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Native Plants: Building Your Winter Garden

It's a thing and now is a really great time to think about it!

Gardens in the Chesapeake can be a year round affair. There are loads of ways to create a winter garden. There is still plenty of time to leave, or add, structure in your garden.

Leaving Structure

dried stalks of native obedient plnat
Obedient Plant

Do you have perennials in your garden that you can leave standing through winter? Coneflowers (Echinacea), black eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida), mountain mints (Pycnanthemum muticum) and obedient plants (Phytostegia virginiana) are just a few native perennials that can stand tall through winter rains and the occasional snowfall.

native mountain mint in winter
Mountain Mint

Leaving these perennials standing not only helps your garden design through the cold months; it can provide excellent ecological benefit as some insects use the stems of perennials to overwinter.

Creating Structure With Objects

Are you able to add a structure? Structure can be more typical items like spheres, trellisses or lanterns or it can be a very creative and intentional use of stones like in Robert Baron's garden. Adding a focal point or lines in the garden creates interest.

The artful placement of one or more pieces of cut wood can add structure. This arrangement, placed by gardener Ashley in Towson, was initially temporary though it stayed much longer to the delight of neighborhood kids. If you haven't seen it, you can view all of Ashley's garden here.

Adding height can also create winter structure. One of the most rewarding ways to do this is to shop your own space for new ways of using things. If you have old branches, perhaps you can create an arch or trellis or an architectural stack. The artful pots at the Rotary Botanical Gardens south of Madison, Wisconsin could easily be replicated using native Adam's needle (Yucca filamentosa).

native adam's needle in a pot
Adam's Needle

Creating Structure With Plants

So long as your ground is not frozen, late fall and winter are great times to plant shrubs and trees per University of Maryland's Extension Service advice. A number of garden centers and a few of our native plant nurseries like Unity Church Hill Nursery (open till the 23rd and all plants 30% off) and a Little Farm and Nursery on the Eastern Shore and Herring Run Nursery in Baltimore and Kollar Nursery to the north still have shrubs and trees available.


Woody shrubs can be a key way to add structure to your garden in colder months. Plants like red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) with red stems, a mature winterberry (Ilex verticillata) with a graceful branch structure and bright red berries for a time or a common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) with late fall yellow flowers add winter interest for sure and now is a good time to plant these. With shorter daylight and cooler temperatures, newly planted shrubs put energy into root systems instead of pushing out new foliage which helps plants get a head start on the next growing year.

native gro-low sumac in winter close up
'Gro-Low' Sumac

Any woody shrub will add structure to your garden. Bare branches can be artful, create focal points and create a sense of enclosure when everything is bare.


Certain trees really pop in winter. River birch is one. It's exquisite peeling bark jumps forward when all the foliage recedes. These are large trees that love sun and moist to average soils.

If you are only going to do one thing for winter interest, think evergreens. They pump up the winter garden!

Where To Start

winter garden scene
My Favorite View

It's often helpful to make sure you have evergreens you can see from windows in your home so you can actually enjoy that winter garden. If your evergreens are planted up against your home's foundation, as many landscapers often do, they will likely be hard to see from inside. One strategy for creating your winter garden is to start by adding your structure in direct view of your favorite winter window view or the window you frequent the most. Living in an apartment? You can grow evergreens in containers. Adding just one a year will make a huge difference in five years -- the best time to start is now.

Happy winter gardening!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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