Easy-to-grow plants with winter interest are Japanese barberry, Angelina sedum, creeping and upright Mahonia, color guard yucca, and ornamental grasses.
Yes, I know Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is somewhat overplanted in Colorado. But there’s a reason for that. This sun-loving shrub is extremely hardy. The birds love the berries, especially in winter. And people love the berries for their brilliant red color, especially in an otherwise-drab winter landscape. The Kobold variety even resembles boxwood—a plus for gardeners who love the look of boxwood but don’t want to deal with its inherent problems in Colorado.
Angelina sedum explodes with yellow, orange-red, purple and green foliage in the winter. This indestructible plant will gradually spread, and babies can be easily transplanted. In warmer months, the foliage turns chartreuse.
Mahonia aquifolium and Mahonia repens always have something going on. They hold their leaves year-round, offering deep green foliage in warm months and reddish foliage in winter. Each spring, Mahonia produces bright yellow flowers, followed by blue berries, which birds love. Mahonia, like Japanese barberry, is tough and drought-tolerant, but grows best in shade.
Color guard yucca displays yellow-and-green-striped leaves in warm weather. When winter rolls around, the sword-like foliage becomes even more interesting by adding a bit of coral color to the yellow and green. I’ve grown this non-patented beauty for about three years and have divided it to propagate three more plants. The mother plant is 16 inches tall and 24 inches wide. I’m hoping it’ll flower one of these years.
Ornamental grasses are stalwarts that provide architectural elements in the winter garden. Don’t cut them back until late February or early March.
Other favorites for the winter garden are Harry Lauder’s walking stick, red twig and yellow twig dogwoods, yews, pines, firs, spruces, junipers and hawthorns.