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What's bugging you? Dec. 7, 2016

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With winter upon us, most gardeners are through with their landscape chores and may be found curled up by a warm fire reading a pertinent book and daydreaming about the spring to come. But our winter landscapes needn't be a boring time in the garden; views of gardens can -- and should -- still be appreciated from indoors.

Most of a garden's interest in the winter comes from the architecture or underlying structure of the plants. But their fruits can also be an awesome addition to the view. The best time of year to assess a landscape is when it is covered in a blanket of snow. Structure is what gives a garden year-round interest, with trees, shrubs and dried flower stalks providing these elements.

Think about what attracts the eye. Does snow cling to evergreen and deciduous tree and shrub branches? Did you in your zeal to clean up your garden this fall create vast empty swaths where perennials have been cut back or do seed heads from last year's flowers and ornamental grasses dance in the wind? Are there berries on trees or shrubs just waiting for birds to eat them? Examine the landscape and note where plants or other features could be added for four-season interest.

With careful selection of plants that provide visually interesting textures, colors, and movement, it's possible to make winter a season of natural beauty. It might even help you see our coldest months in a new way and enjoy the subtle beauty of the winter garden.

Many woody plants retain their fruits or dried flowers long after leaves have dropped. The deep red, pyramidal fruit clusters of sumac and the hips of roses persist through winter. Viburnums, barberries, cotoneasters, firethorns, chokecherries, serviceberries and hollies often have persistent berries that provide much color through the winter if the birds don't get them. And what about the hawthorns, mountain ash and some of the crabapples? I dare you to find better looking winter trees than these.

The winter king hawthorn is one of my favorites. Look no further than the area of Pioneer Town in Cedaredge fronting Highway 65. What magnificent trees!

Dried flower stalks can also provide interest in the winter landscape. I'm thinking of hummingbird mint, Caryopteris, rabbitbrush, purple cone flower and yarrow as good examples. Some of these provide seeds that attract birds such as finches, Oregon juncos and spotted towhees.

So rather than deadhead and otherwise prune back your landscape in the fall you might be better served leaving these chores till spring. That way you can add winter interest to an otherwise sleeping garden and as a bonus provide food and shelter for birds and overwintering insects.

Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.

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