5C.
Note: this plant is toxic when ingested
Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’).
This is an evergreen large shrub producing small white flowers in the spring. But the main winter interest comes from the bare stems. Bright red coloured stems stand out in any winter settings. Dogwood would find its ideal spot in the centre of the border surrounded by greenery.
Cornus alba ‘Midwinter Fire’, a good alternative, will produce a beautiful orange winter display.
Dogwood is a hardy shrub suitable for sunny or partially shaded position if planted in well-drained acid to neutral soil.
Cotoneasters are a large genus of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, commonly found in almost any size, ranging from groundcover to large shrubbery reaching heights of five metres.
They produce small white flowers in the summer followed by production of red berries. The berries are generally not favoured by birds, making them last until mid-winter.
Due to various sizes, cotoneasters can be positioned anywhere in the borders and frankly, some of them make an excellent hedge too,.g. Cotoneaster horizontalis.
This hardy plant can be planted in full sun and partial shade and almost any texture and pH of the soil.
Winter flowering shrubs are a great addition to any garden providing screening, background, scent or colour.
How do I choose the right winter shrubs for my garden?
Do you want your shrubs to provide a flowering display? Do you want to attract wildlife? Or do you want both? In that case, opt for flowers followed by seed formation.
Ok, your plants can be contained to reasonable sizes by yearly pruning, but we always recommend considering the eventual size before purchase.
Aspect and soil.
Is it sunny or shady? What is the pH and texture of the soil?
Your own preferences.
Remember, if there is a plant you really like, there is always a way to find a place for it in your garden.
If you can answer all the questions above, the selection of your ideal plant will become an easy task. If in doubt, please consult your local retailer for some advice.