In Utah's northern valleys, winters temperatures often plunge to minus 35 degrees F. Near St. George, summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees F. From 1994 to 1995, the state's wettest year of the 20th century, Utah saw less than 17 inches of precipitation. Gardeners facing such climatic extremes need whatever help they can find. Utah's broadleaf evergreens provide a full year of garden interest, from colorful blooms and fruit to leaves that hang tough in the worst of the Beehive State's winter conditions.
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), or bearberry, grows wild in Utah's mountains and on sandy hills. A low, trailing shrub, it has pliable branches with glossy evergreen leaves with curled-under edges. Their color progresses from spring's yellowish-green to summer red and autumn purple. Between March and June, Kinnikinnick has red stems that bear clusters of bell-shaped, waxy white or pink flowers; hummingbirds and butterflies feed on their nectar. The red berries that follow, a favorite food of bears, remain on the shrub into winter.
At no more than 1 foot high, and a spread up to 15 feet, heat-and-cold-tolerant bearberry makes an excellent ground cover. Plant it in sun to shade and acidic, loose, sandy or rocky soil. The shrub dislikes fertilizer, but isn't fussy about moisture.
According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, ornamental cliff rose (Purshia stansburiana) has earned the alternate name of quinine bush for its extremely bitter leaves. A branching broadleaf evergreen, it stands between 4 and 10 feet high. Cliff rose has peeling red bark and glossy leaves with dark green surfaces and downy white undersides.
Between April and June, cliff rose flowers with exceptionally fragrant, tube-like white blooms give way to unusual plumed white fruit. This drought-tolerant shrub grows wild on Utah's high mesas and canyon walls. The shrub is highly ornamental and effective for erosion control. Plant cliff rose in infertile, rocky soil and full sun where the deer that browse on it won't threaten your other plants.
Another low-growing shrub or ground cover, creeping barberry (Mahonia repens) stands up to 3 feet high in home gardens. Found wild in Utah's high country, it seldom exceeds 10 inches. Its holly-like evergreen leaves range from soft green to pale pink and orange. Between April and July, creeping barberry has fragrant drooping clusters of tiny, peony-like yellow flowers. Purple berries, a favorite bird food, follow them.
Creeping barberry's foliage makes it an attractive year-round ground cover for Utah's higher regions. It doesn't tolerate the heat and dry winds prevalent in some parts of the state. Plant creeping barberry in sun to partial shade and rich, well-drained sand, loam or chalky soil.