Trees and shrubs for winter colour

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Trees and shrubs for winter charm

Whether you live in the subtropical north, the snowy south or somewhere in between, planting a garden with winter in mind can turn the chilly season into a time of great delight.

In winter everything is bought into sharp relief. It’s a time to delight in the subtleties of nature; bark, buds, shadows and silhouettes. Flowers and fruits may be fewer but they strut their stuff on an uncluttered stage.


When winter strips them of their leaves, shapely branches and beautiful bark patterns take their turn in the limelight.  Many trees have interesting bark. Some are absolute eye catchers. Paper birch, Tibetan cherry and the paper bark maple are among those trees planted especially for their bark. The crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia) are small trees so loved for their colourful late summer blooms, that the beauty of their bark is often overlooked.

Few deciduous shrubs look as good with their clothes off as the colourful stemmed dogwoods. The favourite, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ produces a mass of fiery crimson stems.

Acer griseum

Paper bark maple

Betula papyrifera

Paper birch

Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’

Red barked dogwood


Crepe myrtle

Prunus serrula

Tibetan cherry


Every garden needs at least one tree or shrub with bright winter berries or fruits.
The crabapples are small trees that really stand out in autumn and winter with their load of bright baby apples. Malus ‘Gorgeous’ and ‘Jack Humm’ make delicious jelly but they’re worth growing for looks alone. Spring blossom is an added bonus.

Spectacular Idesia polycarpa is the tree to plant if you want winter berries on a grand scale.

Holly is legendary for winter colour but needs low temperatures to bring on the berries. Other shrubs with red winter berries include Nandina, Skimmia and Hypericum.

The bare twigs of Callicarpa are adorned with bright metallic violet berries. Chinese holly grape (Mahonia) and compact Viburnum davidii produce beautiful blue berries. White snowberry (Symphoricarpos) is a treat for a cold climate garden.


Mandarin, lemon, kumquat, orange

Corokia cotoneaster


Idesia polycarpa

Wonder Tree

Ilex cultivars


Malus ‘Gorgeous’

Crab apple tree

Nandina ‘Richmond’

Heavenly bamboo

Sorbus varieties

Rowan tree

Viburnum trilobum

American cranberry

Buds & Flowers

Winter is wakeup time for magnolias. Most will flower in early spring but already their furry buds are fattening. The star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) are especially beautiful, producing a multitude of soft grey buds on a small tree with an elegant spreading branch structure. ‘Yellow daphne’ (Edgeworthia) is another deciduous shrub that’s charming in bud. In August its coppery branches sport balls of fragrant yellow flowers which open gradually from the outside in.

As delightful as a visit from an old friend, flowers always warm a weary soul when they emerge in the middle of winter. Camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias are much loved for their cool season blooms and provide us with an endless choice of colours and forms.

NZ manukas (Leptospermum) burst into floral clouds of pink, white or red from late winter into spring. The dwarf cultivars are ideal for small gardens or mass planting. Many hebes flower in winter too. Around July the first of the kowhai come into bloom.

Super colourful banksias and grevilleas are magnets for nectar seeking birds. Proteas and leucadendrons are fantastic for late winter and early spring picking.

For winter flower colour in a southern garden it’s hard to go past super cold hardy ericas, which erupt into sparkling carpets of white, pink, red, and lilac. Planting a range with different flowering times gives a continuous show from winter into spring.










Yellow daphne






Witch hazel







Malus floribunda

Flowering crab apple

Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’

Island Pohutukawa


Michelia, Fairy magnolia






The architectural shapes of clipped evergreen shrubs bring valuable structure and interest to a winter garden. Choose small leafed shrubs for clipping into hedges and topiary and add a few big leafed evergreens for contrast. Add grasses for texture and movement. When it comes to colour accent, plants with brightly coloured leaves can be as effective as flowers, but be sure to balance them with plenty of green.



Look for these products, tips and advice at a Go Gardening Store near you.



crab apples
Crab apple 'Malus "Gorgeous"'

Callicarpa dichotoma

Star magnolia
Magnolia stellata 'Alba'

Flax - Phormium 'Evening Glow'

Grevillea 'Knockout'