Winter Flowering Shrubs

by | Jan 8, 2019

Now that we’re officially in winter, any outside colour is a real treat. Believe it or not, though, a wealth of flowering shrubs have been blooming in many gardens since late November!
To me, a fragrant Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), blooming in mid-winter, is more special than a whole row of flowering plums in May, but a lot of folks have yet to discover the beauty winter-flowering shrubs can bring to a winter garden! Winter-flowering shrubs provide that lift we need during those cold, grey days, and they are a lovely reminder that spring is not that far away. Here are some winter treasures to enjoy.

Old-Fashioned Charm: Winter Jasmine

The star-like yellow blossoms of Jasminum nudiflorum are open now and will continue to flower until mid-March. I recently saw an artistic bouquet of these branches in someone’s home and the old-fashioned charm of these flowers made a perfect match for any spring bouquet. These shrubs are actually a semi-vine and look smashing against an old wall or rustic fence, and if you can provide a south or west exposure, the blossoms will appear earlier and bloom more reliably throughout the winter.

Winter Jasmine Flower

Long-Blooming: Viburnum

I have mentioned deciduous, winter-flowering Viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’ so many times, but it is still one of my winter favourites. Its fragrant clusters of tiny pink blossoms just never seem to quit. It will throw out a few blossoms in fall, then from early February onward, more and more blossoms will open until this shrub is a mass of pink through to April.

We often overlook a distant cousin of Viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’, the evergreen Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’. It is full of bronze buds opening slowly into white blossoms, and when planted in a protected, sunny location, ‘Spring Bouquet’ never seems to quit blooming! Its blossoms look exceptional contrasted with its bronze buds and steel blue berries, making it a great choice for bringing inside as cuts – looking particularly fantastic with fresh daffodils.

Viburnum Pink Dawn Flower
Viburnum 'Spring Bouquet'

Fragrant Cut Stems: Witch Hazel and White Forsythia

I have a great weakness for witch hazel, especially the fragrant yellow ‘mollis’ variety. Cut a few branches for indoors and your whole home will be filled with a most exotic perfume.

Although they don’t have a great perfume, the orange variety, ‘Jelina’, and the red ‘Diane’ are must-haves for the home garden. Surround the red ones with snowdrops and you will have the makings of an award-winning combination.

Another fragrant cut stem candidate is ‘White Forsythia’ (Abeliophyllum d.). This deciduous shrub produces a plethora of branches with delicate white blooms that have a lovely fragrance.

Mahonia flower
Winter Heather is also known as Erica Carneas

Diamond in the Rough: Mahonia

One of the lesser known winter gems is the series of winter-flowering Oregon grape, or mahonia. The varieties ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ are blooming now, and they provide nectar for Anna’s hummingbirds and winter bees!

Pollinator Must-Have: Winter Heather

Winter heathers, or more correctly Erica carneas, are very important to all our gardens and are being used more frequently now. They perform very well in perennial borders, and they make sensational ground covers, too.

Plant them in groupings of threes or fives for a greater impact. Dwarf conifers look more interesting when planted with such companions. Keep your ericas well drained or root rot will put an abrupt end to your display. Bees love winter heather, so they’re a must-have for the pollinator garden.

Irresistible Perfume: Wintersweet and Sarcococca

When the last leg of winter turns the corner, a whole host of winter-blooming shrubs celebrate its passing. Chimonanthus (wintersweet) will bloom in late January, and its fragrant, light yellow/stained purple flowers are a delight few gardeners have enjoyed…probably because it is so hard to find. If you can find one, grab it! Its perfume alone is worth the price.

Sarcococca (Sweet Box) is a wonderful, low-maintenance evergreen shrub for shady spots. Its wispy, white blooms start to open in January, and they offer “knock-your-socks-off” fragrance!

Great for Any Landscape: Buttercup Winter Hazel

I am very fond of Corylopsis pauciflora (Buttercup Winter Hazel). It is not yet in bloom, but it looks so neat in any landscape situation! Bell-shaped, primrose-yellow flowers droop gracefully in clusters throughout this low-spreading shrub, and if you plant some purple ‘Wanda’ primulas or miniature blue Iris reticulata around the base, you’ll create another great combination.

Fruit-Bearing: Cornelian Cherry

Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry) is a February bloomer and, although its blossoms are smaller than the Chinese witch hazel, it is well worth a spot in your garden, especially with the added bonus of offering edible red fruit in late summer and charming reddish-purple autumn foliage in fall!

Faithful Bloomer: February Daphne

February daphne (Daphne mezereum) blooms faithfully for me each year after Valentine’s Day. Its rosy-purple flowers appear along its branches before the leaves, and their perfume rates a ’10’! Be sure to strip off the green berries that turn red because they have a significant toxicity.

After mid-March, the spring-flowering shrubs take over and we forget all about winter for another year. However, next fall, when the last of the gorgeous fall foliage disappears, wouldn’t it be nice to look forward to these delightful winter flowers? Well, you can only enjoy them if you plant them soon, so visit your favourite garden shop and discover the pleasures of winter-flowering shrubs!
Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) has edible red fruit!
February Daphne