Which of these photos shows a cedar?
Think of the countless homeowners who plant Pfitzer junipers (Juniperus chinensis ‘Pfitzeraiana’) in front of their living room windows, then shear them to a fraction of their normal size. That’s not fair to the plant, it’s unattractive, and it makes a lot of work for the gardener.
Similarly, junipers are planted along sidewalks and in parking lots (where they tenaciously hang on despite compacting foot traffic and scorching summer heat). Quickly outgrowing the space allotted, they’re pruned at the edge of the pavement, resulting in a wall of dead, brown branches.
As I write this, the temperature outside is 10 degrees. Wind swirls snow into the air and howls around the eaves. It’s hard to believe anything is in bloom. Yet, some Colorado plants choose March as their best time to reproduce. Specifically, many trees are currently in full bloom—and I bet you haven’t noticed.
Unlike the showy flowers we grow in our gardens, the flowers of cottonwoods, junipers, and elms are not designed to attract pollinators. Rather, they rely on wind to disperse their pollen. It’s a hit-or-miss proposition, which is why these flowers produce clouds of the stuff—enough pollen so that some lands on another flower’s pistil, and plenty left over to aggravate our eyes and noses. It’s the flowers you don’t see that are out to get you.
Do weeks of staring at snowy white landscapes have your eyes screaming for color? Winter gardens don’t have to be drab, lifeless affairs. Flowers may not be in bloom, but many plants have leaves, stems, or berries in shades of bright red, golden orange, or silver-blue and plum. Put them together and your winter garden springs to life.
Mahonia repens (also known as Oregon Grape Holly) is an attractive groundcover year-round, but it really shines in winter. While other plants shed their leaves, Mahonia’s foliage turns a stunning bright red.
Yellow flowers in spring and showy blue berries in early fall add to this native’s year-round interest. Mahonia repens is drought tolerant, and handles full sun to part shade.
Juniper horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ is another groundcover that remains attractive all year. While many junipers grow much too large for our small yards, Blue Chip stays under a foot high. Its feathery foliage is a beautiful steel-blue all year, with the addition of silver-plum tips in winter. Plant it in full sun, where it will quickly spread up to ten feet in diameter. Junipers are very xeric once established.