Evergreen shrubs and bushes

So we’ve talked about why you want to plant in fall – you don’t have to water as much, plants get their roots well established through the winter, and there’s less transplant shock – meaning those plants you paid top dollar for will be glowing with health in the spring!

But it can be rather discouraging to plant now when everything’s losing its leaves or retreating under the earth – so this fall planting series is all about instant gratification!

Without further ado –

Five amazing yet under-used shrubs which will shine for you all winter and into spring!

Camellia x ‘Fairy Blush’ – There are many elegant Camellias in the world, with petite leaves and flowers, bloom colors that we don’t associate with Camellias (yellow!), and graceful and diminutive habits that would suit any garden; yet the big growers only seem to focus on the few with ginormous honking bright flowers, and large leaves. Why is that? Does your average shade gardener have the sensibilities of a Texan?

So I’m proud of Monrovia for introducing the Fairy Blush Camellia, which takes us a step in the right direction. Fairy Blush has small leaves, a delicate and more open habit (about 4-5’), and a single corona of small seashell-colored petals. The buds are deep pink, and when they open, there’s a light fragrance that carries a few feet.

Most of us in the Pacific Northwest should be able to find these deer-resistant beauties at our local nursery – if not – just ask them to special order one for you and tell them Monrovia grows them. Hopefully these will become popular enough to show the big growers that there’s a market for these lovely small Camellia hybrids. If you can’t squeeze one into your garden, put one in a pretty pot, where you’ll be able to enjoy the handsome form and gentle fragrance up-close.

Colorful-Twigged Dogwoods – Many of us are familiar with the Red- Twig Dogwood shrubs which have been a staple of our winter gardens for years. They respond to the winter cold by dropping their leaves and making their stems glow a vivid red. There are large, sprawling versions for woodland gardens, a dwarf version, and even a cream-variegated version which I am partial to – Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’.

But I think ‘Midwinter’s Fire’ Dogwoods and Yellow-Twig Dogwoods are either unknown or unjustly overlooked. ‘Midwinter’s Fire’ is a neatly-growing variety to about 5’, with its shoots coming out a bright orangey-gold and becoming red at the tips. It’s like having a sunset in a plant – absolutely stunning against any kind of foliage backdrop.

Yellow-Twig Dogwoods are a rich golden yellow, and I love to plant them with Rhododendron ‘Goldflimmer’, a variegated 5’ Rhodie with a gold splash on its leaves and warm purple flowers in May. Dogwoods need a bit of pruning to get a nice shape started – I just remove any branches that are actively sprawling on the ground – but the color! It’s hard to find such a bright yellow for the winter garden – especially considering all the dogwood shrubs are deer-resistant.

Do give them more room than the tag says, though! These guys are vigorous, happy growers in our climate, whether in sun or part shade, and will quickly elbow out less-enthusiastic contenders. If the tags says they’ll get to 5’ (like with ‘Elegantissima’), expect that even with some pruning they’ll get 1-2 feet bigger all-round.

Sarcococca ruscifolia – (or Fragrant Sweet Box, if you prefer English!) is one of those understated shade plants that you might not get the appeal of until you catch it in action. It has a graceful arching habit, prettily curving leaf tips, and deep green leaves – plus it is deer-resistant and will grow in the darkest of shade if you treat it nicely.

All that’s enough to sell me on it, but the main attraction of this plant are its tiny white flowers, which go largely un-noticed. But you will know to look for them, because you’ll come home from work one day, get out of the car, and say to yourself, “What is that glorious fragrance?”. You’ll look around, puzzled, and give up, inhaling deeply as you admit defeat. After about a week of this you will finally track it down, and then, like me, you will be a fan for life.

It blooms around January, and then produces lovely burgandy to reddish-black berries which hang on in a graceful fashion for a good part of the year, dotting the arching stems with color.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’– Goshiki Variegated Holly Olive is a sturdy, slow-growing plant that simply glows with cheerful color. Its name means “five colors” in Japanese, which isn’t just hopeful marketing on the part of Japanese plant growers. Goshiki is speckled with cream, gold, pink, and orange, on a pretty base of green. It’s mostly cream and gold until the new growth starts coming out in early spring – with rich swirls of warm color.

Now Osmanthus is prickly – let’s get that out of the way now! We don’t want to plant it next to a pathway or a hose bib. But the prickliness makes it deer-resistant, and the stiff texture of the leaves makes it tough chewing for most garden pests, so it is hard to complain! And it’s such a modest grower that you prune it rarely, so I’ll break my no-recommending-plants-that-hurt rule for this one – just give it about 5’ of space and let it fill in slowly.

I’ve seen Osmanthus doing great with full sun to bright shade with little direct light, in containers and in the ground. Its foliage color makes it stunning with dark greens, blue foliage and flowers, and even orange or black grasses (not both at once!).

Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’ – This Variegated Lily of the Valley Shrub has gorgeous, fresh golden-variegated leaves, and pretty pink buds that give way to white bell-shaped flowers. In spring it puts on an amazing show of bright, soft rosettes of reddish-coral and light golden new growth. It does great in part sun to bright shade, but the new growth often gets burnt in full sun.

Its size and growth rate is similar to Osmanthus and they’re both deer-resistant, so why am I recommending two plants with similarly fun foliage and interesting new growth? It’s because they each have such a different impact on the landscape. Osmanthus is a very architectural plant – by that I mean it looks best with other things that have drama, boldness, or least a good size to them. Black Dwarf Phormiums/ Flaxes, Blue Mophead Hydrangeas, deep green Yaku Hybrid Rhododendrons with their silvery new growth, or wispy Miscanthus all look great with it.

Flaming Silver Pieris, on the other hand, is soft where Osmanthus is sturdy. It goes great with flowering perennials like Mexican Bush Sage, Japanese Anemone, ‘Rozanne’ Blue Hardy Geranium/ Cranesbill, and Fuchsia thymifolia (Fairy Fuchsia).

So now that you have these winter stars in your fall-planting arsenal, what are you waiting for? Check out your local nurseries’ fall sales, get outside in between the rainshowers, and plant some winter interest to bring you joy this year and beyond.

Annuals and Perennials and Shrubs, Oh My!

If you are new to gardening you might find yourself feeling a bit like Dorothy in the Land of Oz. However, instead of “Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my!” you might find yourself muttering “Annuals and perennials and shrubs, oh, my!” These three categories do cover many, if not most, of the plants we place in our gardens. Understanding, the basics of these plant classifications, as well as trees, temperennials/tender perennials and bulbs can help you make the best plant choices for your garden.

Basic, easy to understand definitions are really helpful when trying to learn new concepts. Let’s work our way through these major plant categories, starting with a definition and then adding more information. Let’s start with the three most common categories – annuals, perennials and shrubs.

Annual – A plant that grows, flowers and may produce seed all in one season. They do not survive the winter. Annuals must be planted each year. Many plants we call annuals may be perennial in warmer locations.

Annuals are certainly one of the most common plants you find in garden centers and with good reason. While annuals do have to be planted each year, they also can bloom from planting to frost, in some cases beyond frost, in the fall. Annuals provide consistent color all summer in your garden and are wonderful in containers and landscapes.

Annuals are flexible and since they will be replaced every year can be a good way to try new color combinations. They can be fun to play with; you can always try something different next year.

At Proven Winners, we select our annuals to thrive in a wide range of environments. We look for plants that will bloom all summer without deadheading, are disease resistant, colorful and easy to grow.

Perennial – Plants that are cold hardy and will return again each spring. Some will flower the first year they are planted and some will need to mature before flowering. Some perennials are very long lived and others will survive only a few years.

Perennials are in many ways the flip side of annuals. Most perennials will bloom for a limited period of time, a month to six weeks is common, whereas annuals will bloom all summer. Annuals are planted every year, whereas perennials are winter hardy and will add color to your garden for many years. While perennials can be used in containers, they are almost always used in the landscape.

There is some maintenance involved with perennials. Fall clean-up is necessary for plant health. Many perennials also benefit from regular division(usually every 3-5 years,) which means you dig them up, divide the perennial clump into several pieces and then replant. Over time the perennials you buy can be spread throughout your garden. Perennials can be moved in your garden relatively easily.

Perennials are a good way to add early spring color, when annuals aren’t yet established in the garden. Aubrieta, creeping Phlox and Iberis are all good examples of perennials that are used in this way.

Shrub – A woody plant that has multiple stems and branches at or near the ground. They are relatively small, especially when compared to trees.

Shrubs are fairly permanent elements of your garden. They are either deciduous, which means they go dormant and lose their leaves in winter, or evergreen, which means they don’t go dormant and do retain their foliage all winter. Shrubs are one of the main ways to add structure to your garden, sometimes called the bones of the garden. Shrubs, even deciduous shrubs, maintain presence in your garden when perennials are dormant and annuals are dead.

Some maintenance may be required for your shrubs. Some will need pruning and deadheading can sometimes extend bloom time. Shrubs can be moved in your garden, but this is much more difficult than it is with perennials.

Evergreens are especially good at adding winter interest to your garden. They also can provide cover and forage for wildlife.

The work of plant breeders is starting to transform the role of shrubs in the garden. For instance, Proven Winners ColorChoice shrubs are selected to provide multiple seasons of color to your garden. Colorful foliage, longer bloom periods, interesting bark and unique forms are just some of the ways this is happening. Old standards are being reinvigorated. If you think shrubs are boring, take a look at some of the new items that are coming on the market.

Now that we’ve covered the big three, let’s talk about other plants you may encounter.

Temperennial/Tender Perennial – Plants that are perennial in warm locations, but are not winter hardy in cold locations. These plants are often treated as and called annuals in cold climates or may be in the house plant section in a garden center.

This can be a confusing category. Things that you may be absolutely certain are annuals, may actually be temperennials. Here is a good example; you are probably familiar with New Guinea Impatiens, double Impatiens and bedding Impatiens. They are extremely common annuals for shade. Well, if you were in New Guinea, or the mildest winter climates in the US, these plants would be perennial. They are in fact tender perennials.

Now, if you get right down to it, the label given the plant isn’t important. What is important is how the plant performs in your garden. You don’t really need to care what the plant is called. I know I think of Impatiens of all kinds as annuals, despite knowing that isn’t what they truly are. In my garden and most of your gardens, they function as annuals. This is why we call these plants annuals. They fill the function of annuals for most North American gardeners.

If the label isn’t really important, you might be wondering why I even mention it. It is important because for some of you the plants we (and many others) call annuals might actually be perennial. To learn if the “annual” you are looking at on a website is an annual for you, you need to compare the plants hardiness zone to the zone in which you garden. I covered this topic extensively in the article Zoning in on Hardiness.

Tree – A woody plant with a single stem and branches that begin some distance from the ground. They are relatively large, especially when compared to shrubs.

Trees are the most permanent members of your garden and if you are adding one, or more, of them choose carefully. It can be hard to look at a small tree and envision it being 30 feet tall and wide, but it is important to make sure you evaluate your space and choose a tree that fits. Trees come in a huge array of sizes, shapes and characteristics. Take the time to explore and choose the right tree for you needs.

Trees are very much a long term investment and it will be well worth spending the time and effort up front, to make sure you don’t regret the decision later.

Bulb – Bulbs have a very specific definition, read it here, but most of us use bulb as a general term to refer to bulbs and bulb-like structures (corms, tubers and rhizomes.) These plants grow from an underground storage unit of some type. Bulbs can be both hardy and non-hardy.

Hardy bulbs (I will use bulb to mean bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes) are bulbs that will survive the winter. Most of use probably think of early spring color first when we think of hardy bulbs. Daffodils and tulips have got to be the most popular and common choices. I know I wouldn’t want a garden without daffodils! There are, of course, many other hardy bulbs and they can be wonderful long term additions to gardens.

Non-hardy bulbs will not survive the winter in the ground, but must be dug and stored for the winter. Once warm weather has returned they can be planted again for the next year. Or you can let the plants and bulbs die and buy new again the next year. You won’t get in trouble for plant homicide if you prefer to not worry about digging and storing. Some of the most common non-hardy bulbs include canna lilies, elephant ears, gladiolus and dahlias.

Non-hardy bulbs are similar to tender perennials/temperennials. They are hardy somewhere. Head to Florida and elephant ears are permanent plantings!

For more easy to understand definitions of horticulture terms, .

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Top Flowering Shrubs for the Northeast

Colorful and reliable flowering shrubs dress up gardens in the Northeast from spring through frost. Bright yellow forsythia is always one of the first shrubs to bloom in spring, and you’ll see it everywhere. To make your own garden more interesting, look around your neighborhood and try to plant something the neighbors don’t already have, suggests Scott Aker, horticulturist at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Aker’s favorite flowering shrubs for the Northeast include native plants and hardy, adaptable nonnatives. He likes shrubs with a long blooming season, fragrant flowers, interesting structure, and bright fall foliage color. Native shrubs — including native azaleas — are sometimes neglected, Aker says. However, they are not difficult to work into a garden: All plants need extra watering and attention when they are first planted, but once they are established, native plants usually need no pampering.

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Plantsman and author Michael Dirr says: “A garden without a viburnum is akin to life without music and art.” But there are about 150 different species of viburnums, and gardeners can be hard put to decide which is best. Aker’s choice is Korean spice viburnum (V. carlesii) for its spring display of fragrant, white flowers. The attractive flower buds are pink or nearly red, and open to white in midspring. “It’s a tough plant,” Aker says, and the fall foliage is wonderful, too. Korean spice is hardy in Zones 4-8. Bill Thomas, director of Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, Pennsylvania, also likes smooth witherod (V. nudum); one of the best cultivars is ‘Winterthur’ from the Winterthur Gardens in Delaware. Of the two, Korean spice viburnum has the showiest flowers and the strongest fragrance; plant it near the front walk, where you can enjoy the flowers as you come and go. Zones 5-9 Learn more about viburnums.

Buttercup winter hazel

Buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora) has soft yellow flowers, “a break from the brassy yellow of forsythia,” Aker says. Clusters of dangling yellow flowers appear in early spring and last for about two weeks in cool weather. “It goes with a lot of things,” including pink saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana), which blooms at about the same time. Buttercup winter hazel is a small shrub, spreading to about 4 feet tall and wide. It has small, beautifully pleated leaves and a rather delicate appearance, but it is a tough shrub. Plant it in part shade. Zones 6-8


Spring-blooming azaleas put on a dazzling show every year in the dappled light under tall trees. Aker likes them all, but says “gardeners kind of neglect the native rhododendrons that are deciduous.” He recommends Pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), a deciduous shrub known for its white, pink, or violet flowers in early spring. This native azalea grows naturally on the banks of streams and in woods, and looks very pretty under trees in woodland gardens. It grows up to about 6 feet tall and is “amazingly drought-tolerant,” Aker says. The coast azalea (R. atlanticum) is smaller but somewhat hardier, to Zone 5. Hybrids of these two species are known as the Choptank hybrids. Zones 4-8

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Sometimes a native shrub just needs a little polishing to make it a better garden specimen. Hybridizers turned their attention to native ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) and produced some great-looking new plants for hedges and mixed-shrub borders, Thomas says. He especially likes the hybrid Diabolo, which has purple foliage, in sharp contrast to the spring flowers. Summer Wine also has dark purple leaves, but grows shorter (and Little Devil, at 4 feet, is even smaller yet). Coppertina, with orange-copper foliage, is a particularly splashy introduction. They all have pretty puffs of white flowers in late spring. Ninebark grows 4-8 feet tall (but tolerates hard pruning), and thrives in sun or part shade. They are adaptable and easy to grow. Zones 3-8 Learn more about ninebark.

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Slender deutzia

Slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis) looks like a little snowstorm when it comes into bloom in spring, with tiny white flowers that seem to cover the plant for up to two weeks. Deutzia grows slowly to about 3 feet tall and spreads up to 5 feet; it makes a handsome groundcover in front of a low wall or along the front edge of a mixed border in part shade or sun. Plant it with spring-flowering bulbs, and the deutzia will hide the bulb foliage as it matures and fades. ‘Nikko’ was introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum. It can also be grown to tumble gracefully over a wall and looks nice in pots. Chardonnay Pearls has striking yellow foliage. Zones 5-8 Learn more about deutzia.

  • By Marty Ross

Evergreen Garden Shrubs – What Are Some Bushes That Stay Green All Year

As with coniferous trees, adding some evergreen shrub varieties to the landscape can provide year-round interest. Unlike the majority of evergreen trees, however, these shrubs include many small- to medium-leaf varieties in addition to the needle-leaf types.

Types of Evergreen Bushes

Both needled and broad-leaf shrubs offer interesting berries as well as foliage. There are also many flowering evergreen shrubs for landscaping.

Needle-leaf evergreen shrubs

Coniferous evergreen shrubs exist and are oftentimes used to fill in low, empty spaces of the landscape. They also make excellent backdrops for many of the flowering shrubs. A couple favorites include:

  • Juniper – Of the most common needle-leafed varieties is juniper. This sprawling evergreen has attractive blue-gray foliage. It is relatively drought tolerant and a good choice for these conditions. The low-growing variety also makes an ideal ground cover for naturalized areas of the landscape.
  • Yew – Yew is also quite popular. This evergreen shrub is extremely versatile, performing well in a number of growing conditions. Yew shrubs have an upright growth habit and are, for the most part, slow growing. As these shrubs are excellent pruning specimens, they are suitable for growing as hedges.

Broadleaf evergreens

Not all evergreen bushes need be needle-like. These leafy evergreen shrubs for landscaping are also attractive choices:

  • Boxwood – What landscape setting hasn’t had its share of boxwood plantings? This slow-growing evergreen shrub has small leaves and dense growth. It adapts easily to a variety of conditions in either sun or part shade. However, boxwood generally prefers moist, but well-draining, fertile soil. Boxwood shrubs can be grown as a formal or informal hedge or as foundation plant.
  • Holly – Holly is another commonly planted evergreen shrub. The English variety (I. aquifolium) is a popular holiday attraction, easily recognized by its glossy, dark green, spiny-edged foliage and bright red berries (found on female plants). The Chinese holly (I. cornuta) can produce without males, however, and berry color may be orange-red or yellow. There is also a Japanese species (I. crenata), which produces oval leaves and black berries. Hollies are excellent for mixed borders, foundation plantings, and hedges.
  • Euonymus – Evergreen euonymus has waxy, dark green foliage year round. While hardly ever noticed, this particular shrub produces faint white flowers in early summer. By fall, the plant is covered with attractive orange-pink berries. Euonymus shrubs make effective screening or specimen plantings in the landscape.
  • Photinia – Another common evergreen shrub is the red-tip photinia. Oftentimes planted as a hedge, the young spring foliage appears reddish in color but matures into a deep green flushed with red tips. It also produces red berries that turn black.
  • Firethorn – Firethorn is a small-leaf evergreen shrub with slow growth and bright berries. These shrubs make excellent low-growing cover in suitable areas of the landscape and can also be used as foundation plantings.

Flowering evergreen shrubs

There are numerous flowering evergreen shrub varieties too. Here are just a few:

  • Azalea/Rhododendron – The evergreen azaleas and rhododendrons are probably the most common. The majority of these bloom in spring in various shades, depending on the species. They enjoy lightly shaded areas and acidic soil, and look great planted in borders in groups or as specimens. It should be noted that in some of the cooler regions, these evergreens may lose some of their foliage.
  • Gardenia – Gardenia is another popular flowering evergreen shrub, thriving year round in southernmost regions. They have leathery, dark green leaves and stunning white blooms in summer that are highly fragrant. Gardenias are commonly used as foundation plantings or placed in shade borders and gardens.
  • Camellia – Another common evergreen shrub variety is the camellia. With its glossy, pointed leaves and beautiful single to semi-double flowers, growing a camellia in the landscape is a must. This spring bloomer thrives in shade to part shade and tolerates a range of soil conditions, as long as it remains well draining.

Now that you know a little about just some of the bushes that stay green all year, you can find one that is suited to your landscape. For additional help with choosing evergreen garden shrubs, contact your local extension office.

Vaccinium “Sunshine Blue” Evergreen Blueberry

Having evergreen perennials in your garden may not seem like a big deal now in May when everything is lush green and blooming. But I haven’t forgotten the many days of winter, looking out into the mostly barren garden, wishing I had added more evergreen and winter blooming plants to the landscape.

I think many of us want to add more edibles to the landscape these days as well. I know I do, but I’m not good at providing the kind of attention that most food crops need. The strawberries in my garden are evergreen, but their low growing foliage may not look that great in the winter. One of the goals for the garden this year is to add both evergreen plants and edible plants. I found the perfect solution in blueberries!

Growing blueberries in your yard is an easy and aesthetically pleasing way to add edibles to an existing landscape. Need a small hedge? The evergreen Vaccinium “Sunshine Blue” will do the job. The bush will retain a somewhat rounded aspect as it grows into its full size of 3-4 ft. It features blue-green foliage with pinkish highlights and bell shaped pale pink/white flowers in the spring. The self-pollinating flowers will mature into berries from late July into August. Most blueberries require other blueberries to pollinate and bear fruit. In the fall about half of the leaves will turn red and fall to the ground, with the rest remaining throughout the winter. Sunshine Blue will require watering throughout the growing season. Dispose of coffee grounds under the bushes to add acidity to the soil and you will be rewarded with a vigorous plant and delicious berries.

Vaccinuim ovatum “Thunderbird” Huckleberry

Another evergreen edible is the Vaccinium ovatum, or huckleberry (apparently people argue about whether or not huckleberry is a blueberry). The variety I found is called “Thunderbird”. This Pacific Northwest native (mostly woodland) plant is easy to grow in your garden, and like the Sunshine Blue can also be used as a hedge. It can grow as large as 6 feet tall by 7 feet wide, but with careful pruning can be contained to 3′ x 4′ The leaves are deep green, small and glossy. The new growth brings a reddish copper color that will deepen to green. Small bell like flowers hang from underneath the foliage and ripen into small blue black berries by the late days of summer. Like the Sunshine Blue, it can handle full sun or part shade as long as it’s in well-draining soil. Once established, the huckleberry is fairly drought tolerant.

Vaccinium glauco album “Himalayan Huckleberry”

Updated 9/28/2011:
Vaccinium glauco album is one more evergreen edible that I have in my garden in the form of a tiny hedge. The leaves are a blue-green (glauco) on top, and darken when mature. The underside of the leaves are a grayish white (album). The flowers are a pale pink and then turn into fat dark purple berries.

Don’t be intimidated by this dwarf shrub’s Himalayan roots. It will not invade your garden like a Himalayan blackberry. It is slow growing, spreading via runners under the surface of the soil. Himalayan huckleberry needs a somewhat protected spot so that it doesn’t get sunburned. Mine is thriving with morning sun and afternoon shade. It has made it through two winters now and was a little slow to recover this last spring but then came back bigger and more beautiful than before. I started with 3 plants but liked it so much I’ve added 6 more and relocated them to create the hedge. I’ll post again in the spring and let you know how they are growing.

Selecting Landscape Plants: Broad-leaved Evergreens

Division of Plant Sciences

The most highly prized landscape plants are broad-leaved evergreens. They are the true aristocrats of our gardens. However, many of them require special attention if they are to develop into attractive, long-lived plants.

Wide fluctuations in temperature, prolonged dry periods, drying winds and bright sunshine of the Midwest are not ideal conditions for most broad-leaved evergreens. Special soil preparation and a carefully selected location are usually necessary to ensure the success of these plants. However, the year-round beauty and special effect they give to the landscape makes them well worth the effort.

The broad-leaved evergreens are valued chiefly for their evergreen foliage, but many of them possess other desirable ornamental traits (Figure 1). They are generally clean plants, dropping few leaves at any one time, and they never become overgrown and weedy as some other ornamentals do. In addition, most of them are relatively free from insect and disease problems.

Broad-leaved evergreens prefer a rich, well-drained, slightly acid soil. Increasing organic matter content and improving drainage can improve an existing poor soil. For more information on soil improvement, see MU Extension publication G6955, Improving Lawn and Landscape Soils.

Broad-leaved evergreens subject to winter injury should be located where they will receive protection from the wind and afternoon sun, especially in winter. North and east sides of buildings are ideal. Wind and sun protection provided by fences or large plants also helps prevent injury.

Fertilize broad-leaved evergreens only in spring. Summer or fall fertilization may induce late-season growth that is highly susceptible to winter injury. Winter scorch of foliage can also develop if plants dry out over winter. To prevent winter scorch, water plants in late summer and fall if rainfall has been deficient.

Size and age of a plant are also important to winter hardiness of some species. A small, young plant may be easily killed, whereas a larger, older plant of the same species is quite hardy.

Poor culture, attacks by insects or disease, or any other factor that weakens a plant makes it more subject to winter injury.

Figure 1
Southern magnolia is one of many broad-leaved evergreens popular in Missouri. Photo courtesy of the Mizzou Botanic Garden.

Selecting broad-leaved evergreens

Many plants described in the following section are not hardy in all parts of Missouri. The zones where a plant can be most reliably grown are listed with each plant. These plant-hardiness zones correspond to those shown on the map in Figure 2. They are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature taken from long-term weather records. Soil type, rainfall and summer temperature also affect winter hardiness. Therefore, these zones are only a rough estimate of a plant’s ability to grow in a particular area.

When broad-leaved evergreens are planted and located properly, they can add year-round interest to the landscape and provide a pleasant contrast to ­needle-leaved evergreens in both winter and summer.

Figure 2
USDA plant hardiness zones of Missouri. Find your plant hardiness zone by ZIP code and see a full-color state map at PlantHardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/.

Glossy abelia (Abelia grandiflora)

  • Zones 6 and 7

Glossy abelia may grow to a height of 5 feet in southern areas, but it is smaller when grown in colder climates. It is valued for its small pink flowers that appear from June to frost. Abelia may be used as a specimen plant or as a small hedge. The glossy foliage appears in late spring.

In winter, foliage turns purple, and the plant may lose some foliage if winter is severe. Pruning of dead twigs is often necessary in late spring after growth starts. In severe winters, tops may be killed back, but new shoots develop rapidly from the base.

Azalea and rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)

  • Zones 6 and 7

The plants commonly called azaleas and those called rhododendrons belong to the botanical genus Rhododendron (Figure 3). It is the largest group of woody ornamental plants in the world. More than 2,000 species, varieties, cultivars and hybrids have been recognized. There is no clear-cut distinction between the group known as azalea and the one called rhododendron.

Special soil conditions and cultural requirements are needed to grow azaleas and rhododendrons. Because of these needs and the many species and cultivars available, they cannot be covered adequately here. For details of their culture and selection, see MU Extension publication G6825, Growing Azaleas and Rhododendrons.

Figure 3
Rhododendron catawbiense, ‘Nova Zembla,’ is one of the hardiest evergreen rhododendrons.

Wintergreen barberry (Berberris julianae)

  • Zones 6 and 7

Wintergreen barberry, an excellent small shrub, is attractive in the garden throughout the year. The evergreen foliage is 3 inches long, narrow and spiny. The thorny twigs make it an excellent barrier and hedge plant. Small yellow flowers appear in May. Bluish-black berries add interest in the fall. Wintergreen barberry is very hardy and easily grown.

Boxwood (Buxus spp.)

  • Zones 6 and 7

Boxwood has been a popular broad-leaved evergreen, particularly in the eastern and southern United States, where very old specimens can be found. Boxwoods make excellent specimen plants or hedges. They can be easily pruned to any desired shape. Of the available boxwood types, the Korean boxwood is most hardy and easily grown. The leaves, however, tend to lose their color in winter. In shady locations the winter discoloring is less severe. The common boxwood is suitable only for southeastern Missouri. ‘Wintergreen,’ a selection of Korean boxwood, is a popular cultivar that holds its color well over winter. Several recently introduced hybrids between littleleaf and common boxwood, such as ‘Green Mound,’ ‘Green Gem’ and ‘Green Velvet,’ have performed well in Missouri’s climate.

Spreading euonymus (Euonymus kiautshovicus)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

Spreading euonymus is also known as Euonymus patens. It is evergreen in the south, but in colder areas leaves may turn brown in late winter and hang onto the plant until new leaves are produced in the spring. It grows well in full sun, but the leaves remain green longer if it gets winter shade. The fruit capsules open in the fall to reveal the bright reddish seed.

Spreading euonymus may be attacked by euonymus scale, but not as readily as wintercreeper euonymus. The two cultivars of spreading euonymus most commonly grown are ‘Manhattan,’ a cultivar that retains good green winter color, and ‘Pauli,’ which is reported to retain even better green winter color.

Oregon grapeholly (Mahonia aquifolium)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

Oregon grapeholly is a fairly coarse, stiff shrub that may grow as tall as 6 feet. In April the plant is covered with bright yellow flowers. In the summer, the bluish-black grapelike fruits develop. The foliage is dark, lustrous and hollylike. In winter, the leaves turn a bronze-purple color. This shrub is usually semi­evergreen and much of the foliage does not persist through the winter. Protection from winter sun and wind will help it remain more attractive during the winter.

Creeping mahonia (Mahonia repens)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

Creeping mahonia is a low-growing shrub with leaves, flowers and fruit similar to Oregon grapeholly, but growing only about 18 inches tall. It spreads by underground stolons, making it useful as a tall, low-maintenance groundcover. Like Oregon grapeholly, creeping mahonia may suffer some dieback during severe winters, but it responds well to pruning out of the dead tips.

American holly (Ilex opaca)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

The spiny, evergreen leaves and bright red berries of American holly are familiar to most people. American holly is native in southeastern Missouri. It is slow growing and in other areas of the state should be used as a large shrub, although it will eventually develop into a small tree.

The sexes of holly are on separate plants. Some plants produce only male flowers and others produce only female flowers. Only the female plants produce berries, but both sexes must be present to ensure fruiting. One male plant is enough to pollinate the flowers of six to eight female plants.

Acid soils high in organic matter and with good drainage are essential for growing hollies.

Chinese holly, horned holly (Ilex cornuta)

  • Zones 6 and 7

The Chinese holly produces large, spiny, glossy green leaves and bright red berries. It is one of the few hollies that does not require pollination to produce berries. Therefore, there is no reason to plant the male forms. Chinese holly is very popular where it can be grown, but is reliably hardy only in the warmer areas of Missouri. The most commonly grown cultivars of Chinese holly include

  • ‘Burford’
    A popular cultivar with deep green glossy leaves. Leaf margins are smooth with only one leaf spine generally present at the tip. It is a heavy fruiter but is less hardy than the common Chinese holly.
  • ‘Dwarf Burford’
    A smaller, slower-growing selection of Burford. Reported to be slightly hardier than the standard Burford.
  • ‘Rotunda’
    A compact slow-growing form of Chinese holly. It has the typical spiny leaves of the species. It produces red fruit, but the berries are generally hidden by the dense foliage.

Japanese holly (Ilex crenata)

  • Zones 6 and 7

Most Japanese hollies produce small, spineless leaves and black fruit. They are popular, small, compact evergreen shrubs. Some of the most commonly grown of the many available cultivars include

  • ‘Convexa’
    An excellent cultivar with dark green convex leaves and one of the hardiest forms. Frequently used as a hedge. Develops into a rounded plant 4 to 5 feet tall.
  • ‘Hetzi’
    A dwarf form of ‘Convexa.’ Will grow 2 to 3 feet tall.
  • ‘Stokes’
    A hardy type not as prone to winter burn as some other types. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall.
  • ‘Helleri’
    A broad, compact, globe-shaped plant. Grows about 3 feet tall and as much as 5 feet wide.

Fosters holly (Ilex x fosteri)

  • Zones 6 and 7

Narrow evergreen leaves and a dense branching habit makes fosters holly an excellent specimen or accent plant when sheared. It may be used unsheared in screen plantings but becomes more loose and open. It is heavily berried and does not need a male plant nearby to produce fruit.

Meserve hybrid hollies (Ilex x meserveaea)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

The Blue series of Meserve hollies — including ‘Blue Girl,’ ‘Blue Maid,’ ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘Blue Prince’ (Figure 4) — is known for cold hardiness. Certain other Meserve hybrids, such as ‘China Boy’ and ‘China Girl,’ are reported to be more cold and heat tolerant than the Blue series.

Figure 4
‘Blue Prince’ holly will grow 8 to 12 feet high but can be pruned into any shape.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

The inkberry, a native black-fruited holly, is not as attractive an ornamental as the other hollies, but it is one of the most hardy of the group (Figure 5). Leaf size, shape and glossiness vary considerably. The selection ‘Compacta’ should be used in the landscape. Occasional pruning will keep the plant from developing loose, open growth. ‘Nordic’ and ‘Shamrock’ are dwarf selections of inkberry that work well in 3- to 5-foot-tall hedges or for massing.

Figure 5
Inkberry is among the hardiest of the hollies.

Drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana)

  • Zones 6 and 7

This slow-growing plant with spreading, arching branches and dark lustrous leaves produces fragrant, bell-shaped flowers in early spring. Drooping leucothoe needs shade for best growth and therefore is most suitable beneath large evergreens. It is related to Japanese andromeda and requires the same growing conditions.

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

  • Zones 6 and 7

The large, lustrous evergreen foliage of the southern magnolia makes it a very desirable ornamental. It develops into a large tree in southeastern Missouri, but in the St. Louis area, about its northern limit, it rarely gets over 20 feet tall. Its large white flowers are produced abundantly in southern areas but only occasionally in colder climates.

Southern magnolia needs to be planted in a well-protected spot to survive without injury in any but the warmest parts of the state. Wind protection is essential as the large leaves are easily damaged by winter winds.

Nandina (Nandina domestica)

  • Zones 6 and 7

The reedlike stems with the evergreen leaves clustered at the tip give nandina an exotic bamboolike appearance. It is best known for its clusters of bright red fruit in the fall. It is a highly ornamental plant, but unfortunately it will only develop properly and fruit in the warmest parts of the state. In colder areas, plants are often killed back to ground level but usually sprout from the roots in spring.

Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica)

  • Zones 6 and 7

An attractive, broad-leaved evergreen, Japanese pieris may reach 5 feet but is usually smaller in Missouri’s climate. The new foliage is bronze-colored in spring, soon turning a lustrous medium green. The flowers, borne in late March, are a creamy white in long, drooping clusters. This broad-leaved evergreen needs protection from winter sun and wind to prevent leaf scorch and killing of the flower buds. A light, well-drained acid soil high in organic matter will produce the best plants.

Pyracantha, firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

Pyracantha is a semievergreen shrub. It produces showy, small white flowers in the spring, but the clusters of bright orange berries it produces in the fall that hang on the plant until midwinter are its main attraction. Pyracantha can be grown as an individual specimen plant, as a hedge or barrier, or it can be trained flat against a wall to look like a vine. It normally grows to 6 or 7 feet tall and can spread to almost twice that width, so ample space must be given for the plant to develop. Dwarf varieties are available for smaller areas. Pyra­cantha is one of the few plants that seem to do best on poor soil. Good soil and high fertility produces rampant growth that is susceptible to disease and low in berry production.

Leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum)

  • Zones 5, 6 and 7

Leatherleaf viburnum is a coarse-textured shrub that may eventually grow 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. Its large wrinkled leaves persist well during cold weather. In late winter, leaves turn yellowish and drop off as new foliage emerges in spring. Leaves are up to 6 inches long. The flat clusters of white flowers are not as showy as the red to black berries that follow.

Leatherleaf viburnum prefers a well-drained soil with protection from afternoon sun, especially in winter. This shrub is often used in corner plantings or for accent in a shrub border. It is suitable for planting beneath pines or other large evergreen trees. ‘Alle­ghany’ and ‘Willowwood’ are hybrids made by crossing leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum) with wayfaringtree viburnum (V. lantana). These are evergreen or semievergreen in Missouri and are considered by many to be more ornamental than leatherleaf itself.

Original authors
R. Zuroweste, G.G. Long and R.R. Rothenberger, Department of Horticulture

Most Popular

1 – A sweet new magnolia

Urban Forestry has added a second American magnolia to the list of evergreen choices, the northern sweetbay Magnolia virginiana ‘Jim Wilson.’ Trademarked as Moonglow, this cultivar was introduced commercially only in 2001. It was selected for being more evergreen than other sweetbays from the northern part of this tree’s range and for its upright growth to 35 feet. Spread is 18-20 feet. The semi-elliptic leaves are silvery white underneath, and unlike southern magnolia are thin, delicate looking and not leathery. The cream-colored, cup-shaped flowers are lemon-scented. They appear in late spring and sporadically through the summer. Seeds are glossy red and appear in clusters resembling a cone. Birds find these seeds attractive. Bark is smooth and gray. The trees can take a few years to fill in, but may never be quite as densely branched nor make as deep a shade as the southern magnolia.

2 A southern belle that endures northern winters

Another southerner that has made itself at home in the north is Magnolia grandiflora. The official state flower of Mississippi, this evergreen tree with its large, white flowers (up to 8” across) scented of lemons started a craze for North American garden trees in Britain in the mid-1700s, and was a prize tree in the garden of the Duchess of Beaufort as early as 1730. Although eclipsed later when the colored flowers of Asian species arrived, Southern magnolia remains a popular park, garden and street tree the world over.

Growing natively in the South at elevations below 500 feet, not all cultivars are hardy enough to survive Portland’s cold winters or snow and ice storms. One that has endured is M. grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue,’ which although originally from Florida withstands snow and ice better than the species and most cultivars.

Edith Bogue grows at a moderate pace 30’ to possibly 40’ tall and 15’ to 20’ wide. Its lustrous leaves are narrower than the species, with only a hint of brown indumentum underneath. Flowering is from late spring and sporadically through the summer. Like most magnolias, the orange-pink seeds are attractive to birds, which will pick them from the 3” to 5” long cucumber-like aggregate containing them.

3 – Bambooleaf oak

Many members of the oak family are actually evergreen. Perhaps none makes a more attractive street tree than Quercus myrsinifolia. Widespread across China, Korea and Japan, it is one of the few trees also native to Laos, Vietnam and northern Thailand that are hardy enough to grow in Portland. Called bambooleaf because of the long, unlobed leaves, this oak will grow rapidly to 30-35 feet, perhaps more with time. It forms a densely branched, round headed tree with smooth, gray bark. Although there is no fall color change, new leaves emerge an attractive silvery purplish red during the growing season. Specimens planted within the past 20 years are already a respectable size and have proven tough as nails, sailing untroubled through ice storms and snowfalls.

4 – Silverleaf oak

The southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico share a common flora rich in evergreen oaks. One that has proven hardy in Portland during the past two decades is the silverleaf oak Quercus hypoleucoides. The silvery undersides of the leaf give this tree its common name. Silverleaf will astonish with its fast growth, forming a densely branched tree to 40 feet or more in no time. The leathery leaves are gray-green above and make the tree incredibly drought tolerant once established. Two silverleaf oaks planted near the Visitors’ Center at Hoyt Arboretum already show how equally well the tree withstands cold and heat if given the sun they crave.

5, 6, and 7 – Oregon’s own broadleaved evergreens

Most Portlanders are familiar with the native madrone Arbutus menziesii. It has spectacularly sensual exfoliating bark that emerges with a snakelike olive color and ripens to a rich ocher. Related to rhododendrons, the trees boast big clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in spring, followed by orange fruits relished by local bird. Far rarer than when frequent fires set by Native Americans kept encroaching conifers at bay, madrone does not transplant easily and requires excellent drainage and a sunny location. Watering it in summer once it’s established can actually kill it. Introduced diseases have also taken a heavy toll of trees around the city. But if you have the right conditions, particularly in a yard, it can be a valued wildlife tree that’s pretty to look at year round.

Drive just a few hours south of Portland and a whole new world of broadleaved evergreen trees begins to appear. In addition to more madrone, you’ll see trees like canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), and Oregon myrtle (Umbellularia californica). Known in California as California bay, the latter tree is a relative of the true bay laurel from the Mediterranean. It makes a rather large shade tree 60 to 90 feet tall. Tough and tolerant of drought and shade, Oregon myrtle has leaves that are heavily spicy when crushed. This has given rise to the nickname the “headache tree,” bestowed by people overcome by the pungent aroma. One key drawback to the tree is that suckers sprout regularly from the lower trunk and require removal to avoid creating a multi-stemmed monster. The tree also produces olive-sized fruits, beloved by birds but less so by gardeners.

Far better behaved in cultivation is the canyon live oak. Although on dry ridges it can be a little shrub, on good soil it becomes a stately, even majestic tree 60 to 80 feet tall. Its young leaves somewhat resemble those of holly, although generally smaller. Older trees seem to produce leaves that are less armed than those of young trees. The 1 to 2-inch long acorns of this tree were a staple food of many Native American people, who leached out the tannins before boiling or roasting them. Band-tailed pigeons gobble up the acorns whole, as will any resident squirrels. A deep tap root means this tree will endure the driest summers unruffled while maples and other eastern trees wilt and defoliate early.

8 & 9 – Welcome Californians

California native interior live oak (Quercus wislizeni) is noted for its exceptional drought and heat tolerance, being able to survive on as little as 15 inches of rain a year. Interior live oak can reach 70’ but is usually shorter. Often as broad as it is tall and densely branched, the tree shelters many birds and animals in inclement weather, and feeds them with its narrow, cone-shaped acorns. These sit deeply in their cup, taking up to two years to ripen. The leathery leaves can be smooth, toothed or spiny like a holly. On young trees, bark is smooth and light gray, becoming fissured and darker with age.

A cousin of interior live oak, also widespread in California, is the blue oak (Quercus douglasii). The scientific name of blue oak honors the same David Douglas recognized in the name of Oregon’s state tree, the Douglas-fir. The common name refers to the pretty powder blue or blue-green color of the leaves. In Portland’s colder winters the tree will defoliate but put out a flush of new leaves in spring. When winters are mild, the leaves persist. (photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/john_d_rusk)

Native Americans had many uses for blue oak, eating the acorns and using the wood for everything from firewood to bait, medicine, dyes, utensils, games, toys and construction materials.

10 – Southern grace

The plantation Tara may have been more myth than accurate history but one thing Gone With The Wind did get right is the magnificent Southern live oaks that kept pulling Scarlett back to her childhood home. There are Quercus virginiana trees that survived the Civil War still standing today, as this is a long-lived tree often lasting centuries. In that time, these gracious trees can attain heights of 60’ with an even broader spread, casting welcome shade on hot summer days. They have well-anchored roots, allowing them to survive frequent hurricanes. Dark green and unlobed, Southern live oak leaves have smooth margins, are leathery, and are lighter-colored underneath. They range from 1 inch to 6 inches in length. Like blue oak, the leaves may drop in especially cold winters, with the tree leafing out again in spring. (photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/silkcut)

11 – The noble laurel

The leaf spicing up your next pasta probably came from the true bay laurel Laurus nobilis. Just be sure to remove any whole leaves before serving! A native of lands around the Mediterranean, this tree’s aromatic leaves were used to make wreaths to crown victors in the Olympic Games. In ancient Athens, retired Olympic champions were fed at public expense for life, giving rise to the phrase, “to rest on one’s laurels” rather than achieving anything new. If you grow this tree you will have a ready supply of leaves to cook with, as the tree is densely clothed in foliage. Bay laurel is capable of reaching 30 feet or more with a spread of 20 feet. The small yellowish flowers along the branch stems are followed by a small, one-seeded shiny black fruit eaten by birds.

12 – A long-lived African and European tree

Few trees from Africa can survive in Portland but most of those that can hail from the mountains of Algeria and Morocco, where winter snow and freezing temperatures are not uncommon. The holly or holm oak (Quercus ilex) is from that region as well as the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and Malta, where it is the national tree. The Latin name for the species means “holly” because leaves on young trees can be somewhat spiny, resembling those of a holly although not approaching it in prickliness. However, as trees mature leaf spininess becomes less pronounced. The leaves are pale white underneath. Acorns are long and quite pointed at the tip. Bark is dark brown to almost black, with many cracks and fissures forming a maze of small plates and ridges.

In Morocco, holly oak grows alongside Atlas cedar. It can reach 60 to 80 feet in height with a spread up to 60 feet or more. Those forests are home to an endangered primate, the Barbary macaque. Holly oaks are very long lived. The first ones planted in England in the 1500s are still living. There are reports of the trees reseeding in England and elsewhere, so it might be best to avoid planting this tree if you live near a natural area.

Why Do Evergreen Trees Matter?

In any city east of the Cascades as far as New England, winter can be depressing. Skeletal, bare-limbed, deciduous trees dominate northern cities, relieved only by a few hardy evergreen conifers. Given Portland’s mild climate, our urban forest could look a lot greener even in winter than those dreary northern cityscapes. But it doesn’t. Why is that?

The reason is a heavy reliance on deciduous trees that lose their leaves each fall and don’t green up till spring warmth returns. Tree inventories done by Urban Forestry show that in built up parts of the city, 90% to 98% or more of the street trees become leafless each fall. This lifeless landscape makes winter more challenging – emotionally and environmentally – than it has to be.

A legacy of leafless winters

Planting deciduous trees is to be expected in places where polar vortexes can send temperatures plummeting well below zero. Many of our most common urban trees – elms, ashes, maples and crabapples to name a few – come from mid-latitude forests with much colder weather than we get. Trees from those areas are well-suited to survive bitter winters and maximize their growth in warmer months, irrigated by frequent summer rains.

The pioneers who founded Portland quite naturally planted their new parks and streets with deciduous trees familiar to them from their home states. For example, as early as the 1870s the downtown park blocks were planted with stately elms native to the eastern U.S. Even when Oregon natives were tried as street trees, the one most commonly experimented with was the deciduous bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

Although Portland is actually north of such icebox cities as Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto, Canada, we experience much warmer winters. As importantly, rain all but ceases here from July to September. When rains do return in autumn, deciduous trees are starting to shut down. Just when we need them most, deciduous trees lose the very leaves we require to help intercept moisture and slow flooding.

The obvious solution to our winter-rainfall woes is to plant more evergreen trees. A lot more. Currently, evergreen trees make up the thinnest slice of the city’s street tree pie. You can count the percentage they represent on one hand. While our parklands have respectable amounts of native evergreen conifers (mostly Douglas-fir, western red-cedar and western hemlock), the streets where most Portlanders live do not.

To encourage change, Urban Forestry recently increased the number of evergreen choices on its Approved Street Tree Planting Lists, available for download at portlandoregon.gov/trees. In particular, the number of broadleaved evergreens has increased to an even dozen. In addition to the stalwart Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’ from the eastern U.S., it’s now possible to select from several exciting new trees.

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