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Trees and shrubs with attractive bark

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last updated Feb 4, 2014
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In the depths of winter, the quiet charms of plants with strikingly coloured bark come into their own. Textures and stem colours attract the eye, as bright whites, yellows, pinks warm red-browns light the gloom.

Introduction Back to top

Winter interest provided by bark on trees and shrubs is an important aspect of planting up a garden, and is sometimes overlooked in favour of more flamboyant flower interest. Many of the suggestions listed here provide strong upright forms as well as striking colours. For maximum impact, plant the shrubs in groups and the trees where their bark can be seen and appreciated.

Practical considerations Back to top

Points to note:

  • Cornus (dogwood), Rubus and Salix (willow) are shrubs which need pruning each year, almost to ground level in March, to ensure that a fresh crop of the brightest-coloured stems are produced for the next winter. This is known as coppicing or stooling
  • Pollarding is suitable for Salix (willow), Eucalyptus and other species grown as small trees, and is another way of ensuring the brightest stem colour on new growth
  • While pruning these plants for winter stem interest, you can take hardwood cuttings to increase your plant stocks
  • Acers are not very obliging when it comes to pruning, so try to avoid it. An exception is Acer ‘Winter Lightning’ which can be coppiced annually
  • Grow all of these plants in full sun in deep, moist, loamy soil, avoiding shallow, chalky soils. Prepare the ground with the addition of organic matter over the planting area

Suitable plants Back to top


  • Acer davidii ‘Ernest Wilson’ (snakebark maple, Père David’s maple) – green-and-white striped bark. Height 8m (27ft)
  • A. griseum AGM (paper bark maple) – peeling red-brown bark. Height 10m (30ft)
  • Eucalyptus paucifolia subsp. niphophila AGM (alpine snow gum, snow gum) – shades of whitish gray and pale brown bark to reveal yellow, bronze or greenish patches. Height 6m (20ft)

Shrubs or trees (depending on pruning technique)

  • Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’ AGM – rusty orange stems. Height 2–2.4m (7-8ft)
  • S. ‘Erythroflexuosa’ (S. matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) – golden, twisted stems (tolerates drier soil). Height 2–2.4m (7-8ft)
  • Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’ – yellow autumn colour, golden-orange young stems. Height 15-20m (50ft-65ft)



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Birch bark can be cleaned in winter to remove algae.