Tag Archives: evergreen plants

The Evergreens No One Talks About

In late November, evergreen color guard yucca is beginning to take on red tones. My tabby, Steve, normally takes no interest in this plant unless I'm photographing it.

In late November, evergreen color guard yucca is beginning to take on red tones. My tabby, Steve, normally takes no interest in this plant unless I’m photographing it.

Is there someone in your family that relatives don’t talk about? The crazy aunt, or the cousin with three drug convictions?

Well, it’s a similar situation with evergreens. Everyone talks about stately firs and majestic pines. But no one mentions the no-needle plants that, year in and year out, quietly add color to the winter landscape. Unlike weird relatives, these stalwart performers are good guys.

Take soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides), prostrate speedwell (Veronica prostrata) and woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata), for example. These ground-hugging plants remain attractive all year round. Soapwort and prostrate speedwell display medium green foliage, whereas woolly speedwell turns slightly purplish in cold weather. Then when flowering bulbs peek out of the ground in early spring, these ground covers provide a carpet to showcase crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils and the elegant miniature Iris reticulata.

Robust soapwort retains its healthy green color throughout winter.

Robust soapwort retains its healthy green color throughout winter.

Taller, more woody evergreen ground covers include creeping Oregon grape holly (Mahonia repens)and kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). Oregon grape holly ground cover grows about a foot tall, and it will take over an area quickly, if you let it. Kinnikinnick is a cold-weather-loving plant that will reach about eight inches in height. This berry-producing native prefers northern and eastern exposures in Colorado.

Mojave sage's appealing foliage lends a soft blue tone to the winter landscape.

Mojave sage’s appealing foliage lends a soft blue tone to the winter landscape.

Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla) lends a subtle blue hue to the winter landscape. Its leaves may eventually turn yellow as winter progresses, but even then, this perennial subshrub provides winter interest with its gently upright form. Lavender, too, is a praiseworthy choice for providing blue tones in winter.

Other evergreen beauties are Manhattan euonymus (Euonymus kiautschovica ‘Manhattan’) for protected areas, manzanitas, yuccas (such as the variegated Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’), and brooms, including my favorite dwarf broom, Genista lydia.

So if you want to create year-round color in your landscape, consider some of these cold-hardy choices.

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Winter Interest Transforms Moonscape Into Wonderland

This young staghorn sumac lends an Old West feel and architectural interest to the winter landscape.

This young staghorn sumac lends an Old West feel and architectural interest to the winter landscape.

If you’ve ever seen a butterfly bush kissed by snow, you appreciate the concept of winter interest.  Snow mutates the shrub’s leaves and faded flowers into a sparkling, lacy delight.

For those of us who live in Colorado and other tundra territories, we need plants with winter interest to prevent our landscapes from resembling moonscapes from December through March, and perhaps longer.

Plants that add a winter-wonderland quality to your environment include those with cold-weather color; architectural form; eye-catching stems and twigs; or fruits, berries, cones and seed heads.

In the winter color category, some refreshing groundcovers are woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata) and prostrate veronica (Veronica prostrata).  V. pectinata foliage takes on a reddish cast in cold weather, whereas V. prostrata stays green and lush.  Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) also warms gardeners’ spirits with its deep green winter foliage.  Then there’s Angelina sedum, which turns from its warm-weather yellow-green color to its vibrant winter orange-red hue.

Taller plants that offer color year-round include euonymus (as in Manhattan and moonshadow), lavender, ornamental grasses, Carol Mackie dapne (which retains many of its variegated leaves), Oregon grape holly, yew, pine, fir, spruce and juniper.

Even a blizzard can't dampen the enthusiasm of this maple.

Even a blizzard can’t dampen the enthusiasm of this maple.

As for architectural form, the Kentucky coffee tree often comes to mind.  This drought-tolerant stalwart is beautiful, but you have to decide whether it’s worth the hassle to clean up its brown leathery seed pods.

Other favorites with distinctive form include maple, oak, weeping cherry, dogwood, hawthorn, sumac, willow, Harry Lauder’s walking stick and ornamental grasses.

If you’re looking for attractive bark and stems, consider ornamental cherry trees (with their gleaming red bark), paperbark maple, Kousa dogwood, lacebark elm, mature purple smoketree, red twig dogwood and yellow twig dogwood.

The bright twigs of this young Isanti dogwood contrast sharply with the snow and lend color to the landscape.

The bright twigs of this young Isanti dogwood contrast sharply with the snow and lend color to the landscape.

For plants with berries and such, it’s difficult to beat the winter king hawthorn, with red berries that hang like petite Christmas ornaments from its limbs.  This tough, water-saving plant also thrills gardeners in the spring, with its profuse white flowers and glossy green leaves.

Then there are firethorn (Pyracantha), red chokeberry, Japanese barberry and coral burst crabapple with their attractive fruit.  Meanwhile, Annabelle hydrangea, purple coneflower, yarrow and autumn joy sedum offer eye-catching seed heads, especially in the snow.  Finally, don’t forget roses with showy rosehips, or evergreen trees and shrubs, with their appealing cones.

Besides enlivening your winter garden, plants with showy fruit, berries, cones and seed heads often provide food for wildlife.

If your landscape currently looks moonscape-like, study your plant and seed catalogs to determine what you might plant this spring for a more stimulating winter ambiance in 2014.

For a Canadian blogger’s views on winter interest, visit Gardening for Winter Interest at patinaandcompany.wordpress.com.

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