Plants that die well

When you dig gardening (pun intended) and you live in a colder climate (zone 6 here), you need plants that “die well”. It is a long stretch from November to March and the search for winter interest is always top of mind. 
To me, winter interest is all about subtlety and as is the case when gardening during any season, looking natural is the key. And I’m the first to admit that I have a long ways to go in mastering this practice. But that is the beauty with gardening – we will learn until the day we die. 
For today, I thought I would share some of my “good dying plants” and “not so good dying plants” with you. Shall we?:
One of the “winter interest” staples is the classic coneflower (Echinacea). Here it is in it’s decaying glory:              

Not bad eh? I should also add I love NOT cutting down the coneflower blooms in order to feed the birds (as seen in the photo of the finch above) and I enjoy the reseeding in all of my garden beds. Coneflowers for years to come.

We also have the mother of all winter interest, the ornamental grass:

Miscanthus (Maiden Grass)
Panicum (Switch Grass)
Carex (Sedge)

Chasmanthium Latifolium (Northern Sea Oats)

Also love spent Hydrangea blooms:

The color left behind by Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’:

The native Mountain Mint:

And even the ubiquitous Sedum:

And finally my friends, love me some spent Astilbe blooms:

Nothing that necessarily jumps out and grabs you, but they all add a nice cold weather/wintry vibe. Memories of what was and what soon will be. Sweet.

But I can’t leave it all positive. Not everything looks good dead. Some ugly examples:


Siberian iris
Let me know some of your favorite winter interest plants. Lord knows I still need some guidance.

14 thoughts on “Plants that die well

  1. JohnD

    Our winters here in Australia are not as severe as yours, even tho we live in a ‘cool climate’ sub-alpine region. The transition from Autumn to winter is more subtle and even in the midst of winter we still have lots of greenery and even some winter ‘colour’.

  2. On My Soapbox

    For a small bit of winter color, I like Nishiki Willow, Nandina, and yellow twig and red twig dogwood shrubs. I had a fire twig dogwood, and it just about took over my flowerbed with it’s deep roots and suckers! For winter texture, I like my smoke tree, echinacea and monarda. For “ugly diers” (is that a word?), I dislike hosta the most.

  3. kacky

    Well said- yes, there are a few plants that die well and those that don’t. Agreed. I like the Possumhaw and the Beauty berries. Do you have those there? I am always amazed to look at different regions (you in NJ, me in TX) and see some of the same plants. Fun post. Beautiful pictures (of the ones that die well…. the hibiscus and iris not so pretty haha).

  4. Daisy

    I love this post. Way to appreciate your stuff year-round! I saw some dead astilbe the other day in a neighbor’s yard and it looked great. I almost pulled my camera out and shot them. I will be watching for them next time I’m out on a walk. I love the ornamental grasses right now. And my dead hydrangeas look pretty good when they get a little snow on them!! Tx for the fun post!

    P.S. Your dead hibiscus looks much better than my dead hibiscus!

  5. Alaiyo Kiasi-Barnes

    Wow! Love these photos! You really internalized your photo lesson, I see. I’ve had one of those lessons too, and it’s if I were seeing for the first time when I looked through the viewfinder again. Excellent work!

  6. Andi Rivarola

    You’re so right about plants that die well. Some do and some don’t. Because I live in a corner house and my garden is all outside, I get a lot of opinions about the look of my garden. I like a more natural look, where plants grow and die and still all like great to me. It looks natural. But most of my neighbors are used to the trimmed edges and leaves collected by blowers and don’t think they appreciate as much as I do the beauty of transition in the garden, where plants are born, reproduce and die. I, on the other hand do, love every part of it. Great pictures.

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