Winter Landscaping

Courtesy Handy Canadian,

In most parts of Canada we have a short growing season. In fact some people think that our winter is the longest of all the seasons! After the strong winds of November clean away the last of the leaves, leaving the bare skeletons that were once dense deciduous trees and shrubs, homeowners tend to forget about their gardens and yards.

Not that they have not been busy during the fall. The bulbs have been planted, tools cleaned and the gardens have been stripped bare and readied for spring planting. Many have wrapped up the shrubs in burlap bunting or have built shelters around small trees before forgetting about the garden and looking toward Christmas.

Once the snow comes the area can look bleak, even depressing, especially in January after the holiday decorations have been stowed away. But this is the time when you should think about what you can do to spruce up the yard for next winter. Think of it as adding to a winter landscape; like an old farm fence does to a country road that is adrift with snow. The fence stands as a landscape feature as do large rock outcroppings. In fact many photographers are very active during the winter because the bare skeletons against the winter landscape are a remarkable sight. So why not make your yard a winter landscape?

Landscape Forms

Modern Canadian landscapers are looking at the winter in a new way. Because as the colour and denseness of summer fades all that is left are forms, like archways, fences, tress and hedges, structures that, if placed right, also help protect the home from a buildup of snow. Large rocks are great landscape features because they are thermal storage units when the sun comes out – their heat keeps the snow away for hours. This means that any colouring or form designs on the rocks are available all winter long.


The stark skeletons of deciduous trees can be accentuated with mini-lights. Putting them up for Christmas does not mean taking them down in January. With the right type of clear or coloured lights (in one colour) the trees take on a life of their own. This also includes other structures like archways, hedges, and fences. Rock formations and coniferous shrubs like yew and cedar can be lit up with small, coloured spotlights for a magical scene in your backyard landscape. Some new lights have the ability to be programmed so that the colours change either by the hour or each night.

Tree Forms

Besides the common deciduous trees like oaks, elms and poplars there are vine-type trees like corkscrew hazel and curly willow that show off amazing shapes against a winter background, characteristics that are hidden in the summer. Grape vines are also a great backdrop for lights.


Just because animals are not really a landscape form doesn’t meant that they should be ignored. In fact snow birds, squirrels, partridge and other animals complete the winter theme. Flocks of cedar waxwings will descend on the berry-laden branches of the flowering crab and chickadees will be attracted to bird feeders as will many other species of bird. Squirrels will also go for birdseed so it’s a great idea to put a barrier on the pole so they can’t get up. You can give them their food in another pile.

Just like different shrubs and flowers bloom at different times of the spring and summer, different bird and animal species will be attracted to your display during the winter months.

Ice Rink

In colder areas many homeowners make way for an ice rink. If you have a pond this is really easy but even without one these can be made in a few days with some boards and a lot of spraying. Not only is it a source of physical recreation just outside the back door, it is a social medium because you can have skating parties or hockey tournaments. In addition, the sights and sounds of kids playing hockey at night under a spotlight will be memories you’ll keep forever.

Plan a Winter Landscaping Project

The best time to design a winter landscape is to make notes in the winter on what you’d like to see. Maybe it is a ridge of rocks or a fence lining the yard. You also may want to arrange your patio to take advantage of lounging outside on chairs when it’s not too cold. This has become a great pastime for skiers and you can do it in your yard. Another great way to enjoy a winter landscape is through a snow sculpture. The foundation for a sculpture can be erected in the fall so that snow can be packed around it and then watered to create an ice figure.

With all these ideas ready to go you can landscape your property for the benefit of all four seasons.