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For many North American gardeners, winter can be long and monotonous. But it doesn't have to be. Late-fruiting trees and shrubs can bring texture and color back even as the garden enters the darkest months of the year. These plants can literally bring life to the garden, too, when they draw birds and other wildlife to feast upon their fruits.
1. American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
By mid-fall, East Coast–native persimmon is devoid of leaves and replete with blazing orange fruit that delights diminutive warblers and knee-high wild turkeys alike. Provide full to part sun and light, moist soil for best results, although this tree adapts to wet soil too. Choice cultivars include 'Janet', known for its heavy yields; and the self-pollinating 'Yates', a good choice if you have room for just one tree. USDA Zones 4–9.
2. American holly (Ilex opaca)
This shrub provides richness in the landscape with both its dark evergreen foliage and its scarlet winter drupes. The species hails from the American Southeast and Mid-Atlantic and it is a good draw for many kinds of songbirds as wells a larval host for Henry's elfin butterfly. Protect this plant from drying winter winds and plant it in evenly moist, acidic soil and full to part sun. A male and a female cultivar are needed for fruit set. Zones 5–9.
3. American beauty berry (Callicarpa americana)
This is one of the most flamboyant autumn shrubs, with vivid purple fruits that line long, arching branches. A fast grower, it needs some space to ramble. It can adapt to various soil types, but it will decline without enough sun. Provide some protection such as a winter mulch in the coldest corners of its range. Zones 6–9.
4. Smooth withered (Viburnum nudum)
This US-native viburnum makes quite a sight when its fruits turn inky blue and its leaves blaze crimson. Beloved by pollinators in spring and by wildlife of all kinds, it is a true ecological anchor for the garden. Give it full sun or part shade and moist to wet soil. 'Winterthur' is a compact selection suited to foundation plantings. Zones 5–9.
5. Sumacs (Rhus)
A handful of North American species offer excellent attributes for the garden setting. Their maroon fruits persist and stand out against snow and their glossy leaflets turn gorgeous shades of red, purple and orange before they drop away for winter. Sumacs do need space; they are best kept to the edges of a garden or a loosely maintained area of the property.
Recommended related reading:
Find more options for "off-season" beauty with Wonders of the Winter Landscape by Vincent E. Simeone, which covers both deciduous and evergreen options for North American gardens.
Winter Gardens by writer and photographer Cedric Pollet showcases 20 gardens across the United Kingdom and France that demonstrate how texture, structure and color can create magical winter views.
Find a vast array of trees, shrubs and other plants that will feed birds through the winter and beyond with Gardening for the Birds by George Adams. This book also covers other bird-friendly garden strategies besides plant choice.
Image credit: Plant Image Library/CC BY-SA 2.0