What’s Blooming Now: Contrasting Winter Colors – Board & Vellum

Landscape Architecture

What’s Blooming Now: Contrasting Winter Colors

By Hailey Mackay
February 26, 2019

Highlights in a gray and white winter landscape.

Let’s face it, we are all dreaming of spring right now. But as we sit inside and fantasize about warm spring breezes and fragile blossoms, cold blustery February weather persists outside. Luckily, even dormant plants can offer vibrant visual interest. While there are fewer blooms at this time year (only the hardy survive!), there are other elements of plants that stand out, especially in the gray and white winter landscape.

Coral Bark Maple

Part of the Japanese Maple family, coral bark maple has the small stature and stunning leaves of many of its relatives. Popular in Seattle where the climate is similar to their native habitat, Japanese Maples are prized for their delicate leaves and dramatic branch structure that becomes more attractive with age. The upright, vase-shaped form develops slowly, but is well worth the wait — just look around, many established gardens in Seattle have mature Japanese Maples gracefully accenting doorways and paths.

While coral bark maple may appear as a classic Japanese Maple in summer, with bright green, intricately lobed leaves, and a graceful habit, it harbors a delightful surprise come winter.

What’s Blooming Now: Contrasting Winter Colors – Board & Vellum

Shown Above: Coral Bark Maple — Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’

Once the deciduous leaves have fallen and the temperature begins to drop, the coloration of the bark shifts from green to shades of pink, orange, and red. Especially bright on new twigs, the cultivar name ‘Sango-kaku’ literally means ‘coral tower’, alluding to the effect of the flushed bare branches rising up in the winter landscape like a coral reef.

This tree prefers part sun to part shade and enough space to grow up to 18’ tall and 12’ wide. Plant coral bark maple with evergreen shrubs with dark foliage and variegated accents to create striking winter contrast. We love this tree for its beautiful habit and the intense contrast it creates against gray skies and snowy gardens.

Bloodtwig Dogwood

Another winter show-stopper, the intense bark of bloodtwig dogwood stands out year-round. While in the same family as the flowering trees we featured on the blog back in May, bloodtwig dogwood has a shrub-like, multi-stemmed form that makes it ideal as a screen or backdrop. The specific epithet sanguinea means ‘blood red’ in Latin, referring to the deep red to purple twig coloration of the species.

The cultivar ‘Midwinter Fire’ is one of our favorites: presenting brighter, more robust coloration on branches and twigs than its parent. The stems offer a hue that graduates from a golden orange to a fiery red. With lush green leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers in early spring, reliable golden fall color, and bright bark in winter, this shrub offers superb interest throughout the seasons.

What’s Blooming Now: Contrasting Winter Colors – Board & Vellum

Shown Above: Bloodtwig Dogwood – Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Shrub dogwoods are adaptable but generally prefer full sun to part shade and plenty of water. While they are resistant to deer and will tolerate flooding, they will start to decline if exposed to prolonged drought conditions. They can grow quite large, up to 6’ tall and wide over time, but their size can be managed by removing 25% of the old stems in early spring or hard pruning the whole plant to the ground every few years. These pruning practices can also renew fading twig coloration. These shrubs are best planted in a cluster or mass to create a striking effect in winter. We also love to add bloodtwig dogwood to bioretention areas and rain gardens for a splash of color amidst green foliage.

Winter Rose

Known by many names — Hellebore, Lenten Rose or Winter Rose — all belong to the Helleborus genus. While flowers and leaves vary from species to species, we love this flowering perennial for its rugged semi-evergreen foliage and ornate late winter flowers. A true indicator that spring is on its way, Hellebore begins blooming in February before the last frost, often when snow is still on the ground, and continues to bloom well through March and even into April.

What’s Blooming Now: Contrasting Winter Colors – Board & Vellum

Shown Above: Winter Rose – Helleborus ssp.

With many cultivars to choose from, flower color can vary from white and gold to pale pink, fuchsia, purple, and deep plum. Some cultivars also feature double blooms, with many-layered petals that create a stunning effect. The leaves tend to be leathery, often with sharp serrations around the edges, and while they may be evergreen in mild winters, it is best to prune the old leaves in spring to stimulate new growth.

Leaves and flowers tend to be quite hardy, especially in cold temperatures, but are not tolerant of harsh winds and should be planted in areas where they are protected from direct wind chill. Growing 1-2’ tall and wide, these unique perennial flowers prefer part to full shade and make an excellent addition to mixed ornamental woodlands and winter gardens.

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