Brian Minter: Plants for winter colour and feeding wildlife

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On patios or in gardens with limited space, winter color should be planted not only to lift our spirits, but also to encourage the wildlife around us.

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Brian Minter Winter heather is the star of this beautiful garden designed by David Wilson. Winter heather is the star of this beautiful garden designed by David Wilson. Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG

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As the days get darker, wetter and colder, the color in our gardens should become proportionally more vibrant. On patios or in gardens with limited space, winter color should be planted not only to lift our spirits, but also to encourage the wildlife around us.

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Just creating a small living space will make a difference. In areas with milder climates this is much easier; But even in zones 4 and 5, where winter temperatures often drop to -25 ° C, the winter color can provide both food and shelter for native birds.

When daytime temperatures rise to 10 ° C, many bees are still actively searching for pollen and nectar. Anna’s hummingbirds are here now, looking for nectar. As natural food sources begin to disappear, our wintering birds need alternative food options, and our gardens could certainly play a key role.

Most people are unaware of the many winter flowering plants that can help our wildlife. Right now the long-lasting winter heaths are beginning to open up in coastal areas and, depending on the variety, their flowers will last well into spring as a source of nectar and pollen.

Early-flowering hellebore, especially the new Gold Collection of the Heuger family in Germany, such as H. niger Jacob and Hn Joseph, are about to open. The well-known Christmas rose, with its large, upward-pointing, pure white flowers accented by yellow stamens, now blooms early and is laden with pollen and nectar for bees.

The winter-blooming Camellia sasanqua is a magnet for hummingbirds and provides a continuous supply of winter color. Jasminum nudiflorum is now brilliant and long-flowering, as is Pink Dawn viburnum, which will continue to bloom until April next year. Winter flowering Mahonia, like Winter Sun, are also now in bloom and are another source of nectar.

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All of these plants make for long or continuous winter color, especially if they are in the warmest part of your garden where they are least affected by cold weather.

Helleborus niger is attractive to pollinators! Helleborus niger is attractive to pollinators! Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG

If you haven’t planted them yet, there is still a stash of snowdrops, yellow winter ice, and crocuses. Depending on the nature of our winter, they provide color as early as January. Of all these bulbs, crocuses provide the best resources for pollinators.

In recent years, the use of berry plants for landscaping has decreased significantly. As a result, local producers seem to be growing less of it. Ilex verticillata (deciduous holly) is probably the most valuable berry plant for a winter garden. Hardy to zone 3, it needs a sunny spot and both a male and a female plant for best berry development.

Its bright red or yellow berries are not only a hit with birds, but also light up a winter landscape. The berry branches of Ilex verticillata are very attractive when used as clipped stems in bouquets, and they are the most desirable color for patio pots. They may be a little expensive, but they are worth it.

As a traditional evergreen favorite, pyracanthas have attractive orange, red, or yellow berries. As a nice year-round feature, they look great as a trellis on a wall, a trellis or a fence. They are also effective safety plants as they have quite nasty thorns. They too do best in a sunny spot and provide food and shelter for birds in winter.

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Evergreen Cotoneaster salicifolius (Willow Leaf Cotoneaster) is one of my favorite sieve plants. In full sun or partial shade, it quickly becomes three to four meters high and wide and produces tons of small red berries throughout the winter. Although they are not a bird favorite, they will eat the berries during cold spells.

Symphoricarpos (snowberry) is a native plant that has now been bred to produce new berry colors of rich deep pink, light pink, and white. They, too, have become a favorite of many growers because they make great floristic-quality berry stems that go very well in arrangements and in patio pots.

Proven Winners has introduced a new variety called Proud Berry. Hardy to zone 3, it grows only three to four feet tall and wide and produces plenty of bright pink berries that last well into winter. It’s a great source of winter color and for clipped stems in bouquets. To promote ever greater numbers of berries, it should be cut back to about a foot in late winter.

The contribution of deciduous trees cannot be overestimated. The brightly colored stems of bush dogwoods show the way in a wintry glow. The so-called red and yellow twig snares were traditional favorites, but gardeners are now falling in love with the red, orange, and yellow tricolor of Cornus sanguinea Arctic Sun and C. s. Fire in the middle of winter. Hardy against zones 3 and 4, they brighten up winter landscapes, especially when temperatures drop. Similar to the native Red Osier Dogwood, these varieties are bird and animal friendly plants.

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Japanese maples such as Acer palmatum Sango-Kaku (coral bark maple) and Acer griseum (peeling bark maple), like so many others, ensure breathtaking winter presentations.

Evergreen foliage plays an important role in winter color and as a hiding place for birds. Some new compact blue spruces, such as Picea pungens Baby Blue and the low, spherical Picea p. Globosa, have a brilliant shade of blue that is particularly intense in cooler temperatures. Blue fescue grasses like Beyond Blue also bring out the winter color. Other grasses, like the Goldacorus gramineous Ogon and Carex oshimensis Everillo and C. o. Evergold, also add a nice winter glow.

The trend is back to brightly colored, compact conifers, and the choice is considerable today. Dwarf chamaecyparis (like Verdoni), thujas (like Rheingold), and compact cryptomerias that turn purple in winter are all great garden or container plants.

This is the perfect time to evaluate your conservatory. Is it filled with winter color? Does it provide food and shelter for birds and pollinators? Once in place, winter-colored plants will bring joy for years – for us and our feathered friends.

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