Winter Is Not Gray

 by Maria C. Del Rio, El Paso Master Gardener

Although many of our trees drop their leaves in autumn, winter in El Paso does not have to be gray. Many trees, bushes and plants can provide color and structure to our winter gardens.


Evergreens, both trees and bushes can delight us with their varied shapes and shades of green. Some of the native evergreen trees you may consider for your garden are Texas Mountain Laurel, Texas Madrone, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Afghan/Mondel Pine and Italian Stone Pine.


Hollies are another versatile plant with their dark green foliage and colored berries. All hollies bloom, but only the female plant produces berries, some red, some yellow; others are white or orange, a creamy color, or black. Be sure you have a male holly within about a half mile or there won’t be any berries for the winter season.

A wonderful small bush that will provide interest to your winter garden is Rosemary. Aside from its aromatic foliage, it produces beautiful small blue flowers in January and February. It is also a great herb to use in your kitchen.


Ornamental grasses are invaluable to the garden in fall and winter as they add movement, texture and color to the garden giving it year round interest. Attractive fall foliage and colorful plumes make ornamental grasses standouts in a fall garden. Graceful in the wind, ornamental grass plumes capture the sun to light up the garden late in the day. This diverse group of plants is easy-care and is often drought-tolerant.


Last but certainly not least are pansies, snapdragon, and dianthus. These will give you color even when it snows. Pansies in particular can take brief periods of below 10° F and still give off color when temperatures climb back up.


One thing I have noticed over the years is that pansies planted in the ground typically do better than ones in pots. If you have them in pots it is best to give them some protection against the extreme cold to avoid winter damage. Also, when planting pansies it is best to use a good potting mix that is porous and lightweight.


Finally, place your winter-interest plants where you can appreciate them both coming and going from your home and from within. The beauty in winter is more subtle – perhaps we have to look a little harder to see it but once seeing it we are pleased, satisfied and cheered.

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