The first snow of the year is always an exciting day, but by February, we’re all pretty tired of staring out the window at a plain white landscape. Luckily, with some strategic planting in fall, you can be sure your garden never lacks color and texture—even when it’s covered in a blanket of snow!
Fall Planting to Bring Visual Interest to the Winter Landscape
All sorts of beautiful plants hold their color and shape throughout the winter. You’re probably well-acquainted with evergreen conifer trees, but there’s plenty more to choose from beyond that! Here are our five top picks for fall planting so your landscape is lush and full of life, even in the bleak midwinter.
Photo credit: NPS Plant Finder
Wintercreeper is a fascinating broadleaf evergreen that can be grown as a shrub or a creeping ground cover. If you grow it flat across the ground, it may get covered in snow, but if you try planting it near a wall, fence, or lattice structure, allowing it to creep and climb, you can enjoy that gorgeous greenery all year!
Purpleleaf wintercreeper is especially popular for winter interest—its dark green leaves develop a rich, reddish-plum color that lasts all through the winter! Other varieties like Moonshadow and Gold Splash have beautiful variegated leaves, bringing fabulous dimension and color to the scenery.
Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper
A stunning needled evergreen often grown in a bonsai style, the dwarf Japanese garden juniper has attractive, lush foliage that’s easy to prune into stylized shapes. It’s great for fall planting because it has emerald needles that take on a purple flush as the temperatures drop.
Grow it as a ground cover by planting it at the top of a slope and allowing its branches to sprawl outward, or train it with stakes into an upright tree form. As a ground cover, it reaches about 12 inches high and spreads 6 feet across, but trained tree forms can reach 2–4 feet in height.
Photo credit: NPS Plant Finder
This hardy holly doesn’t produce berries like the classic varieties you see at Christmastime. However, its gorgeous foliage makes it a worthy contender for fall planting! Its serrated, glossy green leaves have subtle pink and red borders that intensify through fall and winter, adding plenty of color and texture to the landscape.
Scallywag holly reaches a modest size of 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, with a lush density that makes it ideal for small yards and foundation planting.
Red Twig Dogwood
Most dogwood varieties are chosen for their beautiful spring blooms, but the Red Twig dogwood is heralded for its striking red branches. You’ll love the bold contrast of bright crimson against a snowy landscape.
Fall planting is perfect for shrubs like dogwood because the soil is cool and mild, so you won’t run the risk of shocking their roots from a sudden spike in temperature. It does best in partial shade, so an East-facing garden or some dappled shade underneath a tree canopy would be splendid.
These lovely plants don’t get nearly enough credit! Their slender, breezy blades add movement and dimension to the landscape, and when in bloom, their feathery tufts offer gorgeous texture. Foliage typically takes on a new, vibrant shade for fall—ornamental grasses can display brilliant shades of purples, golds, reds, and silvers, depending on your chosen variety. Although the grass will turn wheat or brown in the winter, there’s no need to cut them back if you want to keep some texture in your landscape; they’ll continue to flutter in the wind.
Some of our favorite perennial ornamental grasses for Illinois include:
- Karl Foerster Reed Grass
- Maiden Grass
- Red Baron Japanese Blood Grass
- Variegated Silver Grass
- Heavy Metal Blue Switch Grass
- Hameln Dwarf Fountain Grass
- Prairie Dropseed
Want to explore even more gorgeous landscape plants for fall planting in 2022? Our staff will be happy to share some fall planting ideas to help you get started. Now is a perfect time to pick up your perennial flower bulbs to plant in fall for spring color!
Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery.