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Growing plants in winter

You cannot deny the winter season is a long one up here in the North Country. But, that does not mean we cannot enjoy our gardens during the winter months. What makes a plant a good candidate for winter landscapes in our snowy region?

While it is true evergreen shrubs and conifer trees add visual interest to the winter landscapes, so do many other plants. Some deciduous shrubs and trees have interesting form or showy bark. Other bushes have bright, showy berries that cling to their branches throughout the winter. Ornamental grasses and other perennials that keep their upright form also can add winter interest to the landscape.

When creating a landscape that focuses on winter interest, consider using both mass plantings and single specimens. In gardening terms, mass refers to a group of coherent plantings. A mass planting can be accomplished by planting several of the same plants together or several plants that have similar color, texture, or density.

These plantings complement, rather than compete with, the natural panorama and can be enjoyed both close up and from a distance. Well-placed mass plantings in any setting can draw the eye and lend a naturalistic air to a garden. Just make sure you work with the scale of your yard, so the mass planting is not overpowering.

Specimen plantings are individual trees, shrubs, or plants you want to showcase. These are plants that have unique texture, bark, or form you wish to highlight. During our long winter nights, specimen plantings can even be highlighted with the use of lighting. My in-laws had a Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) growing in their back yard that always was a beautiful tree, but blended into the landscape. A few years ago, the tree was pruned and a few spotlights were strategically placed at the trunk. At night, with the lights creating unique shadows and highlighting the tree's bonsai-like form the tree is now a show-stopper.

Knowing how to plan your winter landscape is just one step in the process. The other step is knowing which plants hold winter interest. Next week's column will cover a variety of plants that are worth adding to the landscape for winter interest.

Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at a.lennox.barlow@gmail.com.

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