Trees and shrubs for the four seasons landscape

Fruit of winterberry

Most gardens offer a bounty of color and beauty for short, intense flowering periods in spring and early summer, and again during fall color. A garden that commands attention and excites interest throughout the year doesn't just happen--it's planned! To enjoy all the seasons to their fullest, you’ll need to plan your four season garden so it creates interest whether it’s viewed from inside or outside.  By selecting plants from an extensive list of trees and shrubs, you can build the backbone of an ever-changing landscape, and enjoy it for twelve months of the year.

Seasonal Features for a Year-Round Landscape

Winter Interest:  This is the time of year when you rely less on color and more on form and structure in the garden. Evergreens become more dominant in the landscape and deciduous trees and shrubs become transparent, creating striking silhouettes.

Silhouettes and branching patterns add structural ‘bones’ to the landscape.
Colorful barks that flake and peel reveal dramatic patterns and colors along trunks and stems.
Evergreen foliage takes center stage or can act as a backdrop for colorful stems.
Persistent berries, fruits, and seed pods add winter interest; some attract birds.


Spring Interest:  This is the time of year when a well-planned landscape will surround you with eye-catching flowers from ground covers to tree crowns. Every day reveals a new change. Shrubs are the filler plants of the landscape, creating mass and giving the garden year-round appeal.

Newly emerging foliage marks the transition from winter to spring.
A deluge of flowers progresses from treetops to ground level.
More shrub species bloom in spring than any other time of year.
Fragrant flowers and foliage uplift the ever-changing landscape.


Summer Interest:  A summer garden relies on interesting foliage. Fine-textured plants add an airy, weightless quality to the garden, whereas bold-textured foliage jumps forward to grab your attention. Choose plants with silvery, golden, or purple foliage to enrich the garden.

Maturing green foliage adds a restful and relaxing color in the garden.
Summer flowering plants continue their sequence of fragrance and color while attracting butterflies.
As flowers fade, foliage, texture, and shapes enhance the garden.


Autumn Interest:  This is the most brilliant season of the year. To maximize the use of fall color, create mixed borders that contrast and combine foliage, autumn flowers, brilliant berries, and silvery grasses.

Fall provides an outstanding kaleidoscope of colors, including fiery reds, translucent oranges, clear and buttery yellows, burnt amber, and ruddy browns.
Along with changing foliage, decorative, ripening fruits and berries put on a stunning display.

 

The following list provides information about trees and shrubs that are ornamental through all four seasons, or trees and shrubs that are so exceptional in one or two seasons of ornamentation that they would add significantly to the four season garden. All plants are recommended by The Morton Arboretum for their suitability and desirability in the Midwest.  Plants marked with an * are native to the Midwest.

Trees

Acer griseum / paper-barked maple

Spring: New growth light green, contrasts well with bark

Summer: Blue-green foliage

Autumn: Russet-red fall color

Winter: Cinnamon-bronze exfoliating bark

 

Acer x freemanii ‘Marmo’ / Marmo Freeman maple

Spring: Red flowers

Summer: Deeply lobed medium green leaves with silver-gray underside; colorful red petioles

Autumn:  Kaleidoscope blend of maroon and red offset with green fall color

Winter: Upright-oval silhouette

 

Acer miyabei ‘Morton’ / STATE STREET™ Miyabe's maple

Spring: Delicate yellow flowers appear with new foliage

Summer: Handsome dark bark and green foliage

Autumn: Butter yellow to golden fall color

Winter: Distinctive upright pyramidal habit with mottled gray bark that becomes tan at maturity

 

Acer triflorumthree-flowered maple

Spring: Pubescent foliage emerges along with yellow flowers

Summer: Dark green foliage

Autumn:  Orange-red fall color on selected trees

Winter: Golden amber mature bark peels away as tree matures

 

Amelanchier x grandiflora / apple serviceberry

Spring:  White pendulous flowers; new leaves emerge bronze-red

Summer:  Reddish-blue berries in July

Autumn:  Excellent orange-red fall color

Winter:  Silvery-gray bark; elegant multi-stemmed silhouette

 

Betula nigra/ river birch

Spring:  New foliage bright green; tan catkins

Summer:  Glossy, dark green leaves

Autumn: Yellow fall color

Winter:  Highly ornamental, papery, tan to cinnamon peeling bark

 

Carpinus caroliniana* / American hornbeam

Spring:  Light green leaves

Summer:  Dark green textured foliage

Autumn:  Yellow-orange-fall color

Winter:  Smooth, dark gray, fluted, “muscular” stems

 

Cercidiphyllum japonicum / katsura tree

Spring:  New foliage emerges reddish-purple

Summer:  Lovely blue-green, heart-shaped leaves

Autumn:  Yellow fall color; cotton candy-scented foliage

Winter:  Graceful, pyramidal silhouette; flaky bark

 

Cornus alternifolia/ pagoda dogwood

Spring:  White, flat-topped flowers

Summer: Deep purple berries in August

Autumn:  Reddish-purple fall color

Winter:  Striking horizontal tiered branches; multi-stemmed silhouette

 

Cornus mas / cornelian-cherry dogwood

Spring:  Cluster of small, yellow flowers in April

Summer:  Glossy dark green leaves; oblong, cherry-red fruits

Autumn: Yellow-brown fall color

Winter: Attractive mottled tan and gray bark

 

Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ / Wiinter King hawthorn

Spring:  Showy clusters of white flowers

Summer: Fine-textured, glossy green leaves

Autumn:  Showy orange-red berries persistent through winter

Winter”  Flat-topped horizontal silhouette; silvery bark peels to reveal orange patches

 

Fagus sylvatica / European beech

Spring:  Late emerging light green foliage

Summer:  Glossy dark green leaves

Autumn:  Coppery-yellow

Winter:  Smooth silvery-gray bark; elegant pyramidal silhouette; retains some leaves throughout winter

 

Larix decidua / European larch

Spring:  Bright green, soft new needles

Summer:  Dark green needles

Autumn:  Attractive golden yellow fall color

Winter: Striking, bare-branched pyramidal silhouette

 

Prunus maackii / Amur cherry

Spring:  Small white flowers

Summer:  Glossy green foliage; red fruit maturing to black

Autumn:  Yellow-brown fall color

Winter:  Outstanding cinnamon brown bark with a metallic sheen

 

Prunus sargentii / Sargent's cherry

Spring: Beautiful early spring pink flowers

Summer:  Medium-textured green foliage

Autumn:  Yellow to bronze-red fall color

Winter:  Distinctive red to chestnut brown shiny bark

 

Syringa pekinensis / Peking lilac

Spring:  Large, dark green foliage early in season

Summer:  Large, creamy-white fragrant flowers in June

Autumn:  Ornamental persistent seedheads; yellow fall color

Winter:  Handsome exfoliating cherry-like bark

 

Shrubs

Aesculus parviflora / bottlebrush buckeye

Spring:  New yellow-green foliage changing to medium green

Summer:  Large, white bottlebrush-shaped flowers in July

Autumn:  Yellow fall color

Winter: Suckering, multi-stemmed habit

 

Aronia arbutifolia* 'Brilliantissima' / brilliant red chokeberry

Spring:  Dense clusters of small white flowers

Summer:  Glossy dark green to gray-green leaves

Autumn: Brilliant red fall color

Winter:  Abundant, persistent red fruit

 

Berberis koreana / Korean barberry

Spring:  Showy clusters of yellow pendulous flowers

Summer:  Fine-textured medium green leaves

Autumn: Reddish-purple fall color; clusters of persistent red berries

Winter:  Twiggy reddish stems

 

Caryopteris x clandonensis / bluebeard

Spring:  Cut to ground in spring

Summer: Outstanding late-summer, early fall bright blue flowers

Autumn: Fragrant, silvery gray-green foliage remains until frost

Winter: Light-gray twiggy mound

 

Clethra alnifolia / Summersweet

Spring:  Medium green leaves

Summer:  Spiky white or pink fragrant flowers in July

Autumn:  Golden yellow fall color

Winter:  Interesting, delicate dried seed capsules

 

Cornus sericea 'Cardinal' / cardinal red-osier dogwood

Spring:  Flattened, white flower clusters

Summer: Medium-textured green leaves

Autumn:  Reddish-purple fall color

Winter: Attractive stems,  reddish-orange changing to bright red

 

Cotoneaster 'Hessei' / Hesse cotoneaster

Spring: Tiny, pink flowers

Summer: Glossy green leaves

Autumn:  Rich burgundy fall color; bright red fruits

Winter:  Interesting herringbone branch habit and persistent berries

 

Fothergilla gardenii / dwarf fothergilla

Spring:  Fragrant, bottle-brush white flowers before foliage

Summer:  Blue-green foliage

Autumn:  Vibrant yellow-orange-red fall color

Winter:  Silvery-gray bark with a rounded habit

 

Hamamelis mollis  ‘Brevipetala’ / brevipetala witch-hazel

Spring:  Smooth, gray branches, new foliage has light green underside

Summer:  Large, coarse-textured, green foliage

Autumn:  Rich, yellow-orange fall color

Winter:  Small ribbon-like, fragrant yellow flowers in Feb/Mar

 

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ / Witch-hazel

Spring:  Fragrant, orange to copper-red ribbon-like flowers

Summer:  Gray-green to medium green foliage

Autumn:  Yellow to orange fall color

Winter:  Silvery-gray to brown stems

 

Hamamelis vernalis f. carnea / red-flowered vernal witch-hazel

Spring:  Early foliage is reddish-purple

Summer:  Large, coarse-textured, green foliage

Autumn:  Yellow to orange-red fall color

Winter:  Red flowers in late February or early March

 

Hamamelis virginiana* / common witch-hazel

Spring:  New leaves emerge light green changing with season

Summer:  Dark green, bold-textured, toothed leaves

Autumn:  Showy, yellow, ribbon-like flowers in mid-October into December; yellow fall color

Winter:  Attractive, gray stems and spreading branches

 

Heptacodium miconioides / seven-son flower

Spring:  Soft green leaves maturing to dark green

Summer:  Clusters of white flowers in late August-September

Autumn:  Ornamental red bracts; yellow-brown fall color

Winter:  Exfoliating, gray-brown bark exposing lighter inner bark

 

Hydrangea arborescens* / wild hydrangea

Spring:  Attractive green foliage

Summer:  White flat-topped flowers in June

Autumn:  Yellow-brown fall color; dried flower heads

Winter:  Ornamental dried flower heads; gray-tan-brown flaky stems

 

Hydrangea paniculata / panicled hydrangea

Spring:  Coarse, dark green leaves

Summer:  White changing to pink flowers Aug-Sept

Autumn:  Purple-tinged green autumn color; pink changing to brown flower heads

Winter:  Persistent dried flower heads

 

Hydrangea quercifoliaoak-leaved hydrangea

Spring:  Oakleaf-shaped foliage emerges covered with silky hairs

Summer:  White changing to pink cone-shaped flowers July-Sept

Autumn:  Outstanding, wine-red to burgundy fall foliage

Winter:  Ornamental, persistent dried flower heads; reddish-brown peeling bark

 

Hypericum kalmianum/ Kalm St. John’s wort

Spring:  Blue green foliage

Summer:  Showy bright yellow flowers

Summer:  Reddish fall color

Winter:  Brown, exfoliating stems; dried reddish-brown fruit capsule

 

Ilex decidua/ possum-haw

Spring: Small white flowers

Summer: Glossy dark green foliage

Autumn:  Yellow fall color

Winter:  Showy red fruit on female plants; effective until mid-winter

 

Ilex verticillata* / common winterberry

Spring:  Remnant fruits attract birds

Summer:  Glossy dark green foliage

Autumn:  Maroon fall color

Winter:  Abundant bright red berries on female plants; light gray stems

 

Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' / Henry's Garnet sweetspire

Spring:  Medium green leaves on reddish-green stems

Summer:  Showy yellowish-white spiky flowers

Autumn:  Brilliant orangish-red to maroon fall color

Winter:  Persistent seed capsules

 

Lindera benzoin/ spicebush

Spring:  Early, vibrant yellow flowers in early March

Summer:  Attractive, fine-textured, soft green foliage

Autumn:  Butter yellow fall color contrasts well with red fruits

Winter:  A distinctive horizontal branching pattern in woodland situations

 

Physocarpus opulifolius* ‘Monlo’ / Diabolo® eastern ninebark

Spring:  New leaves emerge dark purple

Summer:  Creamy white flowers stand out against purple foliage

Autumn:  Persistent seed heads

Winter:  Older stems peel into long, papery strips

 

Rhus copallina var. latifolia* 'Morton' / Prairie Flame™ shining sumac

Spring:  Glossy, trifoliate green foliage

Summer:  Greenish-yellow pyramidal flowers

Autumn:  Outstanding crimson-red to orange fall color

Winter:  Slender fuzzy stems aromatic; showy male catkins

 

Rhus typhina* / staghorn sumac

Spring:  Bright green foliage

Summer:  Bright green compound leaves; greenish-yellow flower panicles

Autumn:  Excellent orange-red fall color; fuzzy clusters of crimson-red fruit

Winter:  Picturesque velvety branches resemble deer antlers; persistent, fuzzy fruit

 

Rosa glauca / red-leaved rose

Spring:  New foliage a beautiful coppery, purplish-red

Summer:  Attractive blue-green foliage; clear pink flowers attractive against foliage

Autumn:  Burgundy fall color; cranberry-like fruits

Winter:  Canes covered with purplish blooms; persistent, shriveled dark red fruits

 

Rosa rugosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’ / Frau Dagmar Hastrup rugosa rose

Spring:  Prolific light-pink, fragrant flowers with showy yellow stamens

Summer:  Persistent flowers; large red fruits (hips)

Autumn:  Yellow to orange fall color; persistent fruit

Winter:  Thick reddish-brown stems; large fruits turn dark red

 

Weigela florida ‘Alexandra’ / Wine & Roses® old fashioned weigela

Spring:  Trumpet-shaped rosy-pink flowers

Summer:  Dark, shiny, purple foliage

Autumn:  Dark purple foliage persist until frost

Winter:  Multi-stemmed, coarse winter habit, graceful arching stems