Choosing Evergreen Shrubs

Jeanne Grunert
shrubs in front of house

Evergreen shrubs maintain most of their green leaves throughout the growing season. They make excellent border shrubs, accent plants, screening plants and hedges. The trick is to choose the right variety and type for your needs.

About Evergreen Shrubs

Most people know an evergreen shrub when they see one. Think of all the homes you've visited or owned; chances are good that evergreen shrubs were used somewhere in the foundation planting, the border, or a hedge. Evergreens are found throughout the world, and most maintain green leaves through the four seasons although they do shed some leaves in the winter.

For the North American garden, evergreens provide privacy, screening, beauty and accents in the garden.

Classification of Evergreens

Evergreens are classified into two types: narrowleaf and broadleaf. Narrow leaf evergreen shrubs have needle-like leaves similar to pine trees. Think of juniper shrubs and others that look like pines, the typical 'evergreen' most people know and understand. A broadleaf evergreen is any other kind.

Selection

Choose your evergreens based on several factors:

  • Planting location: Most evergreens prefer a slightly sheltered spot away from harsh sun and wind exposure. A northern, eastern or western spot along your home is ideal. Many home owners whose houses face north find evergreens grow easily as landscape shrubs.
  • Height: Evergreens vary considerably in height, and height may vary from dwarf to giant within one type. Look at plant labels or buy a good plant book to determine which varieties work in the area you have in mind.
  • Growth habit: Evergreen shrubs also grow in different ways. Some grow rapidly and may need pruning each year. Others are slow growing. Consider the amount of time you plan to spend on gardening tasks, and choose easy care, slower growing evergreens if you dislike pruning or don't wish to spend much time on maintenance.
  • Attributes: Many evergreens provide beautiful foliage, berries, or flowers. Some narrowleaf evergreens have a lovely blue or bluish green cast to the leaves, while others such as holly, euonymus and others offer many choices in foliage colors. Holly, juniper and yew contribute berries to the garden landscape, offering vibrant and colorful accents that also nurture wildlife. Consider which of these attributes appeals to you most.

Soil and Growing Conditions

After selecting the location, have the soil tested. Add amendments to the soil such as compost or peat moss. This is especially important if you're planting evergreen shrubs near the foundation of the house. New home construction compacts the soil and makes it difficult for the plants to set down their roots. Even soil near older homes may have problems, and amendments make it easier for the plant to obtain water and nutrients and set down deep roots.

Best Shrubs for the Home Garden

The best evergreen shrubs for your garden will depend on your needs, gardening zone and more. The following popular evergreen shrubs for home and garden offer color, beauty, privacy and screening.

  • Arborvitae: Perhaps the best-known screening evergreen shrub, arborvitae are vigorous evergreens that grow quickly and are often used to screen unsightly fences or buildings. There are many different types to choose from, so visit a garden center to get an idea of what will grow well in your area.
  • Barberry: Barberry is a broadleaf evergreen that makes a good security hedge thanks to its barbs or thorns. Berries attract many bird species.
  • Boxwood: Some people dislike the smell of boxwood leaves, but others love boxwood for its ability to be trimmed and shaped into many forms. It also makes a great evergreen hedge.
  • Holly: Holly conjures images of Christmastime, but it's a wonderful garden evergreen that attracts wildlife and offers numerous colorful leaves to grace the garden. Remember you need both a male and female plant (females have berries) to ensure berries each year, or at least a neighbor with a male plant if you own a female plant.
  • Juniper: Juniper comes in so many shapes, sizes and colors that it would be quite a challenge to grow one of everything! Blue rug juniper is a prostrate (ground cover) juniper that looks wonderful in rock gardens or along pathways. Juniper may be grown as a specimen plant or as a foundation shrub too.
  • Pine and Spruce: Both narrowleaf evergreens offer shrub forms that add a touch of green year-round to the garden.
  • Rhododendron: Rhododendrons make wonderful foundation planting shrubs. They bloom in the late spring with white, pink or maroon flowers and need little care. The leaves curl up when temperatures fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but they should maintain most of their leaves year round.

There are many more potential evergreen shrubs for the home garden. Visit your local garden center to find ones suitable for your location, or talk to your local County Cooperative Extension agents.

Choosing Evergreen Shrubs