I asked my teenage daughter what she would want to read about if she were a gardener and her first response was: “What blooms in winter?”
What does bloom in winter? In Kansas and areas north, very little to nothing at all. Winter is defined as a period of time between solstices, from December 20 to March 20 roughly. So while we do have a lot of plants blooming in early March-crocus, magnolia, and many shrubs, we have very little blooming in the heart of winter, if anything at all. We can expect to get color from bark and berries, and last year’s seed heads, but true flowering in this area usually will not begin until February.
There are several plants, from bulbs to perennials to shrubs that can be planted in Zones 5 and colder and expected to bloom in late winter. The best for our northern gardens include witchhazel, Lenten Rose, and snowdrops.
Witchhazel (Hamamelis) is an upright, spreading shrub. It grows 10 to 30 feet tall and 5 to 20 feet wide. The blooms are borne on the plant winter, usually in February or March. The blooms are unique in that they occur on the plant along with next season’s buds and ripe fruit at the same time. The flowers are very fragrant and should be planted where they can be appreciated. There are many cultivars and crosses available, with a range of colors from red to yellow to orange.
The blooms are unique in that they occur on the plant along with next season’s buds and ripe fruit at the same time
Lenten Rose (Helleborus) is fast becoming a perennial favorite of many gardeners, with the hybridization and cultivation of new cultivars and colors. In the past, old plants bore their long lasting blooms under the leaves, making them difficult to see. Now, new selections are made for flowers borne above the leaves. Colors are pastel in a wide range, some even green! Leaves are evergreen and leathery. The plants grow well in shade gardens.
Snowdrops (Galanthus) are a fall planted bulb related to amaryllis. They come up in late winter, often in February in Kansas and bloom through the snow. Under-appreciated, these little beauties can really shine in the garden, when you are so tired of winter that anything green and blooming is welcomed. They spread, filling up pockets of the garden that needs highlighted.
Try new things for your winter garden, you might just discover how much you love winter, when the ground and your plants are sleeping!