How to Use Bark for Winter Interest


For homeowners who want to add a touch of intrigue to their surroundings, the bark of many trees and shrubs can contribute visual excitement to snowy terrain. The bark of some woody plants is colorful or reflective; others exhibit distinctive patterns or shed their top layers in curls. With a bit of planning and imagination, winter can be transformed to a season of fascination.

Pay Attention to USDA Zones

It’s important to remember that plants, like people, have different climatologic preferences. Before purchasing and planting any perennial, it’s important to compare one’s locale with a map of the USDA’s agricultural zones.

USDA zones denote coldest average winter temperatures in a given area; most cultivars of perennials will have demonstrated an ability to thrive within a band of zones. Planting a tree or shrub outside those zones lessens the chances of the plant’s survival.

Since USDA zone maps can be confusing, it’s possible to match zip codes to USDA zones.

Choose a Cultivar by the Characteristics of its Bark

Dogwood Shrub

Colorful Bark (Cultivars with bright red or yellowish branches)

  • Dogwood: Stems and branches of year-old wood are brightly colored. Grows up to 10 feet tall. Depending on the cultivar, stems are red (e.g., Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’, Zones 3 to 8) or yellow (Cornus alba ‘Bud’s Yellow’, Zones 2 to 8).
  • Willows: Stems vary from golden-yellow to bright red (e.g., Salix alba v. vitellina ‘Britzensis’, Zones 4 to 8; ‘Scarlet Curls’, Zones 5 to 9; ‘Golden Curls’, Zones 4 to 9). Heights vary, but many grow to thirty feet if unpruned.
  • Maples: Several red-barked varieties of Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) are available; hardiness varies among cultivars.

Check out: 5 Berry Plants to Brighten your Winter Landscape for more winter landscaping tips

Maple Tree

Shaggy or Curly Bark (Good choices for areas that can be easily viewed)

  • Birches (grow to 60 feet): River birches (Betula nigra, Zones 4 to 8) are probably the most popular trees for curly bark, which peels away in multivariate hues from ivory to pink and brown. Yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis, Zones 3 to 7) exhibits a more uniform amber-colored skin.
  • Maples: Paperbark maple (Acer griseum, Zones 5 to 8) is a well-known variety with mahogany-colored bark. Grows to thirty feet. Acer triflorum (Zone 4 to 8) exhibits a less flamboyant tan bark.


Lilac Tree

Shiny Bark (Subtler hues; reflects pale winter sunshine)

  • Cherries: Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii, Zones 3 to 6) possesses an ale-colored, glossy bark that persists throughout the tree’s life. Grows to thirty feet. Paperbark cherry (Prunus serrula, Zones 5 to 7) sports a cinnamon-colored bark that peels as the tree ages.
  • Lilacs: Several species of Syringa (Zones 3 to 8) have bark that appears burnished and silvery to mahogany-colored.




Sycamore Tree

Patchwork Bark (Should also be planted where easily seen)

  • Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis, Zones 4 to 9): Bark exfoliates in large plates to reveal a camouflage-like pattern of green, tan and cream. Can become massive (100 feet); should be planted as a single specimen where space is not a premium.
  • Pines: Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana, Zones 5 to 7) grows to 50 feet and exhibits multiple patches of olive, tan, and brown.
  • Crape myrtles: Several hybrids (Zones 7 to 9) have been developed for their multicolored bark. They grow to 25 feet and produce multiple trunks.


Once the hues of autumn have fled, many landscapes assume winter’s monochromatic character. Nothing stays the eye from roaming fruitlessly in search of color or pattern. Depending on individual tastes, homeowners can select cultivars for random, varied plantings or for more formalized, symmetrical presentations. In either case, the winter landscape will be a lot more eye-catching.

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