Do weeks of staring at snowy white landscapes have your eyes screaming for color? Winter gardens don’t have to be drab, lifeless affairs. Flowers may not be in bloom, but many plants have leaves, stems, or berries in shades of bright red, golden orange, or silver-blue and plum. Put them together and your winter garden springs to life.

Mahonia repens is an attractive groundcover year-round, but it really shines in winter. While other plants shed their leaves, Mahonia’s foliage turns a stunning bright red.

Yellow flowers in spring and showy blue berries in early fall add to this native’s year-round interest. Mahonia repens is drought tolerant, and handles full sun to part shade.

Juniper horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ is another groundcover that remains attractive all year. While many junipers grow much too large for our small yards, Blue Chip stays under a foot high. Its feathery foliage is a beautiful steel-blue all year, with the addition of silver-plum tips in winter. Plant it in full sun, where it will quickly spread up to ten feet in diameter. Junipers are very xeric once established.

Ornamental grasses have become very popular in recent years, and for good reason. They come in all sizes and adapt well to a variety of soils. Many species are drought-tolerant.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is a native of the prairies, and is quite hardy here in Colorado. Growing 18 inches to three feet in height, depending on how much water it receives, it fits nicely into most landscapes. In late summer white seedheads appear above the graceful foliage. Bluestem’s outstanding feature is the beautiful rust-orange it turns in the fall. Unless knocked down by heavy, wet snows, the gorgeous foliage will add its rich warm tones to your garden all winter.

Next spring, while you’re shopping for new plants at the garden center, don’t be diverted by all those pretty flowers. Sure, you’ll buy them too. But consider what your garden will look like in winter, and choose plants that are attractive in any season.

Article and photographs by Leslie Holzmann, Certified Colorado Gardener.

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