How to Match the Best Evergreen Shrub to Your Landscape Need

How to Match the Best Evergreen Shrub to Your Landscape Need

When it comes to landscaping your yard, there are the easy wins and then there are those situations that need a little extra attention or require a fuss-free solution. Shade, privacy, low maintenance, and impact are just a few of the "what now" head-scratchers that often come to mind when designing your garden.

Fortunately, there is an evergreen shrub that's a perfect choice for just about every kind of garden conundrum.

Evergreen shrubs are an excellent option because first and foremost, they look beautiful most of the year and second, the range of sizes, colors, and habits in which they are available is so broad that your biggest issue is likely to be which one to choose. Here are 8 common landscape needs and ideas for what to plant. 

All Photos: Doreen Wynja

(Above) When you need a hardy, colorful shrub for foundations or mixed borders or to add carefree elegance to fences and walls, Gulf Stream Heavenly Bamboo with its vibrant, ever-changing foliage is an inspired choice. Full to partial sun. Zone: 6 -11 

I Need a Hedge for Privacy

As lots grow smaller and life becomes more noisy and hectic, the need for privacy from neighbors or to provide a layer between your house and the street is more important than ever. Tall, thick, and dense evergreen shrubs can provide that sense of solitude while still bringing a leafy softness to the landscape. 

Things to Consider:

  • Pay attention to and believe in the tag description of mature size and plan your space accordingly. 
  • Be aware of municipal regulations for planting hedges along a street.
  • When it comes to privacy hedges, spacing is key to get the dense hedge you want. Spacing guidelines vary by plant type. Find general guidelines here or consult with your local garden center for the best local advice.
  • While it is an additional cost, the smart move is to purchase two extra shrubs beyond what you need and plant them somewhere in the yard. That way if one of your hedge plants doesn't make it, you have a replacement of the same age, height, and overall size.

Read More:

10 Evergreen Shrubs for Privacy (Zone 8 - 11)

10 Evergreen Shrubs for Privacy (Zone 3 - 7)

Design School: Planting for Privacy

Ember Waves®
Western Arborvitae

You'll want its mature size (25' tall) but you'll love it for its color-morphing winter interest. Full sun. Zone: 5 - 8. 

Shogun® Series
Little Emperor™
Japanese Blueberry Tree

Up to 10' tall and wide with white flowers and bright foliage. Full sun. Zone: 8 - 11

Mountain Pepper

Topping out at an impressive 12' tall x 8' wide, fragrant flowers and edible leaves make it a triple treat. Full sun to partial shade. Zone: 7 - 10

I Need to Brighten a Dark Corner

We all have that one dark, dreary, forlorn spacetypically at the back of the yard where no one goes because nothing beckons you to explore. Could the solution be as simple as layering in a few plants whose flowers, foliage, or quirky habit turn that ignored patch from "whatever" to "must see"?

Things to Consider:

  • Think ahead to how you will move vistors through your garden when you tempt them to explore. You might need to install a path and lighting for safety and convenience.
  • When selecting plants, consider how much shade you have in your space. Full shade means little to no light; Partial shade means some light all day; Partial sun means light for a significant portion of the day. 
  • These corners might be either very dry or very wet as they are rarely cultivated. Be sure to address any soil or drainage issues before planting. 

Read More:

Tips for Planting in Shade

Brighten Your Early Fall Shade Garden

Tips for Planting in Dry Shade

Enchanted Forest®
Sunsprite™ Pieris

Who couldn't use a 10' tall and wide shade-lover that's covered in fragrant late winter blooms? Partial shade. Zone: 6 - 8

Nuccio's Bella Rossa
Camellia

Dull corners will come to life with this winter-into-spring blooming shade lover. Filtered sun to full shade. Zone: 8 - 10

Double Shot®
Watermelon Azalea

Watermelon-pink flowers twice a year! You read that rightspring and again in summer. Full to partial shade. Zone: 6 - 9

I Need to Add Oomph to a Garden Border

We love a garden border's way of filling a space with a show-off sequence of bloom and layers of texture and color. That said, nearly every border is made better with at least a few evergreen shrubs to provide structure, beautiful foliage that amplifies the impact of nearby blooms, and off-season interest. 

Things to Consider:

  • When it comes to planting shrubs in borders, repetition rules. Planting evergreen shrubs in your border is better in odd numbers of 3, 5, 7 either clustered or repeated throughout the space, or in pairs if a more formal layout. Unless you intend on making it a centerpiece, avoid plunking a single shrub of any type into a border.
  • Think about your overall design and what your border is missing. Do you want something with lots of contrast for impact? Something that adds depth without becoming a focal point? Do you need height in the back or low cover in the front? 
  • Pay attention to the available planting space and plan accordingly. Find useful design math here

Read More:

Design School: Breaking Down Borders

Design School: Back of the Border Plants

All About Grafted Gardenias

Miniature
Gardenia (Grafted)

Gorgeous glossy green leaves. Grafted onto superior rootstock to help thrive in poor soils. Full sun. Zone: 8 - 11

Lilla
Smoke Bush

Reaching 4' tall and wide, this purple-leafed beauty is right-sized for the middle layer of a border. Frothy plumes (wow). Full sun. Zone: 4 - 8

Little Ollie®
Dwarf Olive

Neutral silvery/green/grey color of this non-fruiting evergreen provides a soothing spot to rest the eye in a riotous border. Full sun. Zone: 8 - 11

I Need Sexy, Sculptural Shapes for Impact

Sure, fabulous flowers get all the press, but don't underestimate the show-stopping star power of evergreen shrubs that are either naturally round, pyramidal or columnar, have a wild almost untamed appeal, or that can be easily sheared into compelling shapes. As a focal point, in a container, or massed, these sexy shrubs make any garden look "designer."

Things to Consider:

  • While a topiary in a container is a classic that we love, don't underestimate the power of planting a topiary into a bed, border, or front door-scape.
  • Combining shapes is a sophisticated way to bring rhythm to and play with scale in your garden. A few cones with a few orbs and maybe a square is about all you'd need to make a statement.
  • Part of what makes this idea work is attention to pruning. Consult with your local garden center for classes or advice on timing and technique.

Read More:

Let's Talk Topiary

10 Things Topiary Lovers Should Know

Golf Ball
Pittosporum

In warmer zones where boxwood struggles, this fuss-free shrub give the look. Natural rounded shape seldom needs pruning. Full sun. Zone: 8 - 11

Petite Pillar™
Dwarf Boxwood

Lustrous foliage is easily clipped into topiary shapes or grows naturally into a tidy columnar form. Full sun. Zone: 5 - 9

Lemon Swirl®
Australian Brush Cherry

Luminous variegated foliage on a tall shrub ideal for hedge or shaped as warm zone formal topiary. Full sun. Zone: 9 - 11

I Need to Frame a Door (or Killer View)

One of the best garden designer tricks for creating a stop-and-look moment in the landscape is to install specimen plants in pairs. Maybe you need some street cred that could come by flanking the front door or you have a fabulous view that would be made Instagram-worthy by "framing" it with plants. Gates, entrances, focal points, paths...symmetrical plantings always work. 

Things to Consider:

  • Once again, the caution here is to be very aware of the height, depth, and width of your available planting space. No one wants to fight their way though too large shrubs to the front door!
  • When selecting plants for a symmetrical design, try to purchase what you need from the same group of plants on the nursery floor. You want your plants to match as best as possible.
  • If this type of strict symmetry doesn't work in your informal garden, the trick here is to add a second plant of a different height to one side so you have an asymmetrical look that is still pleasing. Video here. 

Green Columnar
Juniper

Upright, pyramidal form with bright-green foliage on dense, tight branches. Available in spirals and poodle columns, too. Full sun. Zone: 4 - 9

Bright 'N Tight™
Carolina Laurel

Handsome tidy appearance. Adapts well to occasional pruning to control size and form. Full sun. Zone: 7 - 11

Double-Flowering
Crape Jasmine

Sweetly fragrant, frilly, white flowers cover heat tolerant, upright, evergreen shrub. Full sun. Zone: 9 - 11

I Need Always-On Containers

Most of us think of garden containers as a moveable feast of color when filled with flowering shrubs, perennials, or annuals. But containers can also be garden anchors when filled with evergreen shrubs that do not flower but instead offer up forms and foliage that stay interesting year-round. 

Things to Consider:

  • Permanent shrubs plantings in containers require a bit more advance planning such as selecting pots that are weatherproof and can stand up to winter without cracking, flaking or crumbling. Your local garden center will have the best advice.
  • Your permanent shrub planters will fill up with roots over the course of a few seasons which likley means you will need to water more often. Also, the plants will consume nutrients in your planting mix over the first year so be sure to feed regularly according to label directions or garden center advice.
  • As a general rule, you should opt for a container that is double the width and two times the depth of the nursery container in which your shrub was grown. This will provide the room needed for growing strong, deep roots.

More:

7 Shrubs for Fall-Into-Winter Containers

5 One-Pot Wonders for All-Day Sun (Z: 3 - 7)

5 One-Pot Wonders for All-Day Sun Zone 8 - 11

Tiny Tower®
Dwarf Alberta Spruce

It's Christmas everyday! Fill a large container with this elegant dwarf spruce's pyramidal form. Full sun. Zone: 3 - 8

Little Ragu®
Sweet Bay

Calling all cooks! More compact, container-perfect sweet bay with aromatic, edible foliage on unique red-tinged stems. Full sun. Zone: 8 - 11

Jade Waves™
Fernspray False Cypress

Compact habit and form with sprays of fern-like foliage is an inspired choice for modern containers. Full sun. Zone: 4 - 8

I Need to Be More Waterwise

Even if water conservation is not currently an issue where you live, selecting plants that require fewer resources is a smart idea for your wallet and the planet. For those regions where waterwise is a way of life, filling the garden with plants that are showy at different times of the year keeps it interesting. 

Things to Consider:

  • One of the keys to waterwise gardening is to add organic material to the soil to increase its capacity to hold moisture and make it available to plants. Rather than using chemical fertilizers with high nitrogen that serve to increase leafy foliage, adding compost will help to ensure that your plants can thrive.
  • Concentrating plants with similar watering needs makes your life easier and ensures that plants get what they need.
  • When thinking about a waterwise garden, choose plants that are native or adapted to your region. Your local garden center has great advice.

Read More:

Cool Combo: White + Waterwise

10 Beautiful Waterwise Shrubs

Oo-La-La®
Bougainvillea

Magenta-red flowers bloom longer; compact for cascading or as spreading groundcover. Full sun. Zone: 10 - 11

Heatwave™
Sparkle Sage

Showy, sun-loving, compact and drought tolerant, this tough little shrub really shines! Full sun. Zone: 6 - 10

Slim™
Bottlebrush

New, slender version of classic bottlebrush that's heat-loving and drought tolerant once established. Full sun. Zone 8 - 11

I Need Winter Interest

"Evergreen" is not often associated with winter depending on where you live, but nature has thoughtfully provided us with quite a few plants that put on a show even in the depths of January. You will never regret forgoing a few deciduous beauties (yes, we love roses and hydrangeas, too) when you look out the winter window and see wonderful spots of greenery. 

Things to Consider:

  • Not only will you get a thrill out of seeing gorgeous greenery in winter, but you will be providing shelter and cover for birds and wildlife. Inviting wildlife in winter can help to create a place they might want to visit in spring or summer when pests are a problem.
  • Winter-hardy evergreen shrubs can vary from leafy like rhododendrons to needles like conifers. While a stand of conifers is a thrill to be sure, it's also wise to expand your plant palette to include as many kinds of foliage as you can. This looks great but also invites a more diverse group of wildlife visitors.
  • Winter-hardy conifers can be slow to grow. Resist the temptation to overplant or plant closer to a wall, fence, or house because the empty space looks off. You may pay for that mistake later!

Read More:

Late-Blooming Camellias for Winter Interest

Colorful, Cold-Loving Conifers

Sparkler®
Colorado Blue Spruce

Stunning blue-green winter foliage is made even better by bright yellow-gold new spring growth. Full sun. Zone: 2- 8

Jazzy Jewel®
Andorra Juniper

Bright foliage tinged with bronze and purple tones during winter months, for an added color blast. Full sun. Zone: 3 - 9

Scallywag™
Holly

Shiny dark green foliage takes on purple-burgundy hue in fall and winter. Small space solution; lovely for edging borders. Full sun. Zone: 5 - 9

Learn More