Good Bones

Winter Garden Treasures

by Sandy Swegel

Oh, Look. More Snow in the forecast.

I’m trying to be a grateful gardener. Really, I am. I watch the weekend forecast for yet more snow and utter to myself, “Oh, it’s good. We need the moisture.” I squint to see if daffodil shoots can push their way through old hard ice and console myself, “Snow is so good. It insulates the plants and protects them from howling subarctic winds.” But after weeks of cold, I’m running out of gardening reasons to love the snow.

Then I remembered Winter Bones. There’s that old adage that the secret to a good garden is good bones. From a design standpoint, that means the basic structure of the garden. The trees and paths and arbors. It’s hard to see the bones during the summer with all the foliage, but looking at the winter garden is like viewing an X-Ray of your garden. The foliage and flowers are gone and now you can see the skeleton of your garden.

Want to strengthen your garden’s bones? Take an inventory now of what you see as you walk in the apparently barren yard. Walk around your neighborhood and see what gardens are enticing even though it is winter.


Here’s what Winter Bones I like to see in the garden. Which ones do you have? Which ones can you add in this year?

Trees that make archways over paths.
Judicious pruning of trees you already have can make lovely walkways. Prune branches up so that branches along a path are at least 7 feet high. You can walk under them but not hit your head.

Thin Your Trees.
Apple and Plum trees can get quite dense without regular pruning. They block the sun from getting to the garden beds underneath and they produce less fruit. While these trees are still dormant, cut out some of those water shoots and old broken branches so you can see the structure of the tree now.

Grow interesting Bark
Paperbark trees are my favorite trees in winter. Their peeling, colorful bark called out to be touched and admired. Paperbark maples are great as are the Paperbark Birches which survive better in arid Colorado. The white bark of aspens and birches are great in summer and winter. In warmer places, sycamores and crepe myrtles and eucalyptus are exquisite bark

Grow tall shrubs
Twig dogwoods (red and yellow) stand out now. Pruning out a third of the old branches each year gives a beautiful shape and vivid color. Nine-barks in winter show off their great peeling bark.

Strategically place grasses
Clumps of grasses placed on corners or edges of beds or even as a mini hedge help create “rooms” in your garden, Grasses grow just in one season, so if you have a new garden and are impatient for structure, grasses provide it in one season.

Photo credits:


Native grass seed

Heirloom vegetables

Wildflower Mixes


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *