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Winter-Blooming Shrubs: The Short List

By Jacqueline Cross (libelluleJanuary 11, 2014
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As the final blooms of summer fade and the brilliance of fall slowly drifts away on the breeze; our thoughts turn to spring gardens filled with waves of bright colors.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 28, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)  

There is no need to wait for spring to enjoy blooms and fragrance in your landscape. Winter-blooming perennials, shrubs and trees are available to brighten even the coldest days ahead. You may not be outside with the spade and pots of annuals but the garden can still be enjoyed by adding a few plants that bloom in winter.

Like the crocus of spring, which rise through a blanket of snow, many shrubs will bloom while covered with the white of winter. Below are a few shrubs which add, fragrance and interest to the landscape with unexpected winter blooms.

Let's start with Pieris japonica, featured in the photo above, right (courtesy of Dave's Garden member growin.)

Japanese Pieris (Pieris japonica)
USDA zones 5 to 8
White or pink 6-inch pendulous clusters of fragrant bell-shaped flowers are born at tips of branches in late winter and early spring. A large evergreen shrub, twelve feet tall, reaching approximately ten feet tall and eight feet wide grows best in rich, moist, well drained soil and partial to full shade. The cultivar ‘Debutante' is compact at only three feet tall and wide.

Cassia (Cassia bicapsularis)
Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden
member Mgarr

Cassia (Cassia bicapsularis or Senna bicapsularis)
USDA zones 7 to 10 (deciduous north of zone 10
Very deep yellow blooms from late fall into early winter. This shrub has a fountain or draping look to it and can grow into a small tree. Plant likes sandy soil with good drainage. Work compost into soil before planting. A sight which receives full sun is best. Water regularly until established. Easy shrub to grow from seed but must be scarified before planting due to their hard seed coat.

Daphne (Daphne odora)
Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden
member bootandall

Daphne (Daphne odora)
USDA zones 3 to 10
The cultivar 'Leucantha' is a very nice choice of Daphne. Creamy-white, pink, or yellow fragrant blooms open in late winter and persist well into spring. This shrub should be planted in slightly moist soil that is well-drained. A sunny to lightly shaded area of the garden is best.
Mature size is approximately four feet tall and wide. Shrub can be short lived.
Some parts of plant may be poisonous.

European Filbert (Corylus avellana)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member philomel

European Filbert (Corylus avellana)
USDA Zones 4 to 8
Commonly called Harry Lauder's walking stick, with off-white to tan colored catkins bloom in late winter and early spring. Grows well in poor, dry soil however, good garden soil is best. Likes full sun. At maturity, this shrub can be a small tree reaching fifteen feet tall and wide with a nice rounded top. The roots spread by suckers which can create a control problem.

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member Todd_Boland

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
USDA zones 5 to 9
Clusters of white, pink or red blooms open on bare stems in late winter and early spring. The cultivar ‘Kingishi' is an especially nice one for the home landscape. It is a compact shrub four to five feet high and wide. Quince is not particular about the soil it grows in. Any soil is fine as long as the shrub is sighted in full sun and watered regularly. It makes a good deterrent against deer because the limbs are covered in very sharp spines.

Laurustinus viburnum (Viburnum tinus)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member Kennedyh

Laurustinus viburnum (Viburnum tinus)
USDA zones 7 to 10
Waxy, fragrant white flowers open from pink buds in late winter and early spring. Some cultivars bloom in summer and continue blooming through the winter. Shrub likes part sun to shade in fertile, moist, well-drained soil.

Mexican Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member htop

Mexican Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens)
USDA zones 5 to 10
Pink to white flowers stay on the plant for long periods beginning in late winter through spring. This evergreen shrub is more of a small tree than shrub and is favored for its unique bark. Manzanita prefers acid soil and full sun. Water weekly until plant is established, then little to no water during warmer months of the year. Tip prune to maintain shape and limit size. According to the website Manzanita Works, this plant is considered a fire hazard, "The leaves hold an oily substance that is extremely combustible when the ambient temperature approaches the 100 degree mark..."

Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member TomH3787

Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)
USDA zones 7 to 10
Clusters of extremely fragrant yellow flowers bloom in winter and early spring. Grow shsrub in rich, moist, well-drained soil and full sun or partial shade. Shrub can reach six feet tall and just as wide. Propagate by semi-hardwood cuttings and seed.

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)
Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden
member Gabrielle

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)
USDA zones 2 to 7
Late winter brings powdery-silver blooms popping out from the bare stems. Pussy willow can reach twenty-five feet tall but can be pruned severely after it flowers. It is a colonizing plant and may cover an area of twenty feet around original planting. It grows as a native in swampy areas and is therefore suitable to low spots in the landscape. Any soil type is acceptable. Bees, butterflies and many bird species are drawn to this plant.

Silk-tassel Bush (Garrya elliptica)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member
begoniacrazii

Silk-tassel Bush (Garrya elliptica)
USDA zone 8
Grey-green silky tassels from early to mid winter through early spring grace this large shrub. Silk-tassel is an evergreen shrub that reaches eight feet tall and wide. Some species can reach thirty feet if not pruned. It grows in any soil type, full sun to partial shade and average watering. For extra-long tassels, grow the cultivar  'James Roof'.

Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member growin

Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa)
USDA zones 5 to 9
Clusters of pure white vanilla-scented flowers from early to mid winter through early spring. Sweet box grows slow but can reach six feet tall and three feet wide and it keeps a nice rounded appearance. Sweet box grows best in moist soil which has been amended with compost. Soil should drain well; think rich, fertile and damp. It prefers shade to partial shade.
Some parts of plant may be poisonous.

Vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member slyperso1

Vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)
USDA zones 3 to 8
Cluster of fragrant bright yellow, orange or red-orange blooms from late winter through early spring. This shrub grows to eight feet tall and wide in any soil, sun or shade and with little or too much water. Not fussy at all about living conditions.

Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member frostweed

Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)
USDA zones 4 to 9
Another common name for this shrub is breath of spring. In late winter and early spring this weeping shrub is covered with lemon-scented white blooms. It can grow to ten feet tall and wide. Grow in dry to not-to-wet soil which drains well in full sun to partial shade. Prune after flowering to control size.

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)
Photo courtesy of Dave's
Garden member mattadeus
Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)
USDA zones 6 to 9
Fragrant yellow flowers with purple centers in early winter to early spring. Shrub can reach twelve feet tall. Plant in any good garden soil in full sun to partial shade and water regularly but do not overwater. For blooms with red rather than purple centers grow the cultivar ‘Grandiflorus'.

 

I would like to add a note on winter-blooming heath. They are often overlooked and for gardeners who live north of zone 6, these are a perfect blooming small shrub. They are low growing and spreading shrubs which work nicely along pathways and in front borders. They will literally bloom under the snow. Many varieties survive and even thrive in zones where temperatures reach -25° F.

For southern gardeners, at least one Camellia (Camellia japonica) should be prominently sited in the home landscape.

To find other winter blooming shrubs, search Dave's Garden Plant Files.

Happy Gardening


  About Jacqueline Cross  
Jacqueline CrossI'm a native Floridian...feet planted in the shifting sands of northwest FL. but my heart strings are tightly knotted to the hills of Tennessee. I live with my poodle, Minnie Pearl, Zsa Zsa the cat who runs the whole show and a new addition, Kitty Belle. I'm a writer, gardener, quilter, cross stitcher, soapmaker and nature lover. Mother to 3 wonderful daughters & Nana to 6 perfect grandchildren. I also write for Suite101.com and was promoted to Feature Writer in the vegetable gardens section in 2008.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Thanks for the info! RHopson 0 0 Jan 19, 2014 2:53 PM
Great Survey article!! DavidLMo 0 0 Jan 13, 2014 9:17 PM
Daphnes savalas 4 53 Jan 13, 2014 9:16 PM
Awesome kathy65468 6 36 Nov 29, 2008 12:25 AM
Thanks! Fitsy 9 35 Nov 28, 2008 9:24 PM
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