By Marty Ross
Versatile evergreens can be the stars of a garden. They’re emphatic punctuation marks in a garden design, and make terrific hedges or backdrops for flowers. They also sparkle in the winter landscape.
Yews and junipers are the Midwest’s most widely planted evergreens. You see them as hedges, filling in across the fronts of houses in older neighborhoods, or in a circle or square around trees, right. They frequently anchor the corners of a bed, or sandwich either side of a front door. But adventurous gardeners have discovered the astonishing variety of evergreens that thrive in the Midwest, and use them in lots of new ways.
No longer are evergreens just foundation plantings; they stand out as striking single specimens, and look good in handsome woodland groupings under tall deciduous trees. They give a lot of depth and interest to mixed shrub borders, screen out undesirable views, and soften the hard edges of stone walls.
There are two kinds of evergreens: needle and broadleaf. The needle evergreens — pine, spruce, fir, juniper, arborvitae, and others — are the best known. Some produce cones, others berries.
Broadleaf evergreens — hollies, boxwoods, rhododendrons, azaleas, and other trees and shrubs that keep their leaves through the winter — have become more popular in the past few years, as hardy specimens become more widely available.
Not so many years ago it was rather unusual to see boxwoods in Midwestern gardens. Those slow-growing shrubs with small, dark-green leaves were thought to be too tender for our harsh winters. Now hardier cultivars are available: The winter-tough boxwoods ‘Green Mountain’, ‘Green Velvet’, ‘Chicagoland Green’, ‘Green Gem’, and ‘Winter Gem’ all do very well in the Midwest. Like other broadleaf evergreens, they need some protection from bright sun and drying winter winds.
Evergreens are also great plants for containers. You see them planted as specimens in big pots on city streets in Chicago. In planters in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza shopping district, begonias and other annuals are planted to fill in around evergreens through the summer. Heavy planters can remain outdoors year-round, although there is always more risk that the plants might not survive an especially severe winter than if they were planted in the ground.
Spring and summer are good times to plant evergreens. Plant them in well-drained, loamy soil. Water well while they are becoming established in your garden. Evergreens are not dormant during the winter, and should be watered if the season is dry.
Winter sun and winds also dry out evergreens. A layer of mulch protects the roots and helps retain soil moisture. Water with a sprinkler set to trickle slowly around the roots, or use a watering can. With a little bit of care and attention at the start, your evergreens should thrive.