As interesting and beautiful as deciduous plants can be, there are often situations when developing your property where only plants that stay green all year will do. This is especially true when you want privacy. You may be able to get a nice dense screen for half the year from a deciduous planting, but in winter when everything is bare that screen suddenly becomes a gossamer curtain and hides nothing at all. That is when evergreens really stand out as the best solution.
As well, when constructing interesting and varied gardens, dense, rich green plants that give permanence and structure to the scene are essential. In winter being able to see the ‘bones’ of the garden means there is still some interest and color at that quiet time of the year.
Conifers and Needle Evergreens
There are several distinct groups of evergreens. Firstly there are the conifers, or needle evergreens, plants like cypress, pine and juniper. These are interesting plants that don’t have flowers but instead produce cones of different kinds. Some like pine cones are well known, but other conifers produce much smaller seed structures that can look a bit like strange hard berries.
Perhaps the most famous are the juniper ‘berries’ that are used in cooking venison and even more in flavoring gin. Without junipers there would be no martinis. These plants have narrow leaves that are sometimes like the needles on a pine and other times more scaly and flat against the stem like a cypress, with several kinds in-between as well.
Not all conifers are evergreen. A few are what are often called ‘deciduous conifers’ and the most notable is the Bald Cypress, which naturally grows in wet soil, but which will be happy in ordinary, reasonably moist soil too. Every fall it turns lovely yellow and brown shades before shedding its leaves for the winter as if it was a maple tree.
The second group are usually called broad-leaf evergreens because they are pretty much like other trees and shrubs except that they only lose their leaves after new ones are made, not before like many trees do. This means there is no time of year where there are no leaves on these plants, but otherwise they have flowers and fruits in the same way as deciduous plants do. There are many plants like this, from azalea and boxwood to holly, and they come in all sizes with some of them being big enough to be considered trees.
The third group are quite different. Everyone is familiar with grasses, which produce their stalks each year and then die down leaves in the winter. They can be the wheat and corn we eat, or the grass on our lawns. In warmer areas however grasses figured out how to keep their stems alive all year and started to behave like trees. These are the Bamboo Plants, which are really a giant kind of grass that almost never flowers. These beautiful plants produce clumps of strong canes to carry their leaves and stay green all year round. In some tropical countries they form forests in the same way maple trees do for us. Some can grow an amazing 100 feet tall, but the ones we offer to use in your garden grow between 8 and 30 feet tall, so they are great plants for evergreen structure and screening.
You may have heard horror stories about Bamboo plants taking over and spreading like crazy, but at the Tree Center we are careful that all the bamboo plants we offer are the clump-forming type, not those with underground roots that spread. Clump-forming bamboos are the well-behaved ones and they will stay where you put them. Each clump will grow wider of course but it won’t take over your garden.
Evergreen Trees in Your Garden
Evergreen Trees have many uses and a valuable role to play in our gardens.
Using Evergreens as Hedges
Because they are green all year and often make very dense, leafy growth, one of the main uses for evergreen trees is as hedges and screens. There are so many properties which are either overlooked by neighbours or look out onto something rather ugly, that almost everyone needs to make some kind of a hedge for privacy. Because they stay green all year, evergreens are the first choice when it comes to choosing plants for hedges.
If a quick hedge is needed the Leyland Cypress is often the ‘go-to’ plant of choice. With a growth-rate of 3 to 4 feet a year, soft foliage, drought resistance and the ability to grow in poor soil, urban conditions and even resist salt-spray, Leyland Cypress is a great choice to build an ‘instant’ hedge and solve your screening problems. Perhaps the only problem it has it that you do need to keep cutting it regularly and control the height, or it can get out of hand. For a hedge in a smaller garden Thuja Green Giant or Thuja Emerald Green can be more manageable choices.
Other conifer trees can also be used for hedges – Juniper Wichita Blue is an interesting idea for a different hedge color especially in a location where drought tolerance is a high priority.
When broad-leaf evergreens are used as hedge plants, the effect is different. They give a dense, glossy hedge with an alternative texture to conifer hedges, which are soft and fuzzy. Popular fast-growing choices for broad-leaf hedges include hollies like the American Holly or the Nellie Stevens Holly. Another great broad-leaf choice is the Cherry Laurel which makes a really dense hedge with large, glossy leaves. If you want to grow low ornamental evergreen hedges then Boxwood Shrubs are the classic choice and grow well in sun or partial shade.
Finally, for a completely different, more informal effect, consider using Bamboo Plants for a hedge or screen. With their elegant, often colored canes and their narrow, pointed leaves they give a very special look that is also very low-maintenance. They don’t need to be clipped into shape but naturally form a dense barrier that can be shortened if needed but don’t clip them too much on the sides. The effect is informal, more modern and gives a very different visual look to a green clipped hedge. As well, the wind blowing through bamboo creates a lovely and unique rustling sound that is really charming.
If you use a strip of grass at the foot of the hedge, mowing the grass will stop the bamboo from possibly spreading sideways and keep it growing densely exactly where you want it to be. Multiplex Bamboo is one of the best for hedges. It will rapidly reach 8 to 12 feet tall, but the tops can be trimmed if necessary. It makes a very dense, impenetrable hedge that protects your property as well as giving privacy. For a taller hedge choose Black Bamboo, which is dense and vigorous and can reach 25 to 30 tall in time.
However evergreen trees don’t start and end with hedge plants, as useful as they are for that purpose. Left to grow unclipped, or with perhaps just a little trimming to keep them neat and dense, all the evergreen trees make great specimens for a lawn or as elements in shrub beds. The more upright ones look terrific in clusters of three, five or seven and the broader ones make great single specimens that give permanence, stability and maturity to your landscape and garden.
Shape and Form
With evergreen trees there are lots of shapes to choose from. Striking, dramatic vertical accents come naturally to the Italian Cypress and the Sky Pencil Holly. These plants can reach 40 feet tall and still only be 4 or 5 feet wide without ever having been clipped at all. They add drama and emphasis to the garden and they can also be used to frame an entrance-way or gate or even march along a driveway to great effect. Not so narrow, but still giving strong vertical accents, plants like Thuja Green Giant and the smaller Thuja Emerald Green are popular as specimens too.
For hotter locations where drought-resistance is an important consideration, Juniper Wichita Blue really stands out. For something broader in outline, consider American Holly or the Bald Cypress. Bamboos grown alone look more like the giant grass plants they really are, and as specimens their varied forms, some quite upright like Multiplex Bamboo, other softer in outline, like the Sunset Glow Bamboo, can really be appreciated and enjoyed. They give a unique and graceful form to any garden.
Selecting the Right Evergreen Trees
There are a number of unique variables to consider when choosing which evergreen tree is right for you.
Sun or Shade
All plants have their preferences and evergreens are no exception. If you already have large deciduous trees on your property and are making a garden, then shade is certainly something you need to take into account. Fortunately all the Hollies naturally grow in the shade of larger trees, so they make great choices for shady locations, as specimens or as hedges.
When planting a hedge it is pretty common to have part of it in the sun and another part in the shade. This often leads to uneven growth, or having to switch to another plant, but fortunately Hollies thrive in both sun and shade, so a holly hedge will look thick and healthy whatever amount of sun it is getting. If the shade is only for a part of the day, then Thuja will be happy as long as it gets a little sun. Bamboos are also shade tolerant and will grow well beneath trees as well as when exposed to the full sun. Black Bamboo and Sunset Glow Bamboo are both among the most shade tolerant bamboos available.
If you are gardening in sunny locations, then consider Junipers, which love sunny, drier locations in sandy soils. In fact they don’t like shade and too much water at all. So for a hot, dry garden, choose our Drought Tolerant Evergreen or Juniper Wichita Blue and whether it is a hedge or some specimen trees you want, you can be sure these plants will thrive. Italian Cypress is another evergreen tree that just loves sunshine and dryness and makes a dramatic accent in the landscape.
Wet or Dry
Junipers love the sun and they are happy to live in dry locations too. Once established they are very drought tolerant and they should be the first choices for hot, dry areas. So for dry areas Junipers are the thing, but what if you have a location that is always damp or even wet and boggy? The Bald Cypress naturally grows in swampy locations and although it will be perfectly happy in regular garden situations, it is a terrific choice for low-lying or wet locations, or beside a stream, lake or pond. In between, in regular garden soil that isn’t totally dry all summer, Thuja Green Giant and Thuja Emerald Green will thrive and be perfectly happy. Thuja will also take periods of wet in their stride and even thrive on it as long as it is not all year round.
Bamboos are very adaptable. They will take damp or dry conditions in their stride and our Black Bamboo is known for its outstanding drought tolerance when established. Periods of wet don’t bother them either, but no bamboo really like to live in constantly wet soil.
Evergreen trees vary a lot in how much cold they will take. Some are extremely hardy and Thuja Emerald Green is renowned for growing right up into zone 2 in Canada, so no matter how cold your area is, this is an evergreen that will thrive for you. Most people think that Bamboos need warmth but Sunset Glow Bamboo is hardy all the way into zone 5, which makes it a great choice for nearly everyone. Holly likes it a little warmer and finds zone 6 about as far north as it want to go.
How To Plant and Care for Evergreen Trees
If you are planning an evergreen hedge there are two ways to plant them. For a regular hedge they are placed in a single line – the exact distance apart depends on the type of plant you are using. To work out how many plants to order, measure the total distance you want your hedge to cover, divide by the spacing distance and add one plant more, since you will have one at each end.
For a very dense screen you can also plant a double row. Increase the spacing in one row and then plant a second row behind it with each plant staggered from the first row. This makes a zigzag and gives a really dense, private hedge more quickly than a single row will. You need a few more plants for this kind of hedge but the quicker privacy it gives you makes that worthwhile.
A big mistake a lot of people make with hedges is to wait until they reach the final height wanted before starting to trim them. You should lightly trim the sides and top of your hedge as soon as your new plants start to grow. That way you build a really dense structure that reaches all the way down to the ground. You will notice that the top grows faster than the bottom, so you need to cut more from the upper sides than lower down to keep the top thinner than the bottom. That way the light reaches all the way down and keeps the bottom growing well.
Also, if you have a fat top on your hedge it is more likely to be damaged by a heavy snow-fall. A thinner, rounded top will shed the snow and stay together so much better. Specimen evergreens can also be trimmed as needed to keep them compact and also to control their shape.
Once planted, Evergreen Trees don’t need a lot of special care. When newly planted it is always important to keep your trees well watered. Once a week give them a deep soak, even if there has been a little rain. Until their roots spread out they can only get water from the root-ball that was in the pot when you planted your tree.
Regular fertilizer is a good idea when your evergreen trees are young. They will grow faster and denser that way. Fertilize in early spring and again in mid-summer, but in colder areas you should stop any feeding by late summer so that the trees can develop the necessary cold-hardiness for the coming winter. Mulches are also a good idea and you will find that Bamboo plants in particular thrive on annual mulch because they tend to grow close to the surface of the soil.
Add Structure and Function to Your Garden with Our Evergreens!
Evergreen Trees have so much to offer in giving structure and function in your garden that it is hard to imagine building a landscape without them. For hedges or specimen plants they have a special quality and an all-year permanence that makes them indispensable. There are types suitable for any location, from shade to sun and from wet to dry and here at the Tree Center we have a full range of all the very best forms so no matter what your needs, we have Evergreen Trees to satisfy them.