As temperatures cool and we steadily approach the true winter months, I find myself wondering what keeps our landscapes visually interesting during this time? Winter landscapes in Texas can often appear bare and sullen, however if you take a closer look they reveal rather interesting forms and textures. This typical barren landscape was witnessed firsthand earlier this year during the freeze-pocolypse of 2021 however my background in plant and soil science makes me keenly aware that there are several Texas native plants that can not only withstand the cold but add visual interest all year round.
Something a lot of us already have in our yards or have seen around town are ornamental trees, including Redbud (Cercis canadensis sp.) and Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa). Often these trees are arranged in a multi-trunk display, giving the option to prune them with open canopies thus increasing their perceived dimension in the landscape. Both species also offer unique textures in their bark, with Redbud possessing multiple shades of gray usually in a speckled pattern, and Mexican Plum (Prunus Mexicana) often showcasing a single sometimes twisted looking gray banded trunk. Another plant I find sparks powerful winter interest is the Blue Twist-leaf Yucca (Yucca rupicola x pallida). This plant is clean and unique, with its blue-green color being most obvious; however, a closer look reveals translucent yellow edges on each leaf that illuminate when backlit by the sun. See Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium)? Don’t prune it, as it’s stems will go dormant, turning a vibrant auburn in color and remaining upright during the winter months. Planted en masse, these narrow vertical forms provide distinctive and enticing fall color to an otherwise dull landscape. If evergreen-type ground covers are more your style, be on the lookout for sedge. While there are many species throughout the United States, my favorite throughout Central Texas is Meadow Sedge (Carex perdentata). This grass-like plant forms as a large clump remaining soft and green all year long. It can even create a fluffy, carpet-like effect if planted accordingly. Typically found on woodland edges, this sedge behaves nicely in dappled shade where our winter landscapes are often void of foliage.
Being born and raised in Central Texas, we really don’t get snow that can hide a lot of these interesting visual elements during the winter. As planners and landscape architects, we have been working to increase these visual effects in our designs through layered plantings and bringing endless drama throughout the year with diversified shapes, textures, and colors. Because let’s be honest, anything that looks good during the winter will enhance your space the rest of the year.