Winter in Ohio (Zones 5, 6 and 6a) begins in December and continues through the end of March--sometimes longer in certain years. An array of winter blooming perennials and shrubs helps us get through the dreary, cold days. And in more temperate regions, a greater variety of floral displays helps keep the winter blahs from setting in.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 9, 2009. 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.)
If your landscape is barren and uninteresting in winter, consider planting some of the following specimens next year to brighten up your winter days. I've grouped the plants and shrubs according to the month(s) in which they bloom, with information about regions, if available. Many of these plants grow in almost all the zones, with varying habits of bloom. One drawback to some of these eager harbingers of spring is the often unfortunate production of buds just before a cold snap. Most will survive, but prolonged freezing temperatures usually destroy the tender buds.
Blue Holly(Ilex x meserveae) flowers are tiny and appear sometime in late July/August here in Ohio. They have no fragrance and are of no significant visual value--but the brilliant red and orange berries that follow are a sight for sore eyes through the winter. Holly grows in Zones 4a through 9b.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) produces red, orange, or yellow flowers that resemble spiders hanging from the branches. Some varieties are scented. Grows in Zones 3a to 8b.
Camellias (Camellia japonica) bloom from late fall through mid-winter in temperate regions (Zones 8a-10b), and come a wide array of pink, white, yellow, peach, red, and variegated colors.
Forsythia (Forsythia ovata) blooms in late February/early March in many cold weather regions (Zones 4a to 7b), especially during milder winters. In extreme cold weather, the blooms wait until late March to appear.
Squill (Scilla siberica) often appears in February and March, even through the snow, often followed by the first sign of hyacinth and daffodil growth. Thrives in Zones 2a to 8b.
Pussy willows (Salix discolor) emerge in late March in Zones 4a to 8b.
Daffodils and Narcissus grow quickly through the coldest weather, bursting into bloom once the air warms a bit. (Zones 5b to 10b)
Flowering Cherry (Prunus spp.) is usually the first ornamental fruit tree to produce blooms in March in Zones 6a to 9b.
With a little advance planning, you can enjoy Nature's colors through the coldest months.
Snowdrop imag used with permission under GNU Free Distribution License at Wikimedia Commons.
About Toni Leland
Toni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.