Add Winter Interest to Your Gardens

Add Winter Interest to Your Gardens

Most of us here in Southwestern Ontario prefer the warmer months. But when the snow falls it’s nice to still be able to enjoy your outdoor landscape, even from indoors. Visual interest in winter doesn’t have to come just from urns, wreaths, and garland that gets taken down shortly after Christmas. Hardscaping and plants provide cold-weather beauty that lasts the all season long. Below, we explore various landscaping options whose function and good looks extend well past our patio-dwelling days.


Conifers are typically top of mind when a landscaper wants to add year-round life to a garden because most keep their foliage throughout the cold months. They come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and shades of green that will compliment any home’s exterior. Some of the more popular conifers in our region are from the pine, spruce, and fir groups. And while they come from a different conifer family, cedars, cypress, and junipers, with their splayed branches, aromatic wood, and interesting bark, are also very popular.

But there’s more to evergreens than just needles and cones. Other conifer families are broad-leafed and/or fruit-bearing. These shrubs tend to have an appearance that more closely resembles a deciduous plant, but they don’t shed their leaves. Beautiful examples of broadleaf evergreens that thrive in the hardiness zones of Southwestern Ontario are Euonymous, Boxwood, and the festive favourite, Holly.

Beyond conifers, there are many trees and plants that brown or lose their leaves every year that can add structure and interest to the outdoors.

Ornamental grasses are a great example of plants that turn brow but maintain their structure through the winter and make a lovely, wispy addition to a winter landscape.

Purple Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan, Hydrangea, and Autumn Joy Sedum shed their foliage but maintain flower stalks and/or seed heads that look beautiful under a blanket of snow.

Mountain Ash, Canadian Serviceberry, and Winterberry (a popular Holly variety) are great choices for adding pops of colour to your winter landscape. Tip: Holly berries will only form if male and female plants are established together, so be sure to purchase one of each to avoid disappointment.

Many trees offer visual interest with noteworthy texture or colour. Birch trees have a white, papery bark whose beauty is revealed after it sheds its canopy of leaves in the fall.

Stems and twigs can provide bursts of colour ranging from bright green to orange and red. In our region Dogwoods are a common shrub that add vivid colour against the white snow. And a funny-looking tree with a funnier name – Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick – adds twisty, highly textural support for freshly fallen snow.


Don’t discount stone structures and fixed furniture as difference makers where visual interest is concerned. These hardscaping elements can add colour and texture to otherwise flat terrain.


Besides enhancing the beauty of your outdoor space, landscaping and hardscaping can also play more functional roles.

Attracting birds
Trees and shrubs bearing berries or situated close to suet and seed will provide nourishment for birds including Juncos, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Finches, Woodpeckers, Doves, and Sparrows. Dense, mature evergreens can also offer ideal shelter.

Privacy and windbreak
A properly situated row of evergreens ensures year-round privacy and can also act as a windbreak and natural snow fence, sheltering your yard from cold winds and drifting snow.

Beautiful, day and night
Outdoor lights aren’t just for the holidays. White mini lights can define the shape of a small tree or shrub. Consider lighting natural and hard elements with floodlights or projection lamps for a different but equally beautiful aesthetic at night.

Adding visual interest to outdoor spaces increases the appeal, value, and enjoyment of your home. As long as you’re selecting plants and varieties that are appropriate for your hardiness zone, your landscaping can help beautify your home not just in the warmer months, but throughout the year.

Protect Your Lawn, Garden, Trees, and Shrubs from Winter

Protect Your Lawn, Garden, Trees, and Shrubs from Winter

In Southwestern Ontario, we’re generally finishing up putting our lawns and gardens to bed for the winter. While some do very little but cut back spent seed heads and dead foliage, others employ measures to cover and protect every tree, shrub, and plant on their property. An approach that falls somewhere in between is generally best to avoid plant and tree loss and ensure a healthy start the following spring. Here are some guidelines to help you ensure you’re adequately protecting your lawn and garden in the winter.


Getting your lawn winter-ready takes very little effort. In fact, you may already be doing most of the items on this short checklist already.

Keep it short
Grass generally stops growing after day time highs remain below 10°C. Your final cut of the season should be between two and two and a half inches. Grass that’s too long may fall over through the winter, encouraging fungal growth. Grass that’s too short leaves it susceptible to stress due to the cold.

Keep it clean
Remove all furniture, toys, and debris (including any notable accumulation of leaves) from your lawn to avoid damage that results in bare patches come springtime.

Minimize traffic during transition
Dormant grass that doesn’t yet have a good layer of snow on it yet can be damaged quite easily when walked on. Try to stay off of grass during this transition.

Keep it insulated
A blanket of snow serves to insulate your lawn during the winter. Once the snow flies and starts to accumulate, keep your lawn blanketed all winter long.


There are a few factors that determine your need to protect plants, trees, and shrubs during the winter:

Exposure to the elements
If a location is exposed to excess wind, snow melt, and/or ice, the vegetation in that area may break or even die before or by the time spring arrives. In addition, if relatively horizontal limbs are suddenly laden with heavy snow or ice, they might bend or even break as a result.

Exposure to road salt
Trees and shrubs that are close to roadways or are in the line of fire when snow is being displaced from roads, driveways, and walkways,

Your plant hardiness zone
Our region (Stratford and surrounding area) is generally classed as hardiness zone 5, so your garden should consist of plants and trees that thrive in this zone. If you’ve tried to push the limit with some of your selections (vegetation that’s appropriate for warmer hardiness zones), you’ll need to take special care to prepare them for winter in Southwestern Ontario.

How well-established the plants in question are
Well-established plants and trees have strong root systems that help sustain them through the cold winter months. On the other hand, those that have been newly planted or moved, particularly after the beginning of September, have not had sufficient opportunity to get established and so will require protection this winter.


If your plants do need to be protected, there are three primary methods used, depending on the plants in questions and what you’re needing protection from.

Wrapping with burlap and twine can protect shrubs from salt spray, drying winds, and/or heavy snow and ice. You might opt to protect younger evergreens and shrubs from frost and heavy snow with a teepee instead, which can be made out of burlap and wood stakes or plywood.

A 4 to 6-inch layer of mulch on vulnerable or newly established plants will protect them from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing which can plague our region this time of year.

This is simply the act of piling soil up around the base of a plant, and is a great way to protect plants and bushes that are cut back at the end of every season. Mounding is commonly done with rose bushes and hydrangeas, as it protects them from exposure to prolonged cold, ensuring a healthy plant, come spring time.

If you haven’t taken measures to protect your garden yet, an early layer of snow may have you feeling like you’ve missed the boat. However, most vulnerable plants will still benefit greatly from protection, so it’s not too late. Regardless of how long winter is, you can still use the tips above to avoid plant loss and help guarantee a beautiful start to next year’s growing season.

Fall-ing for Ornamental Grasses

Fall-ing for Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses have long been a staple in landscape design, offering a contemporary edge to flower beds, acting as natural privacy screens, and adding visual interest, especially this time of year. And they’re fairly hardy, which means than we can enjoy a wide variety of grasses year after year, with minimal maintenance requirements.

In early to mid-fall the seed heads of many ornamental grass varieties come into flower, creating showy plumes that add texture and or colour to your home’s exterior appearance. So while deciduous trees start to shed their leaves, and the plants that beautified your gardens all summer start to die off, ornamental grasses are just hitting their aesthetic stride.

This leaves many homeowners wondering what to do with these grasses come this time of year, when yard clean-up is underway. You want to get the job done but it seems a shame to cut down these beautiful plants in their seasonal prime.

Essentially, you can’t go too far wrong here. If you prefer to clean everything up now, yielding a clean palette on which winter can blanket snow, then proceed. What’s more, warm-weather grasses are generally spent by this point and may not be terribly pretty anyway, so prune away.

Just be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves to protect against cuts from sharp grass blades. You might even consider protective eyewear, depending on how deep into the grass you need to get to adequately trim it back. The last thing you want is the sensation of paper cuts on your eye balls!

While we understand the desire to wipe the slate clean in the fall, there are a few good reasons for leaving your ornamental grasses be until the spring:

  1. As previously mentioned, the tall grasses, fronds, and seed heads add visual interest to what can otherwise be a flat, white landscape during the winter.
  2. The sturdier stems provide a place for winter birds to perch while seed heads offer them some nourishment.
  3. If you use your ornamental grasses as a natural privacy screen, they can continue to do their job through the winter.

Whether you prune now or wait until the spring, there are a few things you can do to make clean up as simple as possible without damaging new growth.

  1. Again, wear protective clothing (long sleeves and gloves) and protective eyewear.
  2. Gather up and secure all blades on a plant. You can either use a few blades of grass from the plant itself or something like garden twine to secure the foliage, which makes cutting a breeze and allows you to haul away everything away in one neat trip.
  3. Use clean, sharp garden shears appropriate to the size of plant you’ll be trimming. Tools that are too small for the job demand extra time and effort to get the job done, while tools too big for the job might be unnecessarily unwieldy.
  4. If cutting in the fall or before new growth begins in the spring, you can trim the plant back to the ground or within a few inches. If new growth has begun, trim the foliage back to just above the new growth, which will quickly overtake the dead stalks obscuring them from view.
  5. Although the initial cutting might create a bit of a choppy appearance for what remains, be sure to smooth out the remaining mound by giving it another little trim.
  6. Finally, to ensure a healthy start for the new growth, clear away any loose or matted dead material between the mound’s shoots.

In the spring, we’ll create a post that will provide some guidance about selecting and planting ornamental grasses, in case you’re interested in getting started with them or want to add more to your existing stock. In the meantime, enjoy your existing grasses, as many are at their best right now.