Trees with attractive bark add so much to the winter garden. If a tree can pull its weight in the dead of winter, it has a lot going for it and that alone can be plenty of reason to plant it. But the plants we're showcasing below are more than a one-season-winter-wonder. In addition to a strong showing in other seasons by providing bloom, fall color, or drought tolerance (see individual notes below), we've selected these for their suitability for smaller gardens by virtue of their dwarf stature or relatively slow growth.
Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire' (Zone 5 to 9) is a cultivated variety of our Pacific Northwest native vine maple especially prized for its vivid red stems in winter, vibrant green foliage in summer, and excellent fall color.
Acer griseum (Zone 5 to 8) is small to medium-sized deciduous tree, prized for it bark, attractive summertime foliage, and red fall color. The exfoliating copper-colored bark of the paperbark maple is a wintertime delight as it positively glows when backlit on a crisp winter's day.
Arctostaphylos 'Austin Griffith' (Zone 7 to 9) is a tough and adaptable selection of the Pacific Northwest native manzanita that's prized for its smooth, sinewy, chocolate-colored bark, early spring flowers, and hearty constitution. An outstanding evergreen shrub or small tree, it requires full sun and asks for little to no supplemental water once established.
Betula nigra 'Little King' Fox Valley™ (Zone 4 to 9) is a dwarf river birch that is still surprisingly uncommon in Pacific Northwest gardens despite its many positive qualities. Chief among them is its fantastic winter bark which unfurls in papery thin sheets in salmon and tan tones. This, coupled with its dwarf growth habit, disease resistance, and drought tolerance make for a pretty darn desirable package.
Lagerstroemia x 'Zuni' (Zone 6 to 10), a compact crape myrtle with an upright, vase-shaped growth habit, is well-suited to city gardens. Happy in your hottest garden spot, it will soak up the sun and heat and thank you for it with generous blooms in mid to late summer and good fall color. It's quite drought tolerant but grows best with some supplemental summer water.
Stewartia monadelpha (Zone 6 to 8) is a wonderful all-season tree for the woodland garden. Its close cousin, the Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia), is a top-notch tree deserving of its widespread adoration, but this stewartia species is another winner and worthy of being more widely grown. It contributes in other seasons as well with delicate, white camellia-like summer blooms, and reliably good, red fall color. It's a slow grower, so get one as large as you can find or afford.