Winter browns have you feeling blue?

By Dana Cook
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

Winterberry holly.
Winterberry holly is one suggestion to add a splash of color to your garden during the winter months. This week, Master Gardener Dana Cook writes about other suggestions to create a tapestry of hues and textures to your garden for this time of year. – Wikimedia/Rob Routledge/Sault College/
Dana Cook
Dana Cook – WSU Master Gardener. – Provided photo/WSU Master Gardeners

Brown, beige, burnt umber, tan, sienna, taupe, ecru — barring major snowfall, ’tis the season of “brown” in our North Central Washington yards.

I asked a trio of local experts — Derby Canyon Natives owner Mel Asher, Emerald Desert Nursery owner Robin Prchal and Betsy Dudash, a landscape horticulturist and designer — to share their favorite plants for turning our winter landscapes into a kaleidoscopic tapestry of hues and textures in our winter gardens.

For splashes of red on your garden canvas, our experts recommended red twig dogwood shrubs, which are especially ornate against a snowy backdrop.

Prchal recommended a berry-producing evergreen shrub such as winterberry holly ‘Berry Poppins’ or a prairie fire crabapple tree for a pop of red. Asher suggested highbush cranberry for its vibrant red berries for which the birds will also thank you. For a colorful groundcover, Dudash suggested Kinnikinnick, whose red berries “will peek through a few inches of snow.” For a delicate touch of red, consider a Little Bluestem or a red switchgrass, such as ‘Shenandoah.’

“We love evergreens that sport yellow foliage because they are a bright spot in the garden during the cold dark winter days,” said Prchal. Conifers and broadleaf evergreens she recommended include mugo pine ‘Carstens Wintergold’ and false cypress “Lemon Thread.” Yellow twig dogwood “Arctic Fire” is another choice for adding a burst of sun glow to your landscape.

Once winter weather claims its veined foliage, kerria japonica reveals bright lime green winter stems — a nice addition to the other evergreen hues. With its yellow catkins in late winter, a contorted filbert also known by the memorable name “Henry Lauder’s walking stick” offers not only drops of lemon yellow but its gnarly, twisted branches provide a whimsical Dr. Seuss-inspired sculptural effect.

To make those yellows appear even sunnier, pair them with blue. Dudash and Asher like the blue berries of our native Oregon grape whose leaves take on the royal hue of purple in the winter. Dudash also recommended basin wildrye, a native bunchgrass, to add a bit of blue.

Prchal recommends several types of blue spruce that pair well with the above-mentioned yellow and reds. For a smallish touch of blue, consider Dwarf Globe blue spruce, or a Montgomery blue spruce for a bigger space. If you have a large space, a Fat Albert Colorado Spruce is a great choice for a living Christmas tree. Add a ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ fir for a striking silver contrast. A combination of cold-loving conifers can add not only color, but sculptural interest as well.

While adding colors and textures, don’t forget to add white to give the eye a place to rest and to break up great swatches of green. Adding a moon-garden effect snowberry bush berries, seedheads of some perennials, and the bark of our beloved birch trees are fun choices. Prchal recommended ornamental grasses for their “texture, movement and color while their plumes catch the frost and sparkle like glitter.” She likes Miscanthus maiden grass, switch grass and feather reed grass. Snow turns ornamental grasses into shapeshifters, creating a myriad of dimensional effects.

Prchal reminded that our landscapes are not only for plants. Decorate garden art such as trellises, obelisks and statues with small lights, and add a collection of pottery for color interest and brightness to otherwise potentially monochromatic winter landscape.

A WSU Chelan and Douglas County Master Gardener colu15mn appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. To learn more, visit or call (509) 667-6540.