6 Small Shrubs and Trees that Shine in Winter

6 Small Shrubs and Trees that Shine in Winter

Red Twig Dogwood with Icy Branches

  • Posted January 4, 2018

In winter, many plants retreat underground to their roots and drop their leaves. Fortunately, there are exceptions. A few special plants have such a fine branch structure; they look like a work of art when shrouded in winter fog and snow. Some hang onto their fruit all winter long, serving as a seasonal pantry for the few birds that choose not to migrate. Others like to get such an early start on spring; they begin to flower in midwinter, their decadent blooms like glowing light bulbs on the bare branches.

Here are some of the top winter specimens small enough to grow in a pot:

1. Japanese Maples

Japanese Maple
Japanese maples are arguably more stunning after their leaves depart than during the growing season. The variety “Dissectum Atropurpureum" grows slowly to about 6 feet tall and has a weeping, spreading habit of unusual architectural grace.

2. American Holly

American Holly
American holly is one of the few non-conifers that remain bright green during winter, even in cold climates. Its prickly leaves and red berries are a staple for wreath-making and other winter arrangements. Though it grows into a 40-foot tree in the wild, there are numerous dwarf selections, such as “Clarendon," which is just the right size for a 15-gallon pot.

3. Red-twig Dogwood

Red-twig Dogwood
Red-twig dogwood looks just like it sounds and winter is the best time to enjoy the colorful branches, especially against a backdrop of snow.

4. Corkscrew Filbert

aka Harry Lauder's Walking Stick
Corkscrew Filbert
With its contorted branches, corkscrew filbert, also known as Harry Lauder's walking stick, is quite a site when stumbled upon for the first time. It also blooms in winter, though filbert flowers come in the form of catkins—slender, string-like decorations that hang gracefully in the labyrinth of bare branches.

5. Flowering Currants

Flowering Currants
Flowering currants make their fruit in mid-summer, but it is best left to the birds. The real treat with these shrubs are the pink, red or white blossoms that cover the entire plant starting in January.

6. Winter Daphne

Winter Daphne
Winter Daphne flowers in February on a dainty and compact evergreen shrub. A single specimen has enough perfume in its flowers to permeate the entire yard. Many plant connoisseurs have lauded daphne as having one of the most perfect fragrances in the plant kingdom, rivalling some of the better known spring and summer bloomers, like jasmine and roses.

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Brian Barth
About the Author

After 15 years as a professional landscape designer and horticulturalist, Brian Barth embarked on a second career to share his passion—and the knowledge he's accrued—through writing. His love of plants is all-encompassing, but he has a particular soft spot for culinary crops.

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6 Small Shrubs and Trees that Shine in Winter

Traits for Winter Interest

  • Weeping or Twisting Branches
  • Persistent Fruit
  • Peeling or Patterned Bark
  • Bold Colored Bark
  • Cold Season Blooms