Stems of Woody Shrubs Provide Colorful Visual Interest in Winter

A bundle of brightly-colored plant stems.
March 2, 2017

What’s a plant without leaves and flowers, you may wonder. In the dormant season, the stems of many woody shrubs provide visual interest with bold colors and interesting texture.

Here are some suggestions for shrubs to plant this spring and enjoy next winter.

Before getting to work in your garden bed, be sure to select plants appropriate for your site, such as plants that tolerate shade or wet conditions.  The experts at our Plant Clinic can help you narrow down your choices.

Yellow-Green Stems

Budd's yellow red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea ssp. sericea 'Budd's Yellow): This is a cultivar of a Chicago-area native shrub that grows 6 to 8 feet high and 5 to 6 feet wide. It is very adaptable to most soil conditions, including wet soils. Position this shrub in full sun for yellow stems that act as winter color and for the best flowering—the dogwood produces yellow-white flowers in late May to early June.


Red-Orange Stems

Blood-twigged dogwood (Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire’): This medium-sized, colony-forming shrub grows 5 to 6 feet high. Winter stems are red at the base and change to yellow and orange on the shrub’s upper portion. Best in full sun to part shade, this shrub sports a purplish-red fall color and prefers moist, well-drained soil.


Reddish-Brown Stems

Snowmound Nippon Spirea (Spiraea nipponica 'Snowmound'): This beautiful vase-shaped shrub with arching stems grows 3 to 5 foot high and 4 to 6 foot wide. Clusters of white flowers appear in mid- to late-spring and blue-green leaves turn yellow in the autumn. Plant this shrub in full sun and well-drained soil. Red-brown stems and dried seed heads add winter interest.

Ivory Halo® Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba 'Bailhalo'): This rounded shrub grows 5 to 6 feet high and wide. In the growing season, the variegated white and green foliage will brighten a dark corner. This dogwood is best in full sun to part shade and can handle many soil conditions, but prefers a moist soil.


White Stems

Russian-sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia): A semi-hardy shrub reaching 3 to 5 feet tall, Russian-sage is best in full sun and well-drained soils. This shrub can die back to the ground in harsh winters but is loved for its handsome gray-green foliage and beautiful late-season lavender-blue flower spikes. Winter stems are silvery-white. Cut back to the ground in early spring.

Chinese white-stemmed raspberry (Rubus cockburnianus): This 6 foot, suckering ornamental shrub is valued for its showy silver-white, arching and thorny stems, especially in winter. Spring pinkish-purple flowers, dark green foliage and purple-black fruit add additional interest in a sunny wood edge garden.