AMES, Iowa – Shrubs are integral components of home landscapes. During winter months they not only make eye-catching accent or specimen plants, but they provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach discuss shrub varieties with winter appeal. To have additional yard and garden questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When attempting to attract birds to the landscape, trees and shrubs that provide food during the winter months are extremely important as natural foods are most limited at this time of year. Trees that provide food for birds in winter include hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), hawthorn (Crataegus species), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and crabapple (Malus species). Shrubs that provide food for birds in winter include red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), sumac (Rhus species), roses (native species and Rosa rugosa), snowberry (Symphoricarpos species), nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum).
The drab winter landscape can be brightened with crabapples that possess colorful, persistent fruit. ‘David,’ ‘Donald Wyman,’ ‘Mary Potter,’ Red Jewel™, and Sugar Tyme® have attractive red fruit. ‘Indian Magic,’ ‘Professor Sprenger,’ and ‘Snowdrift’ have reddish orange fruit, while Golden Raindrops® and Harvest Gold® have yellow to gold crabapples.
Two hawthorns noted for their excellent fruit displays are the Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) and ‘Winter King’ hawthorn (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’). The small, crabapple-like fruit of the hawthorns turn red in fall and persist into winter.
Shrubs that possess attractive fruit in late fall and winter include red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Meserve hybrid hollies (Ilex x meserveae) and American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). All of the aforementioned shrubs have red fruit. Snowberries and coralberries (Symphoricarpos spp.) have white, pink or purplish red fruit.
The colorful fruit displays produced by the previously mentioned trees and shrubs usually doesn’t persist throughout the winter. Very cold temperatures in winter eventually cause many of the fruit to turn reddish brown or black. Hungry birds and squirrels may also devour the fruit. However, the fruit displays in late fall and early winter can be spectacular.
One of the most beautiful sights in winter is the bright red twigs of redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea) set against a backdrop of newly fallen snow. Native to Iowa, the redosier dogwood grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Several colorful varieties are available. ‘Cardinal’ has bright, cherry red stems. ‘Alleman’s Compact’ is a red-stemmed, compact variety that grows 4 to 5 feet tall. Arctic Fire™ is a red-stemmed, 3- to 4-foot-tall shrub. ‘Flaviramea’ is a 5- to 6-foot-tall shrub with yellow stems.
There are also several varieties of willow that possess colorful bark. The ‘Flame’ willow (Salix ‘Flame’) has reddish orange stems. The stems of the coral bark willow (Salix alba ‘Britzensis’) vary from yellow-orange to orange-red.
The redosier dogwood and willows should be pruned on a frequent basis as the young shoots possess the brightest colors. The ‘Flame’ and coral bark willows should be pruned annually. Cut plants back to near ground level in late winter. The redosier dogwood requires less pruning. In late winter, remove approximately one-third of the oldest stems near ground level.