Evergreen plants are plants that do not lose their foliage during the winter. They remain green in color all year long. Most evergreen plants are outdoor plants, although some are grown as house plants. These plants can be grouped by type of foliage. Some have needles (needled evergreens), while others have leaves (broad-leaved evergreens). Both are valuable additions to any landscape.
Needled Evergreen Trees
Needled evergreens usually coniferous, meaning they produce pine cones. Most conifers are trees, although some are groundcovers or shrubs as well. All needled evergreen plants need well-draining soil in order to thrive.
The white pine (Pinus strobus) is highly popular for its fast growth and bluish needles. This tree does not do well in polluted areas, however. A better choice for cities is the Austrian pine (Pinus nigra). This large, dark-green colored tree tolerates polluted air and soils very well. The Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) grows in a neat, pleasing pyramidal shape and is often used as a Christmas tree. Spruce trees are also excellent outdoor evergreen plants. The Norway spruce (Picea abies) is a fast-growing tree that features large, attractive pine cones. The Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens), while difficult to grow, is extremely attractive in shape and color, and makes an excellent stand-alone accent plant. Firs and cedar trees are also popular outdoor evergreen plants.
Needled Evergreen Shrubs and Groundcovers
Needled evergreen shrubs and groundcovers can solve many landscaping problems. Creeping juniper, for instance, is a terrific groundcover for hot, dry areas of soil. This hardy evergreen will adapt to almost any situation save shady conditions or standing water. Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) is also grown as a ground cover. The small, compact plants with many stems are the most desirable.
Arborvitae produces small pine cones and is usually planted as a hedge because it is a fast-grower. Some yews, such as the Taxus x media, are also grown as hedges. Overall, yews are hardier than arborvitae, which means they will adapt better to poor soil and perform better and longer as a hedge.
A final needled hemlock that is often grown as a shrub or hedge is the Canada hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). This beautiful evergreen needs wet, cool soil in order to thrive.
Broad-Leaved Evergreen Trees
Broad-leaved evergreens are desirable not only for their foliage, but also for the fact that most are very hardy and pest-resistant. Their leaves can be scorched by the wind or sun, however, which is why most of them do best in temperate climates with partial shade. These plants produce flowers and fruit rather than pine cones.
American holly (Ilex opaca) is a small tree that features bright red berries in the winter, making it an especially attractive choice for any landscape. The Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), with its huge, showy flowers, is a large-growing and very popular evergreen tree in the south. Azalea and rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.) are also showy trees (sometimes grown as shrubs) with brightly colored clusters of flowers, but unlike the magnolia, they grow much better in cooler climates.
Broad-Leaved Evergreen Shrubs and Groundcovers
Broad-leaved evergreen shrubs are the backbone of most gardens. These plants are often grown as hedges and used to line and define parts of a landscape. Boxwood, for example, is an extremely popular and hardy outdoor evergreen plant. The Korean boxwood is known as the easiest to grow and can be pruned to grow in almost any shape. The Creeping Mahonia (Mahonia repens) is a low-growing groundcover that produces bright yellow flowers in the spring and dark berries in the fall. The leaves of the plant are a deep, glossy green that turn purple in the winter.
Pyracantha Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) is a large shrub that can grow up to 7 feet tall or trained as a vine. In the spring, it features small white flowers. In the fall, it produces vibrantly orange berries that cling to the plant all winter long. Ironically, this evergreen does best in poor soil. Too-rich soil may cause the leaves to drop in the winter.