If you live in the Midwest or any Northeastern area, you may appreciate having blasts of color from winter interest plants. These 12 ideas will spruce up any yard or landscape.
12 Best Winter Interest Plants for the Midwest (and Northeast)
One of the most beautiful and peaceful views is the countryside filled with a fresh layer of pure white snow.
It gives a sense of quiet serenity and hope like nothing else, and it fills me with wonder.
Yet after several weeks of the white and gray landscape, it’s nice to look around and see bursts of color or texture that stand out among the winter colors. Take a journey with me to find some of your own ideas in these 12 winter interest plants.
1. Pine trees
Some refer to the “pine tree” as evergreens, and they are. But this category also includes conifers, which technically are different from evergreens in the way they reproduce.
Any way you look at it, you need to plant pine trees!
Our yard is filled with them. We have a whole row of them along both sides of our property and a bunch beyond the pastures. We also have several in our front yard.
They are not only wonderful to look at and see the glorious green, but they are majestic when they are covered with snow.
They also offer perfect protection from weather and cold for our feathered friends and even small mammals, who may hide under them.
The pine cones will be food for several species of birds and squirrels, and they act as a wall to protect your home from strong winds as well.
Pine trees are amazing and need to be part of your winter interest plants for their many benefits. There are many different “evergreens” to choose from, ranging from bushes to trees.
I suggest you choose the ones that are native to your area. This way, they will be hardy and be able to withstand the weather and area conditions.
Even if you only have room for one single tree, it’s worth it!
2. Red-osier Dogwood
This is a native shrub with many benefits.
First, the yellow-white blossoms will provide food for many different pollinators.
In late summer, these flowers will turn into attractive white berries, which will feed may different bird species and even small animals like chipmunks or squirrels.
After all the leaves and berries are gone, you’ll be graced with bright red twigs, which are perfect against the white snow or gray sky.
Red-osier dogwoods are beneficial, wonderful winter interest plants to give a splash of color in any yard.
3. Black Chokeberry
As with other berry bushes, the Black chokeberry is another beneficial shrub that will provide outstanding color in the middle of winter.
This extremely hardy deciduous shrub is native to the midwest and can withstand our sometimes-crazy cold weather!
A pretty bush, it will benefit pollinators, mostly small bees, with its white flowers in the spring.
The leaves will actually deepen in color as the season progresses. In late summer, purplish-black berries will start to form.
Birds absolutely love these berries!
In the fall, the leaves turn this gorgeous red color, and in the winter, you’ll be able to look at clusters of purple berries against that white snow.
There are so many berries that it takes the birds a while to eat them. Deer, rabbits, and other small mammals may also like to browse the berries! That could be a fun bonus to having winter interest plants!
4. Birch trees
I really love paper birch trees. The white bark on them is stunning, in my opinion.
In the fall, the white bark looks glorious against the yellow leaves and the surrounding trees’ colors.
In the winter, the white bark looks surprisingly beautiful against the white snow. The texture of the “peeling” bark dramatically adds to the winter interest.
Native to the Midwest, keep in mind that the bark doesn’t start turning white until the tree has reached about three years of age.
5. Purple Beautyberry
This is another beautiful shrub with many benefits, making these great winter interest plants.
First, know that the only variety of this bush that will survive Midwest winters is the Purple Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma). Even so, it may be considered a tender shrub that may need to be wrapped or protected in the winter as it’s growing zone is 5-8.
Luckily it’s also a variation with the best fruit!
This bush will die down in the winter and grow again with fresh shoots in the spring, much like our perennial flowers.
In late spring to early summer, this bush will bloom with many flowers, attracting pollinators as it does.
Come fall, and it becomes loaded with beautiful purple berries that last into the winter. This is the main reason we love it! Those purple berries look so pretty against the white snow!
Birds will love these berries, and so will small mammals.
One thing to note is this bush is native to Asia. We do have a North American native; however, it’s growing zone is 7-11, so it probably won’t survive Midwest winters.
6. Red Chokeberry
Similar to the black chokeberry, this native shrub will feed many birds and small animals. This is a great benefit of these berry-filled winter interest plants, lots of wildlife to enjoy!
Many pollinators will also regularly visit the pretty white to light pink flowers in the spring.
When fall begins, this bush will shine with bright red leaves and an abundance of equally bright red, plump berries that birds will flock to.
And since these berries are usually the last ones that the birds eat, they will serve well as winter interest plants; those berries will be stunning against the white and gray!
Winterberry is a native deciduous shrub that will stand out against the snow beautifully with it’s red, orange, and yellow berries.
Even more eye-catching when there’s fresh snow on the branches!
Clusters of small, white flowers fill this bush early to mid-summer that bees and butterflies will love.
The berries that form will last well into winter and provide a steady feast to hungry birds! (Berries can be poisonous to pets and people.)
Please note that you need to have a male and female to produce berries. One male can “serve” many females.
8. Red Holly
Robin Red Holly is an evergreen that will stay green and beautiful all winter long, so no pruning! (you can prune in spring)
This is a unique plant, almost showcasing its color backwards.
In the spring, new leaves emerge in reds and maroons. By the time winter rolls around, the leaves are a deep green, making these perfect winter interest plants.
The bright red berries begin to form in the fall and usually hold on all winter long.
In the spring and summer, both male and female plants will bloom with small, white, fragrant flowers that pollinators love.
Along with ‘Oakleaf,’ ‘Little Red,’ ‘Festive’ and ‘Patriot,’ ‘Robin Red’ is a Red Holly hybrid series. It does require a male and a female to produce.
The berries can be harmful to humans.
Snowberry is an attractive bush all year round. It has a pretty rounded shape and is native to the US.
It will produce beautiful pink flowers in early summer that butterflies and moths love. Special note is the “hummingbird moth” will frequent these flowers, as will actual hummingbirds. 🙂
These pink flowers turn into big, unique white berries that birds will devour. Since there are so many berries, they will remain all winter long until the birds eat them.
This bush is seriously so pretty in the snow! Winter interest plants that have many benefits to wildlife and nature are a plus in my book!
10. American Cranberry bush
Native to North America and able to withstand cold Midwest or Northeast winters, the American Cranberry bush deserves its spot in winter interest plants.
It has beautiful green, shapely leaves in the spring that give way to white lacy flowers. These flowers are very loved by many different pollinators as they are filled with nectar!
These flowers turn into bright red berries that will remain on the shrub from fall to winter.
These berries provide a constant feast for birds and wildlife alike. If there are any left, they are edible and can be made into jam.
11. Ornamental grasses
Instead of chopping down your ornamental grasses in the fall, leave them up for uniquely pretty winter interest plants.
I love the look of the golden grasses against the white snow. It looks wispy, elegant, and even a little mystical. They are also attractive in the fall and, of course, the summer.
There is something so beautiful about those seeds sprinkled with frost or snow! Birds will add to the winter interest by darting in and out of the grasses, eating the seeds.
Some grasses you could choose from are:
- Feather Reed Grass
- Blue Lily Turf
- Switch Grass
- Moor Grass
- Prairie Dropseed
- Tufted Hair Grass
- Yellow Foxtail Grass
- Big Bluestem
One thing you want to be careful of when choosing ornamental grasses is if it’s native. Often, if a plant is not native, it can be very invasive, especially grasses.
The right ones can be excellent winter interest plants, though!
12. Witch Hazel
This flowering shrub is unique in that the flowers, fruits, and next year’s buds are all on the plant simultaneously.
The flowers can survive sub-freezing temperatures and will brighten up your yard with their bright yellow, orange, and red colors.
The flowers resemble a small pompom that has lost a few of its strings. It’s unique, pretty flowers can be a life-saver to many late-season foraging pollinators. Although not many of the flowers get pollinated.
This bush is also a host plant for the Spring Azure butterfly!
Please note that the Hamamelis virginiana is the species that is native to the eastern US.
There really is beauty everywhere, at every season; we just have to look for it. Once noticed, it can be appreciated.
Having these winter interest plants in your yard or area will only accentuate that beauty.
Do you have any other winter interest plants not listed here? Please share them below with me! Thank you!