By Glenn Dinella
Evergreens come in many sizes, shapes, and colors, so it follows logically they serve hundreds of uses in the landscape. There are two basic types: broadleaf evergreens such as some rhododendrons and azaleas; and needle evergreens such as pine and spruce.
The fine texture of needle evergreens lends a soft, friendly appearance to a yard. Hemlock, shown, is a great example.
Although hemlocks are difficult to grow in Zones 8–10 due to the hot summers, gardeners in the upper South still can enjoy growing these majestic beauties. Good drainage and mulch are keys to keeping their roots happy. Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana) seem to work well as single “specimen plantings,” where you can appreciate their form and texture among other evergreens along with deciduous trees and shrubs.
Other evergreens work well in groups. A small group of friendly, welcoming boxwoods begs to be caressed as you enter the front gate of this yard, shown. Boxwoods have broad leaves rather than needles.
Many evergreens share a conical shape, which allows them to make a strong architectural statement in the garden. Illustrating that point are these two arborvitae (Thuja spp.), shown, flanking a metal arbor with a taller Cryptomeria japonica in the background.
Be sure to consider your evergreen’s ultimate size. Cryptomeria ultimately reaches 100 feet tall and 30 feet wide at the base. Arborvitae comes in many sizes. This homeowner selected a dwarf variety that doesn’t crowd the pathway.
Many flowering shrubs, including some of the South’s beloved azaleas, are evergreens. Their confectionary display of all hues of white, pink, and purple blooms “officially” announce spring.
Azaleas work best in a naturalized landscape with partial shade, where they can hang loose. Prune them after they finish flowering — preferably with hand pruners or loppers. Please don’t plant them in full sun and shear them into lollipops!
Then there are the imposters. Trees that include dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), shown, look an awful lot like evergreens in summer. But come fall they turn color and drop their needles. It’s a pleasant surprise — unless you’re counting on the foliage for winter interest.