7 Cool Winter Plants for the Asheville Area That AREN’T Evergreens

Hellebore or Lenten Rose

Most of us think of evergreens when we think of plants that give us landscape interest in the winter months.  Evergreens are great for adding definition and structure to your landscape, but it’s fun to add some flare, and these plants will give you some of that at a time of year when you need it most.

  1. Hellebores, or Lenten rose.  This fancy lady is undoubtedly the queen of winter blooming perennials.  There are all kinds of hybrids and colors that bloom at different times of the year.  The colors; muted pinks, purples, and whites, matter arguably less than what time it blooms.  They can be fussy if given too much sun or crowded, but with space and some afternoon shade, it’s a very easy plant to grow and slowly spreads to create a beautiful patch.  It’s deer resistant too!
  2. Pussywillow.  Willows are a love em’ or hate em’ kind of plant, but in February you remember why you planted them.  They produce long branches full of fuzzy silver or black catkins that last a long time inside in a vase, right about the time of year that we all need some cheering up.  They are also SUPER easy to grow, and can take wet areas in sun or shade.  Cut them way back to the ground in spring to keep them in check for the season.
  3. Red Twig and Yellow Twig Dogwood.  Twig dogwoods are excellent, easy natives that create lush growth and small white flowers in spring as well as colorful bark for the winter months.  There are many varieties to choose from but if you are looking for a compact plant, stick to newer patented versions like the Proven Winners Arctic series.  Or give it a good haircut in early spring.  Twig dogwoods are best planted en mass for a winter display of red or yellow.  There is a row of them planted in front of a retaining wall at the entrance of Sierra Nevada in south Asheville that helps make them pop.  Also, consider planting them in front of evergreens for a holiday look.
  4. Vernal Witchhazel.  This Ozark native has a shorter and wider habit than common witch hazel and blooms in late winter or very early spring.  As cool as it is that it blooms at such an odd time, vernal witchhazel is one of our favorite native plants for ease of growth, upright habit, foliage, and yellow fall color.  Check this one out, it’s worth having in every garden and thrives almost anywhere with at least a few hours of sun.
  5. Upright Sedum.  Sedums are some of our favorite perennials.  They are a versatile, diverse family of plants that are easy to grow and propagate.  Upright sedums (sedum spectabile) flower in the fall and keep their seed head through the winter months.  Will its beauty blow your mind in the winter?  Doubtful, but planted en mass it has a shrublike effect, looks neat in the snow, and provides food for the birds.  Autumn Joy is the classic, but we like Autumn Fire for its improved tolerance of our summer heat in Asheville.
  6. Golden Curls Willow.  If you like the look of yellow twig dogwood, consider this willow.  It has a yellow, almost bronze bark, upright habit, and twisty branches that look really cool in the winter.  It’s also very fast growing, and the long branches look great inside as a cut display in a pot near the fireplace.  Either let it get big n wild ( it gets 30’ or so) or ruthlessly cut it all the way back to the ground in the spring.  It won’t mind either way.  All willows like wet areas and will search out water, so plant 50’ or more away from any water pipes.  Full sun to part shade.
  7. Winterberry holly.  Most people think of hollies as evergreens, but the species Ilex verticillata is a deciduous native that drops its leaves right after producing colorful red or yellow berries.  They look beautiful in winter, especially after a snow.  This species needs a male pollinator within 50’ to produce berries, at a ratio of 1 male to up to 5 females.  It is an easy-growing plant in full sun to almost full shade.


Evergreens are great in the winter, but for a little extra color, check out the plants above, especially grouped with evergreens as a backdrop.  Also look into the really early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, quince, or Japanese magnolia.  Even if they don’t technically bloom in the winter, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the first blooms of spring.

Vernal Witchhazel