Ever-Faithful, Ever-Lovely: Evergreens
by Patricia C Held
There is nothing like an evergreen to provide year-round interest, color and texture in a garden. Loyal, steadfast and true, the evergreen can be “the backbone of your landscaping,” says Martha Dudley, retail manager at Rainfrost Nursery in Forest. When nothing else is green in the winter, they provide lush foliage that gives depth and beauty to a garden. There are two types of evergreens: narrowleaf, which have needles, and broadleaf, with flat, wide leaves. The narrow-leaf usually can tolerate dry and windy conditions and cold temperatures, but need well-drained soil. Included in this group are arborvitae (which are quick growers), false cypress, yews, junipers (which like it hot and dry), and pines. Broadleaf evergreens are usually shade lovers; they do best with a northern or eastern exposure, and prefer well-drained soil. There are many broadleaf evergreens to select from, but the most common include azalea, boxwood, cotoneaster, holly, mountain laurel, rhododendron, camellia, gardenia, pachysandra and periwinkle. From trees to shrubs to ground cover, the wide array of evergreens offers something for every garden. The planting and care of evergreens, however, requires an investment of time and money. So it is important to make the right decisions when choosing these plants for your garden.
A Bounty of Choices
When selecting evergreens, be sure to consider how they look year-round. What is their overall shape and their texture? Take into account the size of the space that you want the evergreen to fill, and know the exposure of sun and wind that it will receive in that location. For example, anything that blooms in the spring must have morning sun and afternoon shade. Make the right choice now for years of beauty later. To decide what you want your garden to look like, take a step back—literally. Stand out on the road and imagine your finished garden. Consider the shape of your home. Professionals suggest taking some photographs of your home and surrounding garden. Enlarge the pictures and draw in shrubs and trees. Or cut out shrubs and trees from a garden catalog and glue them in place on the picture. Ultimately the plants should complement the home. Avoid planting trees and shrubs in front of windows. In a few years the view may be completely blocked. Remember that some evergreens mature into large trees that can easily overshadow a home. Evergreens can smother a building if they are placed too close to each other and too close to the home. Study catalogs and go to nurseries to see what is new, and also what will do well in your particular environment. Ask questions. A good nursery has a knowledgeable staff, and the better mail order catalogs welcome questions.
In addition to landscaping around the house, evergreens also work as effective wind screens and privacy barriers. They can also highlight a garden path or a long driveway.
Planting Your Evergreens
At one time, nurseries recommended that homeowners amend the soil to suit the plant. But Dudley says that today professionals suggest that if a plant will have to live in clay soil, then plant it in clay soil. The most important thing when planting is to remember to plant it high. An easy-to-remember piece of advice from Dudley: “Plant it high and it won’t die; plant it low and it won’t grow.” Never plant below soil level. That will often kill a plant. Also, when digging the hole, make sure it is wide enough for the roots to spread, and mound the soil around the roots. When selecting a suitable area to plant evergreens, always be sure to avoid wet spots. Jon Perdew, owner of Green Needles Tree Farm in Coleman Falls, stresses that evergreens do not like to have wet feet. He also suggests using native plants, such as mountain laurel and rhododendron, as much as possible in your garden plans. Once the plant is in place, remember to water it regularly until it is well established. Rainfrost Nursery
recommends a deep watering twice a week for eighteen months. Remember that roots continue to grow even in the winter, so watering year-round is essential. Depending upon the size of the plant, use from one to five gallons of water poured slowly over the roots. Heavy mulching around the base of the plant will keep it moist and protect it from extreme weather conditions. Do not forget to feed newly planted evergreens. A slow-release fertilizer works best. Not all evergreens require pruning. While some need an occasional trim to remove a stray branch or two, others require more maintenance. Check with the nursery when purchasing the plant for details on pruning. The local extension service can also provide excellent pruning tips. Nationally known master gardener Jerry Baker is a great fan of evergreens. “They have a bit more class than your everyday shrub,” he says. He points out that if they are planted properly and provided minimal care, they will thrive and provide year-round color. But if you ignore their specific needs, you may wind up with “ever browns.”