The increasingly shorter days and longer, cooler nights of autumn trigger the flowering process of an amazing variety of plants that bloom in the winter garden. The color palette of these winter bloomers is in many ways as brilliant as that of the more familiar plants of spring and summer.
While the ground is still warm and afternoon temperatures remain pleasant, this is the perfect time in most parts of the country to plant winter-flowering trees and shrubs. But, because temperatures vary from one part of the country to another and can affect what plants are suitable for each area and when they should be planted, it may be helpful to use a plant hardiness zone map as a fall planting guide for winter bloomers, some of which are included in the list below.
Trees and shrubs
Camellia japonica and sasanqua — Choose japonicas (at right) for shady spots. Sasanquas (below) can grow in sun or shade. Float the blooms in bowls of water. Camellia Yuletide is appropriately named for its tendency to bloom in December.
Daphne odora — Daphnes are most effective when planted in high traffic areas where their sweet fragrance can be enjoyed when you enter or leave the house. They are available with solid green or variegated leaves and bloom in late winter.
Edgeworthia chrysantha — The tropical-looking foliage gives way in late fall to reveal upside down buds that open in January or February. The yellow-flower clusters resemble wasp nests, and their fragrance will fill a portion of the garden.
Flowering Quince Chaenomeles — This may be the plant poster child for not judging a book by its cover. This thorny shrub makes a wonderful barrier in a sunny location because of its unruly branches. In late winter, though, it comes alive when it is covered with pink or orange-red, sometimes white flowers.
Deciduous hollies Ilex verticillata (winterberry) and Ilex Sparkleberry — Winterberry is a native American plant. Sparkleberry is a hybrid. Both are upright bushes 8-10 feet tall that drop their leaves in the fall and then produce masses of berries. The berries attract birds and make beautiful holiday displays. Male and female plants are required to produce berries.
Japanese Apricot Prunus mume — This deciduous tree blooms in January or February with flowers in varying shades of white, pink, and red. Stems of these brightly colored flowers on bare branches make a romantic centerpiece for a Valentine’s dinner with someone special.
Mahonia bealei or x media Winter Sun — Watching a male cardinal feed on the bright yellow flower plumes that top stems of holly-like leaves from the comfort of your den and a warm fire is a true delight.
Winter Jasmine Jasminium nudiflora — This Forsythia look-alike blooms from November to spring with bright yellow flowers. It can be trained to climb like a vine but looks better arching over a wall or down a bank. It will bloom in light shade but is much more prolific in full sun.
Witchhazel Hamamelis — Witchhazels produce clusters of short, twisted flowers in colors ranging from yellow to orange-red. Yellows stand out the best because orange and red tones blend in with the barren winter landscape
Hardy cyclamens — These dainty flowers shoot up on short stems from August-October and signal the coming of winter. Glossy, sometimes marbled leaves appear with or shortly after the leaves and last all winter, going dormant with the arrival of warm weather.
Hellebores Helleborus niger — Known as the Christmas rose, this variety of Hellebore bears its white flowers (there are also pink-flowered cultivars) in the depths of winter. The better-known Hellbore, H. orientalis and its hybrids, flower around Lent and are known as the Lenten Rose.
If you don’t already have one of these winter-bloomers, considering adding some this fall. The lure of their flowers even on the coldest days of the year connects gardeners and gardens in a way that summer flowers just can’t match.