Will It Die? (What Can Survive Winter In Your Yard And What Can’t)
Sometimes going into winter in Utah feels like a dangerous game of “Will It Die??” for your landscaping. After all the hard work you’ve done, or are about to do, you want to be assured that you’ve picked the right plants—the best winter shrubs, really durable trees for winter, and flowers that will last underground until spring. And unfortunately, with the harsh and unpredictable weather conditions in our area, winter yard survival isn’t a battle for the faint of heart. But with this handy run-down of what’s going to thrive in your yard this season and what’s definitely going to bite the snow-covered dust, we’re certain you and your winter-primed yard will come out on top.
Best Trees & Shrubs For Winter In Utah
If you want landscaping that looks great all year round, it goes without saying that you’ve got to pick the right trees, shrubs, and flowers for your yard. We’ve rounded up some common and lesser-known options for each category, with special emphasis on winter yard survival in Utah.
Best Trees For Utah Winter Yard Survival
Despite what may seem like less-than-favorable weather conditions for humans, there are plenty of trees that can survive and thrive in cold and snowy Utah winters. But how exactly does a tree survive such harsh conditions as we experience every year for months at a time? Well, much like certain animals, trees native to colder climates get cues from the changes in weather long before the snow flies. As light and temperatures decrease, hardy native trees will start to store necessary nutrients underground in their roots so they can live off that supply while in a state of dormancy during the winter. This is why the trees most likely to die during a cold Utah winter are ones that are not naturally found in our climate. Bringing in exotic beauties may be fun for a season or two, but the best way to ensure long term landscaping survival is to plant durable trees, with a history of happily harmonizing with the weather patterns of Utah winters.
All of the trees found in our durable-for-winter trees list below are winter-hardy options for planting in your yard that will do more for your landscaping than just hang on for dear life during the colder months.
Blue Spruce: Not only do blue spruce provide a beautiful and fragrant windbreak during Utah winters, but they’re also drought resistant and don’t require much maintenance throughout the year. Because the blue spruce is native to cold climates (I mean, it’s Colorado’s state tree!), they don’t require special care during the winter, but if you’re worried you could spread a layer of mulch around the base of the tree to help insulate roots and wrap the trunk in burlap or something similar to protect the bark from foraging animals.
Juniper: Juniper can grow in even the most inhospitable conditions, particularly the often super-cold temps of a Utah winter. And since they don’t drop their leaves in the fall, they help bring life to a wintry landscape. And don’t worry about watering a juniper all winter—unless it’s in a heavily covered area—as the rain and snowfall will naturally provide the moisture the plant needs to survive.
Zelkova: These put on a gorgeous show in the fall and don’t need much in terms of watering once they’re established. Plus, there’s a large variety offering unique, even variegated, foliage. Zelkova (also known as Chinese elm) can survive in a variety of climates including cold temperatures down to -20℉ so you shouldn’t have to worry about them too much during a typical Utah winter. One way to check their health if you’re concerned, however, is to gently scratch a branch’s bark until you reach (but don’t penetrate) the cambium layer. It should be a nice, healthy bright green.
Cedar: Cedars are fairly easy to grow and maintain, plus they smell nice, are adorned with pretty berries come winter, and even attract birds to your wintry landscape. If you plan to wrap your cedar tree in burlap or other tree netting to help prevent snow and ice damage, just make sure not to do it too tightly as to girdle the tree and don’t forget to remove the wrap in early spring when about 80% of the hard freezes have past.
Birch: The unique bark of birch trees can offer a bright and beautiful contrast to the rest of your yard all year, but especially in the winter. Birch trees are one of the trees that we might suggest fertilizing before the deep months of winter hit. The right fertilizer mix can sometimes help keep the soil moist and help the birch roots retain the nutrients they need to fuel the tree during the coldest part of the year.
Willow: A willow can add plenty of interest to a snow-covered yard with its unique shape. It is also an excellent source of shade come summer. One Utah landscaping tip for the willow tree is to deeply mulch with compostable materials in the late fall to help insulate those roots and encourage moisture retention in the soil.
Streetspire Oak: Because of its tall, slender form, the streetspire oak is great for withstanding strong Utah winds and fitting into narrow spaces in your landscaping. Another reason we consider the Streetspire oak one of the best trees for Utah winters is that it is extremely tolerant of urban air conditions and can still live up to 100+ years!
If you do have a tree you think may be in danger of losing its life this winter, it’s a good idea to have it evaluated by a professional after doing a preliminary check in an attempt to pinpoint the problem and provide your arborist with as much information as possible. Plenty of trees can survive a broken branch, frost damage, and other Utah winter worries so don’t panic—not all is lost even if you do see signs of an ailing tree.
Best Shrubs For Utah Winter Yard Survival
Adding the most durable shrubs for winter in Utah to your landscaping is an important part of yard design for any homeowner. They can help protect walkways and provide plenty of visual interest in an otherwise boring blanket of white. So how do you choose which are the most durable shrubs for winter? Just like with the best trees for a Utah winter, you need to look for shrubs that are cold-hardy and preferably native to our area—shrubs that can handle plenty of wind, snow, and even the stress of more seriously inclement weather, like the occasional ice storm. Below you’ll find several of the best shrubs for surviving a Utah winter, and looking great, too!
Winter Heath: Winter heath is a hardy, evergreen shrub that actually flowers in winter. It’s a low-growing plant that provides beautiful ground cover all year long. Winter heath likes plenty of sun so make sure you’re planting in parts of your yard that are free of shade, particularly in darker winter months.
Sweet Box: Another hardy shrub that stays green year-round, sweet box makes a great hedge or even espalier and needs very little water or sunlight. This popular plant appreciates nutrient-rich soil so it’s a good idea to fertilize it before winter hits and give its root system a protective barrier of organic mulch to retain some heat and moisture.
Wintergreen: Wintergreen is an especially festive shrub option as its delicate white summer blossoms make way for bright red berries during the winter months. This is a very low-maintenance, no-prune plant that enjoys moist, acidic soil so manage the pH appropriately when it comes to fertilizing!
Evergreen Holly: Another drought-resistant powerhouse, holly is possibly the most iconically picturesque option for great winter shrubs in Utah. It’s a good idea to give holly a good soaking before real winter freezes set in and then they should be set to enjoy natural watering throughout those colder months.
Boxwood: Boxwood is ideal for sculpting and lining walkways while providing a rich green pop of color all year long. And they’re frost resistant so they’re a great shrub for Utah winters. One thing to look out for with boxwood in the winter is leaf scorch—this is one winter plant that can use a little late afternoon shade if possible. Morning sun is a better option for boxwood to protect those pretty leaves all winter long.
Globe Peashrub: Possibly even better at withstanding winter damage than boxwood is the globe peashrub, which actually keeps its pretty rounded form without any pruning. It’s cold-tolerant and drought-hardy nature make it a great set-it-and-forget-it winter shrub in Utah.
Forsythia: Forsythia is another easy-to-maintain shrub that is great for winter yard survival in Utah. It’s also got beautifully bright yellow blooms that come before spring has fully sprung, helping to ease those wintry blues. Forsythia shouldn’t need any additional watering from you, but you may want to keep an eye out for pests and disease—both of which you can help ward off with a good layer of mulch come winter.
Hicks Yew: Hicks Yew is not only a perfect privacy hedge shrub, but touts extreme cold hardiness, making it another great option for Utah yards in winter. Some say hicks yew can be susceptible to winter burn so additional wind break might be a good idea if your property doesn’t have a lot of other protection from the elements, especially wind.
Ninebark: Despite it being a deciduous shrub (and therefore not putting on a glorious show during wintertime), ninebark can grow in even the harshest conditions and come back strong every spring. This is another shrub that will benefit from a good layer of mulch in order to keep the roots strong and allow the plant to focus its energy on preparing a good show of leaves and blooms come springtime.
Best Flowers For Utah Winter Yard Survival
They may not be blossoming during the coldest season, but you can’t forget to plant some spring flowers that are strong enough to last underground all winter.
- Lily of the Valley
- Coral Bells
What Won’t Survive The Winter?
If you’ve done your research before planting, it’s honestly unlikely that your yard will look like a plant massacre come spring. But we do have a few warnings about things that probably won’t make it through a harsh Utah winter.
- Tender plants. If your new tree or shrub is very under-established by the time winter hits, it’s more than likely that the stress of a Utah winter will do the baby in. It’s best to give your landscaping plenty of time to get established before winter to give it the best chance of survival.
- Sick plants. Sick plants are likewise at risk of kicking the bucket if they’re not better before winter. Make sure to keep up with fertilization, pruning, and pest control to maintain a healthy landscape that can endure the colder months without dying off.
- You-definitely-shouldn’t-have-planted-this-in-Utah plants. Make sure you’re doing a little research (or have hired pros who know their native veg) to ensure you’re planting stuff that was meant to live in your climate region. Look for cold hardiness and drought tolerance since our state deals with both. Plus, take a closer look at the microclimates that exist in your own backyard (like areas with plenty of sun, too much shade, lots of water runoff, etc.) and plant accordingly.
If you think you’ve got a fighting chance but want to make sure you’re putting your landscape to bed for winter properly, here are a few winter tips for landscaping.
- Plan ahead with heat-absorbing foliage—maroon- and bronze-colored leaves, as well as downy leaves do this best.
- Plant with wind and sun in mind. The winter sun is different from the summer sun, and the same goes for wind. Plant accordingly.
- Gather potted plants together to help insulate and protect one another during the coldest parts of winter.
- If the weather has been dry, give your plants a thorough watering before a freeze is predicted to ensure they get what they need before the ground becomes impenetrable.
- Lay down mulch to help protect and insulate plants that need it.
- Cover vulnerable plants with burlap or other insulating material to help ensure survival.
Big Rock Landscaping: Your Winter Landscaping Experts
At Big Rock Landscaping, we truly believe that landscaping is an investment that should have year-round benefits—ones that we can help provide! We can offer the knowledge and experience necessary to plant the best trees, shrubs, and flowers for surviving a harsh Utah winter and provide some beauty through those cold, dark months. But our landscaping expertise doesn’t end there—we can also design, build, and install beautiful outdoor structures, gathering spaces, and fire features to seriously level up your winter yard enjoyment.
Ready to contact us for expert landscaping tips, friendly and clear communication, and an experienced team to design, install, and maintain your landscaping so it can not only survive but thrive this winter and for years to come? Give us a call to get started today!