Master Gardener: Winter interest in the garden

Creating four seasons of interest in a landscape is a gratifying achievement for any gardener. A way to work toward this is to take note of plantings that please your senses in every season. This snowy winter has provided beautiful opportunities to examine how evergreens of every shape and size, trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses look after a snowfall. Should you find a plant you like, take a photo of it and add it to your wish list. Later this spring use photos as a reminder of what you found to be exceptional in winter. They will also help you to properly identify each tree or shrub when you begin to evaluate these plants as possible additions for your landscape.

A wise saying is “right plant, right place” and it can be used when evaluating whether your favorite choices are compatible with your home landscape. Would the site that you are considering for a plant support its growing requirements? This checklist  includes the amount of sun or shade required per day; preference for wet, dry or normal soil conditions; soil type preference – can it tolerate clay?; zone 5a or lower hardiness; can it take a windy site or does it need protection?; what  is the ultimate size and shape of the plant? Matching the plant to the site increases the likelihood that it will grow, thrive and need less pruning.

The numerous snow storms that we have experienced this winter have given us many “snow globe” moments where everything in the yard is draped in layers of snow. Of frequent concern to homeowners is whether or not the snow that is weighing down branches of trees and bushes should be removed or “shaken off” of the branches. Branches can hold snow without being harmed by it and it’s usually best to let nature take its course. Should you choose to try and remove some, it is important to gently bump the branch from below to do so. A broom handle can be used to encourage snow to fall off. Emphasis on gently!  Any downward batting of a branch is likely to cause damage – and never take a swing at the branch! Should you see damage at any time, prune it off to give it a clean cut once the weather moderates. It will allow the tree or bush to heal better later on.

Email your home garden and lawn questions to or phone the Master Gardener Helpline at 630/955-1123. Visit our website at

Julie Moore is a Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County.