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Winter - blues (and greens)

Pines, firs, cedars and spruces add color to your snowy landscapes

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If you are used to thinking of "the dead of winter," you simply don't understand plants. Even annuals survive as seeds, and winter annuals are growing under the snow. Although your garden might appear lifeless at the moment, it really isn't.

Along with keeping watch on the Winter Olympics, winter sports and other activities, take stock of your priorities and make time for winter landscapes.

While they might not show the glitz and the glamour of spring or summer, gardens in winter are a vital part of all planting schemes.

Winter is officially three months long, but it can last as long as five months. In northern Utah, it might take in almost one-third of the year.

It is therefore a serious mistake to ignore the gardening potential of the season.

I'll cover winter gardening over the next several weeks. Today's subject is evergreen trees.

A midwinter landscape evaluation is an excellent way to determine how well your yard is designed and maintained. With the exception of annuals, most of the elements of the garden are still there and remain part of the landscape. Yards that look good during the winter will be interesting during other seasons.

Evergreen trees and shrubs are the most visible plants in winter. No other trees are as striking as the tall spires of pines, spruces and firs and even a few giant sequoias. These evergreen stalwarts serve as the walls of the landscape and screen undesirable views.

Winter is the season when bold shapes stand out. To accent the bold, use weeping or cascading types in high contrast situations against a fence or building. Look for plants with unusual shapes, colors or interesting silhouettes. Evergreens also make excellent accents when combined with other interesting features.

Most evergreen trees are columnar in shape. This means they are going to be taller than they are wide. All but the dwarf types will eventually become very large trees, so plan accordingly. Maintain a sense of scale in your design process. A 100-foot-tall spruce makes an 18-inch dwarf juniper look out of place if the two are planted side by side.

Evergreen trees might be the backbone of the winter landscape, but a landscape garden composed solely of evergreen conifers is boring. They do not have enough variety throughout the seasons.

Mix the conifers with deciduous trees or broad-leaved evergreens with green or bronze winter color.

Unusual or striking shapes are unequaled in their capacity to enchant garden visitors. Not all plants with unique character are exotic. Some of the best winter specimens are common plants with missing branches or twisted trunks that no one would buy at a nursery. To provide even more interest, plant some of these misshapen specimens at a tilt or in another unusual position to make the plant look windswept and gnarled.

When you start combining evergreen plants in the garden, pull all the elements together. Opt for maximum contrast. You need something that will stand out even when the days are cold, dreary and overcast.

For contrast, try placing a needled conifer next to a broad-leafed evergreen. Add the leafless branch from deciduous trees or berried branches with the colorful fruit creating more contrast. Mix shapes and combine mounding forms with upright, spreading, or weeping ones.

Texture is another important winter quality. The long needles of an Austrian pine contrast with the short scales of a dark blue juniper. Himalayan pines have the longest and softest needles and are good choices if you have good soil.

Don't overlook the importance of color. There are blues and grays, golds and yellows and all shades of green. One of the most important winter garden colors is yellow. It stands out next to the snow and is a harbinger of spring until the daffodils finally come through.

Several trees will add the yellow as a nice contrast with the snow. One unusual specimen is the Japanese red pine cultivar "Oculusdraconis" or dragon eye pine. It has two yellow bands on each needle, and when viewed endwise each branch has concentric green and yellow bands.

One final note about conifers in the landscape. Take the time to select the trees carefully. Some types turn brown in the winter and are not good landscape specimens. Even though they recover in the spring, they are not a good choice for winter beauty.

Listen to Larry live

The KSL Radio garden show features Larry Sagers and host Don Shafer on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

Send e-mail to features@desnews.com; subject: Larry Sagers