Most of us think of the winter landscape in many parts of the country as bleak or boring and just brown. Keep in mind that brown is a color too … and so many different shades of brown that can be accented by many other colors in the landscape for some beautiful results.

One of the most obvious dormant winter plants are the native and ornamental grasses. The grasses turn brown in many parts of the country for the winter months. Grasses are wildly popular and continue to grow in popularity mainly because of the whole new dimension they add to the dormant winter landscapes. The dramatic fall colors that precede the dormant winter color of grasses vary and can be wildly showy with reds, purples, oranges and many shades of brown.

Native and ornamental grass selections have become a staple in most all residential and commercial landscapes. They offer interesting substance in the winter landscape not only with color, but movement. The attractive seed heads and feathery dried flowers wave in the wind and look amazing when lit with some landscape lighting during the growing season and when dormant too.

Mixing broadleaved evergreens - like boxwood and hollies - works well in combination with all grasses. Backdrops of pines, fir and spruce really set off the beauty of dormant grasses. Using grasses with Japanese Yews, Distylium, or some of the many different Junipers create some nice harmony in your plantings.

Let’s think about how Hydrangeas add to the dormant landscape. The newer Hydrangeas are shorter, offer more flowering and many colors, but turn brown when dormant. Those dried, dormant flower heads make very bold statements in the landscape and they last forever. Dried Hydrangea blooms are incredibly useful for decoration, and they catch and sculpt the snow beautifully in the landscape.

What about those perennial borders? Don’t be in such a hurry to cut all those beautiful seed heads offering many different shades of brown. Coneflowers and Blackeyed Susan offer not only attractive seed heads, but are nature’s bird feeders. Those perennial borders with all their brown and dormant mounds of leaves and stems are home to many beneficial insects and offer some winter protection for birds and other wildlife as well.

Some plants like the Russian Arborvitae (Microbiota) go dormant in the fall by transforming the soft green and fluffy ground cover to a beautiful brown color. Now think about a beautiful green evergreen ground cover used in a more natural setting that morphs into the color of a cedar sided home blending into the landscape like no other plant. It’s brilliant and looks amazing.

Probably our favorite plants that turn brown during the dormant months must be the family of Oak trees. Oak trees are strong, long lived, and many have amazing character. There are many new introductions that have improved forms and hybrid vigor. 

Now, we can hear you saying … “Oak trees grow so slow” … au contraire! Young transplanted Oak trees may take a year or a bit more to re-establish in your yard, but once they get past that break in period, Oak trees grow quite rapidly. They soon become a favorite in everyone’s yards.

The other interesting thing about many Oak trees is young trees many times hold their leaves into spring. Holding their brown foliage offers interest, screening, and beautiful backdrops to other plants in your landscape. Even as these beautiful trees get larger, they many times hold the bottom third of their foliage in winter. It does add some interest to your winter landscape, and is something to take note of. Check out this young Oak (left) with its leaves holding tight in early winter. 

We are just talking “browns” today … but just imagine what the fruit of a holly, crabapple, Viburnum or Hawthorn can do to your winter landscape! 

Look around the landscapes in your area and see which plants provide some winter interest near you. Send us a picture if you cannot identify a favorite plant kicking up the interest in the landscape near you, and let’s see if we can help you find out what plant you are liking these days. 

Your homework is to look for year-round interest, cover and food for birds and beneficial insects, and diversity of plants and trees - all things that keep your landscape the envy of the neighborhood. Now is a great time to find the plants that will increase the aesthetics of yard and home.