Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

5 ways to improve your winter landscape

Make the most of your yard throughout Edmonton's longest, coldest season

The barbecue may be covered with snow and the deck furniture may be in storage but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your yard this time of year.

Jennifer Jones, a NAIT Landscape Architectural Technology instructor (and grad of the program, class of ’05) at NAIT, has plenty of suggestions for making your outdoor space more pleasant during our longest, coldest season.

Whether you focus purely on the visual, or prefer to get out and use the space, Jones offers a few ideas for effective winter landscaping.

Plan for texture and movement

ornamental grass in winter

Many low-growing plants are covered with snow in the winter, so they’re virtually invisible. When you’re landscaping during the growing season, think about what the plant will look like when it’s dormant, says Jones.

“Ornamental grasses, particularly the taller reed grasses, tend to keep their form during the winter months,” adding more visual interest to the yard.

Tall grass can also add movement, another important consideration, she says. “It’s nice to have things that move around to create a little interest. When the wind blows, we get some animation, which we lack in winter because the trees have no leaves.”

Attract wildlife

cedar wax wing

Critters also add all-important movement and animation to the yard. Add plants that attract winter birds, like cedar wax wings. “In and around February, you can see swarms of them going to the mountain ash trees and it’s really dramatic. Wildlife creates liveliness – something exciting to look at,” says Jones.

Add colour

colourful door in winter

Colour creates an inviting environment, as well as visual interest, but it can be hard to come by in winter. Plants that retain their fruit – like a mountain ash does with its red berries – are one option. Another is to add colour on outbuildings instead, like garages and sheds, says Jones.

“Maybe you paint the door a really bright colour or use a different shade of siding.”

Light it up

illuminated tree

Use coloured floodlights, accent lights, solar lights and colour-changing LED lights to add drama and warmth to outdoor spaces, says Jones.

“In winter, you want to add light to enhance the architectural features of the yard, like trees – things that have an upright form.” Try putting a floodlight at the base of a tree, she adds. Illuminated planters or art pieces are also available.

Make it comfortable and warm

winter firepit and hot chocolate

“The main reason we don’t use our landscapes in winter is because it’s cold, so we can create little warmth zones. You can have outdoor shelters, heaters, maybe a fire pit,” says Jones. Think about using your front yard as well as your back yard, to increase interactions with neighbours.

Even if you don’t end up using your yard a whole lot in the depth of winter, comfortable (and warm) outdoor features will extend your outdoor season to include those chilly evenings of a late fall and a (hopefully) early spring.

Front yards in bloom - in winter

Already have a beautiful winter yard? The city of Edmonton’s Front Yards in Bloom Winterscapes competition is open for submissions until Feb. 25 in categories that include winter art, winter garden and winter play.


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