A walk in the winter garden

Posted by on January 21, 2011

Here’s a tip from a Southerner who embraces  winter — garden for the season — it makes the time til spring fly!

We are so fortunate to be able to garden year round in the Raleigh area. I’m sharing the story below from  the current issue of Triangle Gardener magazine.  This gives just a taste of what we can grow in our area with particular interest in providing cover and food for the wildlife.

Winter Wonders – plants for wildlife

Flowers, berries, evergreens and grasses will fill the winter garden with wildlife and give you reason to walk around.

One of the best parts about living in the Triangle are winters worthy of gardening.  In winter, it is more about admiring the garden and the wildlife it brings, than worrying about weeds.  While your winter flowering trees and shrubs are in bloom, the weeds sleep.

Designing a wildlife friendly garden by adding water, food, cover and a place to raise their young, will help entice your wildlife to stay in the garden year ‘round.

Particularly in the winter, providing plants for a wide range of food sources and cover, will keep your wildlife coming back to feed and feel safe.


There are many sources of food for wildlife in winter, including seed, nectar, pollen, berries and nuts.

With a wide variety of cultivars to choose from, the winter flowering, evergreen shrub, Camellia japonica, provide nectar on a day warm enough to move a bee, as do Mahonia and wintersweet (Chimonanthus).  So do flowering apricot trees (Prunus Mume), and perennials such as Hellebores, adding gorgeous flowers to your winter landscape.

With just a few varieties, your winter garden can be filled with blooming flowers all season long.


Many birds will be happy to find Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ holly growing in your garden.  It’s not uncommon to have a a flock of cedar waxwings dine on these and other species of holly berries, as well as, Eastern dogwood, junipers and fruits, such as cherries.  Robins, bluebirds, and thrushes will also find protein rich winter berries the perfect meal.


Crab apple (Malus spp.) can be quite showy in the winter landscape and also provide food for many birds.


When wildlife feed, having cover near by provides protection, creating a safe haven for your wildlife.

Dense, low growing ground covers such as a creeping yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’) provides winter shelter for many birds.


Tall protective grasses like Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), left uncut, add interest in the winter garden, as well as, cover for many wildlife.  Native switch grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, can grow 4 foot tall with a nice blond winter color.


Often times, plants will do double duty providing both food and cover. Viburnum tinus, Spring Bouquet ‘Compactum’, offers berries for birds and quick cover, when needed.

It’s worth noting, most double flowers are actually of little use to bees and other insects as many of these new cultivars are bred with the pollen bearing anthers replaced by extra petals. Others are just too ornate for the bees to get to the nectar.  A good example of this is the Camellia japonica cultivar ‘Governor Mouton’.  Indeed, a beautiful flower and worthy of growing in the winter wildlife garden.  But while this Camellia may not have nectar readily available, the ‘Governor Mouton’ will still provided cover for the wildlife and be gorgeous to boot.

Although not all winter plants provide food for wildlife, every evergreen tree and shrub does provide cover.  Choose plants that provide food and cover for your wintertime enjoyment and also enjoy the wildlife they bring.



4 responses to “A walk in the winter garden”

  1. Donna says:

    great post Helen…important points…I love the berries and rose hips that linger in the garden…wish I could garden year round but the snow is pretty in the garden too…just not for 4 months 🙂

  2. HelenYoest says:

    Donna, when we get the occasional snow, I try to get out there even before the kids. It really is pretty and I love getting pristine photos of untouched snow and photos of wildlife footprints.

  3. commonweeder says:

    The piece of information I most appreciate in this post is the fact that double flowers are not of much use to bees. We do everything we can to welcome and sustain the bee population; I’m going to pay particular attention to my flower choices from now on. And winterberry trees are on my must have list. Thanks.

  4. HelenYoest says:

    Layanee, yep it’s an Edgeworthia. I have two in my garden. I know you are loving watching the birds. H.

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