McCREARY: Color, texture enliven winter gardens

]Late autumn prompts some gardeners to put away their tools and stow any leftover, warm-weather enthusiasm for gardening until the first signs of spring appear, months from now, all because their home landscapes look somewhat sparse this time of year.

There's really nothing we can do to stop the fall of leaves that opens up voids in our gardens, but there are many things we can do to maintain eye appeal in the midst of barren beds and borders after we've cleared away messy debris.

First of all, we should do what we can to salvage stemmed seed heads favored by birds that visit our neighborhoods. Permanent residents and migrating species look for food on a daily basis and depend on bird-friendly sites.

If you don't like the ragged looks of summer and fall flowering species such as cone flowers (Echinacea), asters, and sunflowers as they fade and dry, then pull off their leaves and gather stems into an outdoor decorative pot or other container. Just be sure to place it close enough to a tree or shrub so birds can find cover easily.

For long-lasting winter interest, add a few eye-catching plants with high-profile branching patterns, beautiful bark or evergreen foliage.

If you think there's no available space in your landscape, the solution may be to replace a ho-hum plant that fails to appeal throughout the year.

Harry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana Contorta) is a longtime favorite for attractive twisted branches exposed after leaves turn yellow and drop. Over time, it reaches 8 feet tall and about half as wide. Use it as an anchor at the end of a bed or in another prominent spot.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) and trident maple (A. buergeranum) are small trees with mahogany or tan peeling bark most easily appreciated in winter. Trident maple has the further advantage of being one of the least water-demanding among the species.

And crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia), always a West Coast favorite bloomer in summer and autumn, enchants in winter with showy, peeling bark and winsome tan-to-gray blotching on bare branches. Multi-stemmed selections provide the most interesting shapes.

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