Shrubs with Autumn and Winter Interest


It can be a long winter and a tad gloomy.

One way to have a bit of cheer is by planting a shrub with colour and interest for autumn and winter. Besides shrubs with amazing autumn colour, there are also shrubs with bold variegated foliage, bright berries, winter flowers and some shrubs even have scent. Described on this page are the more popular varieties of garden shrubs which provide interest in either autumn or winter. An additional advantage of growing shrubs which produce berries, such as Pyracanthus,  is to provide food for birds, especially Blackbirds and Thrushes, which are avid berry takers.

Many Acers have superb autumn colour and there are now so many varieties it's best to see them on display in one of the garden centre in autumn when you can check out its autumn colours. Generally, the green-leaved Acers produce the best autumn colours.


Euonymus with good Autumn colour

Euronymous are tough, hardy shrubs which will tolerate most growing conditions and soils, which make them easy to grow. Illustrated is Euonymus alatus 'Compactus' also known as winged spindle / fire bush a fantastic Euonymus for autumn colour, striking bright red. This is a compact variety which will grow to around 1.5m making it ideal for the garden. The strong autumn coloured foliage looks best in sun although E.alatus will grow in partial shade.

The deciduous varieties of Euonymus have excellent autumn colour were the subject of a RHS round table discussion back in 2018. The following shrubs were awarded or retained the RHS AGM (Award of Garden Merit) which is always a good sign when selecting shrubs and plants.

E. alatus 'Fire Ball'    E. carnosus     E. europaeus 'Thornhayes'    E. hamiltonianus 'Pink Delight'  E. oxyphyllus 'Angyo Elegant'  and also E. europaeus 'Red Cascade' and E. alatus ' Compactus'. 

Selected varieties available from Crocus (affiliate link), click here for buying information.

Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n Gold'

Striking foliage

Another Euonymus, this is E.  fortunei 'Emerald 'n Gold' quite different from those described above. Euonymus fortunei are evergreen shrubs with bold, variegated foliage and this image really does not do the shrub justice.

In the gloomy winter days, the variegated foliage really stands out and makes a bold, bright splash of colour.

It is another easy to grow, tough, plant anywhere fully hardy shrub which is maintenance free.

Cotinus have strong autumn colour

Cotinus coggygria,in its different varieties, makes for lovely autumn colour. Illustrated is Cotinus 'Flame' which is a green-leaved variety which becomes a bold orange colour in the autumn and is reputed to be the best Cotinus for autumn colour. Also attractive is C. 'Royal Purple' the colour of the purple leaves intensify in autumn.

Similarly to Euonymus above, Cotinus is an easy to grow shrub, tolerant of most conditions, although a much larger shrub so you would need to make space for it. 

Cotinus is easy to grow hardy shrub tolerant of most conditions and is a good choice for autumn colour.

Sarcococca hookeriana

Wonderful Sarococca common name sweet box

Sarcococca is known as sweet box because of its lovely strongly scented white winter flowers. It will fill an area with scent so welcome in the dark winter months.

Sarcococca is easy to grow, even in shade and dense shade and will tolerate neglect.  many varieties are low growing ideal for hedges and edging. 

How to grow Sarcococca and images. 

Cornus alba Siberica red stems

Cornus bold winter stems

There are many different varieties of Cornus, some of which have bold coloured winter stems. Illustrated is C. alba Siberica with bright red stems in winter, which look very attractive. There is also a variety with yellow stems called Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea'  It is a deciduous shrub and when the leaves fall off, they leave behind the stems, red, orange or yellow depending on the variety.  

Cornus is easy to grow, reliable, tolerant of wet conditions and partial shade. 

Cornus are easy to grow but need annual pruning to produce the best winter colour.

yellow witch hazel

The best winter scent of all

This doesn't look much of a shrub, but without doubt it has the most lovely perfumes of all. It is Lonicera fragrantissim, Winter flowering Honeysuckle and it really has the sweetest of perfume. I visit a particular garden in winter just to enjoy it. In my next garden, I will plant one near a path where I can make daily trips to smell it.

It flowers mid December to March - tips on how to grow and prune Winter flowering Honeysuckle.

Winter flowering Jasmine

Bright yellow flowers

Winter flowering Jasmine, jasminum nudiflora  is a deciduous climbing plant with bright yellow flowers in winter. Although a Jasmine it is not scented. It is fully hardy and makes up for the lack of scent with its luminous bright yellow flowers which appear ahead of the leaves.

It is a very colourful sight when in full flower bright against the winter murk.

Over time, it can get into a bit of tangle which is easily remedied by being pruned back into a tidy shape. How to grow and prune Winter Jasmine.

garrya elliptica

Great winter tassels

Garrya elliptica is an evergreen shrub which is also known as the silk tassel bush and it's easy to see why.

From December onwards, depending on the variety, it is festooned with long tassels which look striking.

Not all varieties are fully hardy and it does need a sheltered spot - growing advice about Garrya elliptica.


Winter flowering and scented

Mahonia is an evergreen shrub which flowers in the winter. 

Illustrated left and above in the centre, it is an easy to grow shrub, flowering early in the year during the winter, predominantly in January. 

A few varieties of Mahonia are scented, such as M. Charity,  and M. 'Lionel Fortescue. They are a tall shrub, with sharp spines often planted on a boundary to deter intruders, and they can make a colourful hedge. Tips and ideas on growing Mahonia.


Daphne winter and spring flowering highly scented

Daphnes have strongly scented flowers which bloom in winter and some varieties in spring. 

There are both evergreen and deciduous varieties of Daphne commonly grown, and some, as illustrated, have variegated leaves. All have very powerful, sweetly scented flowers.

Daphne is not easy to grow and requires precise growing conditions.

purple Hamamelis vernalis Amethyst

Hamamelis spidery scented flowers

A shrub grown for winter scent is Hamamelis, common name Witch Hazel, which is more of a small tree than a shrub.  It is deciduous and has interesting spidery flowers which form ahead of the leaves (like forsythia). The flowers are usually red, orange, yellow or mauve, illustrated is Hamamelis vernalis Amethyst

Hamamelis are slow growing and look good in a woodland setting or as a solitary tree as they tend to get a bit lost if planted in a mixed setting.

More illustrations and growing advice about Hamamelis.

English Holly with Berries

Holly and its berries

Little beats the sight of a holly bush laden with berries, the essence of an english winter.

Holly is evergreen, and slow growing, although most do get quite tall, eventually. Another hardy easy to grow shrub, which will grow in partial shade. Since Holly is grown for its lovely berries, it is important to know you have to have both sexes to get the berries and the names are no help at all. For example "Silver Milkmaid" is male. More about growing Hollies and getting berries.

Last updated 06.11.2021