Landscaping for a carpet of snow
By TOM BUTZLER
Plants are chosen for a landscape design based on a variety of factors.
If fall leaf color is desired, then some trees to consider might be sourwood, sassafras, or red maple. Or maybe it’s the desire to have a background plant that stays the same, all year round, upon which a gardener can utilize in their seasonal garden plantings. Inkberries or boxwoods are just a few of the many broadleaf evergreens that can fill that role.
Winter can bring on the “blues” so maybe some early spring flowering trees can help our mental well-being. As we emerge from the dark and dreary months, those blooms can pop with color and harken the start of the growing season.
An aesthetic attribute that is short-lived in the landscape but can be a unique and stunning is petal fall. Once finished flowering, the blooms fall to the landscape floor with the look of a snowfall. The two basic requirements for this effect are to choose a plant that has a massive number of blooms within the canopy and that they all drop within a short time period to each other. There are plenty of plants to choose from but listed below are a few to get the thought process started.
Fragrant snowbell (Styrax obassia) is a small tree that doesn’t grow much over 20-25 feet. The large, dark green leaves appear in late April and it would appear that anything flowering would be hidden in the foliage. But come May, the sheer volume of flowers and their position (hang down in 8-inch long chains) create a spectacular show. The tree is noticed even before it comes into sight as the air is flooded with the flower’s fragrance. It truly looks like a snow event when all the flowers descend to the landscape floor.
Rhododendrons, native to the Appalachian region, can be a good choice if “colored snow” is desired. When a rhododendron blooms, the evergreen foliage is almost completely hidden as the flowers are so plentiful. There are numerous varieties that come in red, pink, red, purple, yellow, orange and white. Beware that some of these can grow to monsters (up to 30 feet) so be cognizant of site selection.
For something a little daintier, consider enkianthus “Red Bells” (Enkianthus campanulatus). Up close, the flowers are mostly yellow with streaks of red toward the tips. While small, the numerous flowers easily cover much of the area underneath the shrub upon falling. This is a great plant for smaller spaces as it only grows about 6 feet in height and spread. A true multi-season interest plant as the foliage turns an orangish-yellow in the fall.
There are many other plants that can give a “snow” effect when the flowers drop. Have fun and look for some possibilities that will add something different to your landscape.
Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at