Regardless of climate, gardeners yearn for color and beauty during the winter dormant season. Evergreen plants, those that retain their foliage across the chill of winter, are vital in bringing the color green to winter landscapes. Broadleaf and needled or scaled evergreen shrubs and trees form the backbone for winter environments, and use of herbaceous evergreen may also be used if they are hardy.
The United States Department of Agriculture published a map of winter minimum temperatures that created plant hardiness zones based on similar winter conditions. The horticulture and plant nursery industries have used this zoning system as a basis for comparison and recommendation of plants to grow across North America.
Begin by learning which plant hardiness zone you reside by typing in your postal ZIP code at the National Gardening Association's website. Only focus on choosing evergreens that are hardy, or able to survive the winter temperatures, in your zone. For example, if you live in Chicago, your USDA plant hardiness zone is 5. For plant longevity and good planning, only select plants rated as hardy in zone 5, such as the Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens var. glauca), which is hardy in Zones 2 through 7. The lower the zone number, the colder the winter.
Broadleaf Evergreen Shrubs
Some shrubs with broad, flat, oval-shaped leaves retain their foliage across the winter months. Their leaves may remain fully green or blush with attractive tones of bronze, burgundy, red or purple. Rhododendron, mountain laurel, Indian hawthorn, English and American holly, daphne and boxwood are a few popular examples of broadleaf evergreen shrubs.
Broadleaf Evergreen Trees
Likewise, some trees with broad, flat foliage remain evergreen in climates that do not have too harsh of a winter season. Famous broadleaf evergreen trees to consider, if hardy in your region, include the Southern magnolia, live oak, bay laurel and some types of viburnum.
Needled Evergreen Shrubs
The prickly, narrow needled leaves of conifer shrubs are often used as groundcovers or large foliage banks or hedgerows. Junipers are perhaps the most widely recognized needled evergreen shrubs, but also look into dwarf selections of trees that remain significantly shorter and attain sizes less than 6 to 10 feet.
Needled Evergreen Trees
Pine, spruce, false cypress and cedar are among the evergreen trees with needled or scale-like foliage gardeners use for windbreaks, architectural accents or focal points. The reduced surface area of the needles, when compared to the foliage of broadleaf evergreen trees, allows most needled evergreen conifer trees to tolerate significantly colder winter temperatures.
Herbaceous Evergreen Materials
Herbaceous plants are those that do not grow wood-like stems and trunks but remain with soft leaf and stem tissues. Many groundcovers that have fleshy leaves can remain evergreen, including lilyturf, mondo grass, prostrate sedum, and hens-and-chicks. The winter climate dictates which herbaceous plant materials indeed remain evergreen.
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