Shrubs are a great way to add texture and versatility to your garden. They can be used in any garden style and they look good when combined with other plants. Evergreen shrubs are particularly convenient as they require little maintenance and they look great all year long.
If you are new to the gardening world and have never planted shrubs in your garden, you must do it as soon as possible. If you are not convinced, keep reading our article to discover some key advantages of evergreen hedges.
We also included some useful tips for caring for evergreen shrubs as well as a list of our favourite evergreen shrubs. We guarantee that once you start experimenting with these plants, you will fall in love with them and your garden will become greener and more attractive.
Best Evergreen Shrubs for Your Garden
There is a wide range of evergreen plants that will serve your needs, but we gathered the ones with the most benefits and the least requirements. Evergreen shrubs are divided into coniferous shrubs and broadleaf shrubs.
Coniferous shrubs have needle-like foliage and they produce cones. As the name suggests broadleaf shrubs have wider foliage. They can also have various flowering habits. Nonetheless, they also share similar traits, aside from their evergreen foliage. For example, both types of shrubs are slow growers and have very long lifespans. Mixing both types of shrubs is a great way to keep your garden diverse, even in the wintertime.
To help you decide what is best for your garden, we have prepared a list of our favorite evergreen hedges.
Boxwood is a broad-leaf shrub that is hardy for USDA zones 5 to 9. It tends to grow as wide as it grows tall. Most urban shrubs reach an average size of 120 cm (45 inches), but in ideal environments, a mature shrub can reach a top of 240 cm (100 inches). Boxwood has small, oval, or lanceolate leaves.
The leaves are glossy and leathery; their shape is a good indicator of the shrub variety. The leaves of Boxwood shrubs grow in pairs of two in an opposite pattern. The colour of the leaves is also an indicator of the shrub variety. It can range from light green to blue-green and dark green. These shrubs have insignificant flowers and are only grown for their attractive foliage.
This shrub grows best in full sun or partial sun. It can also handle shade, but it will grow slower and show less impressive foliage. It needs well-drained soil, but other than that it is not picky in terms of soil requirements.
Water it deeply and infrequently for the best results. Mulch it to help it retain moisture. The mulch layer should be about 5 cm (2 inches) wide and it should extend about 30 cm (12 inches) past the foliage.
Popular varieties of Boxwood: American Boxwood, English Boxwood, Fastigiata Boxwood, Japanese Boxwood, Glencoe Boxwood, Dee Runk Boxwood, Vardar Valley Boxwood, Morris Midget Boxwood, etc.
You can learn more about growing and caring for this versatile ornamental by reading our Complete Guide to Buxus Sempervirens.
This evergreen shrub thrives in USDA zones 4 to 8. There are several species in this genus and their size can differ greatly from one specie to another. Some species can reach a top height of 4 meters (150 inches), while others don’t grow taller than one meter. Its width tends to be as big as its height.
This ornamental plant is grown for its spectacular flowers, but it retains its leaves all year long, keeping your garden looking neat and lively. The size of the leaves can range from 1 cm (0.3 inches) to 100 cm (40 inches). The leaves can be rounded, elliptical, or lance-shaped. The most common flowers are pink, but this shrub genus can also deliver blooms in shades of white, red, yellow, purple, blue, orange, and magenta.
Rhododendrons are woodland shrubs, so they grow best in partial shade. To achieve the best results, make sure you plant them in autumn or spring in well-drained soil. Rhododendrons appreciate soil that is kept moist and it will help if you frequently enrich it with organic matter.
Some dwarf alpine varieties of Rhododendron can make perfect additions to rock gardens. Don’t plant Rhododendrons too deeply and make sure to apply a thick layer of at least 7 cm of mulch. If possible try to water these ornamentals only with rainwater.
Tap water will also work, but it might affect the roots, so it is not recommended for long periods of time. Apply a general fertilizer in late winter or early spring. This shrub doesn’t require pruning but the occasional deadheading will help it a lot.
There are many amazing varieties of Rhododendron available on the market and choosing one might be a challenge. Some of our favourites include Rhododendron Catawbiense, Rhododendron x ‘PJM’, Rhododendron Colemanii, Rhododendron ‘Gibraltar’, and Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’.
You can learn more about these flowering shrubs by reading our Complete Guide to Rhododendrons.
3. Scotch Heather
Known in the botanical world as Calluna vulgaris, this plant has been used for numerous purposes throughout our history. Calluna means to brush in Latin, a name it got due to the fact that it was once used for making brooms. It was also used for making building materials, ropes, and other useful items.
Nowadays, Calluna is mostly grown for its rich foliage and its flowers that resemble lavender flowers. It is suitable for USDA zones 4a to 6a. Scotch heather blooms from mid-summer to early fall. Its flowers are purple or white. A mature shrub can reach a top height of 30 cm with a width of 60 cm.
Scotch Heather prefers acidic soil. The soil should be fertile and have excellent drainage. To enjoy its beautiful blooms, you must plant it somewhere where it gets full sun exposure in the morning and plenty of afternoon shade. It can survive winter without mulch, provided that it is covered by a consistent layer of snow. In areas with less snow and lower temperatures, apply a heavy layer of mulch.
Most junipers can grow in USDA zones 8 to 10 but some cold-hardy varieties can grow in zones 3-7. Some species can reach a top height of 15 m, with a top spread of 6 m. Young leaves are shaped like needles but mature leaves are awl-shaped. They grow in whorls of three. Scale-like leaves are also present in some species. It blooms in small yellow flowers which turn to cones. In some species, the cones look like leathery berries.
Junipers grow best in full sun exposure or places with a light shade. You can tell if a juniper shrub is getting too much shade because its branches will start to spread to allow more sun to get to the leaves. It can grow in different types of soil, from rocky to grainy or loamy. Juniper shrubs can handle poor soil, but they don’t tolerate too much moisture.
The soil should be lightly moist but it must have very good drainage. As far as its water needs go, mature shrubs get all their moisture from the soil. Young plants need to be watered once a week or once every two weeks depending on the local weather.
Some of the most attractive types of Juniper shrubs are California juniper (Juniperus californica), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Drooping Juniper (Juniperus flaccida), Greek Juniper (Juniperus exelsa), One-seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma), Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), Hymalaian Juniper (Juniperus squamata), etc.
You can learn more about these ornamentals by reading our Complete Guide to Blue Star Juniper.
5. Blue Holly
Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Princess’ is commonly known in the gardening world as Blue Holly. The name of this ornamental shrub comes from its glossy blue-green leaves. This shrub thrives in USDA zones 5 to 8. It can reach a top height of 4 meters with a width of 3 meters. It is grown mostly for its foliage, but it also grows some lovely deep-red berries.
In order for it to bear berries, you need to plant both male and female shrubs. The female shrub is also known as the Blue Princess while the male shrub is known as the Blue Prince. It is recommended to have at least one male shrub for every three female shrubs. It’s a slow grower compared to other holly species. Expect it to grow about 30-60 cm per year.
This evergreen shrub grows best in full sun or partial shade. It needs moist, slightly acidic soil with good drainage. It is best to plant it in early fall, but you can also plant it in spring if you live in a colder region. Its roots are rather shallow so a good layer of mulch is necessary to help it retain its moisture during wintertime.
You can learn more about this ornamental by reading our Complete Guide to Ilex Shrubs.
6. Winter Heath
This shrub grows best in USDA zones 5 to 7. It is known in the botanical world as Erica Carnea. It grows about 30 cm tall and 60-90 cm wide. It needs to be spaced 60 cm apart. It has elliptical narrow leaves that grow in closely-knit whorls. The leaves grow perpendicularly to the stem. The flowers are shaped like urns. Each flower has four sepals and four petals. It is grown for its showy light-purple flowers.
To enjoy an abundance of blooms plant this shrub in a spot that gets full sun exposure. This shrub needs well-drained soil. In areas with very hot summers, it will need partial shade. It prefers sandy acidic soil. New plants need a good amount of water, otherwise, they may dry out. This is a very hardy shrub, so you won’t have to worry about diseases. Pruning is not necessary, but it will promote bushier foliage.
If you want to grow this versatile shrub in your garden, make sure you read our Guide to Winter Heath.
7. Golden Euonymus
Euonymus is known by many different names depending on the variety and the English-speaking country. You might be familiar with this shrub already and you might refer to it as wintercreeper, strawberry-bush, spindle, burning-bush, or wahoo.
This ornamental shrub is hardy to USDA zones 6 to 9. A mature Euonymus shrub can reach a top height of 180 cm (70 inches) and a top width of 90 cm (35 inches). Its leaves are green with bold gold variegations. Euonymus changes colour throughout the year so expect the leaves to be darker in winter and spring with stronger variegations in summer and fall. The oval-shaped leaves are large and glossy.
Golden Euonymus prefers full or partial sun. It needs moist, rich soil with good drainage. It can adapt to different types of soil. Young plants need to be watered deeply. You may need to water it twice a week until it establishes a good root system. Applying some fertilizer in the spring will help it grow stronger and faster.
You can learn more about this versatile shrub from our Complete Guide to Euonymus.
8. Japanese Aralia
Japanese Aralia is another shrub with interesting foliage that will add versatility to your garden. Also known as Fatsia Japonica, this shrub prefers warmer climates and is hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10. It can reach a top height of 240 cm (95 inches) with a similar width.
It is a great background plant that will add an exotic vibe to any environment. It has glossy, deeply loved leaves. The leaves are quite large and can reach a top length of 30 cm (12 inches). The flowers are similar to ivy and they turn into berries.
This is a great plant for a location that gets partial or full shade. It prefers moist, well-drained soil. It thrives in neutral or acidic soil. This plant needs to be watered regularly during spring and summer when it grows actively. Late spring is the best time for pruning. If you feel that the plant needs a little help to develop bushier foliage, you can cut it back completely in late winter.
You can learn how to grow and care for this ornamental shrub by reading our Complete Guide to Japanese Aralia.
Advantages of having evergreen shrubs in your garden
Evergreen shrubs stay alive even during winter
While the rest of your garden goes to sleep in the cold season, evergreen shrubs remain green all year long. Their colours can fade sometimes during cold temperatures, but they retain their attractive foliage. Shrubs are usually used as background plants or dividers, so they can pass unnoticed in the warm season when the garden flourishes. However, during winter, they take centre stage and prevent your garden from looking dull and lifeless.
Evergreen shrubs provide shelter from the wind and the sun
Shrubs are very sturdy and dense. Their rich foliage can prove to be very useful in blocking wind and snowdrifts. You can improve their wind-blocking abilities by planting in rows. Depending on the size of the shrubs, they can protect more delicate ornamental plants and flowers, but also patio furniture or even buildings.
If you have a house wall that is frequently exposed to wind, you can use a shrub barrier as natural insulation. Moreover, shrubs are very useful in absorbing the sun’s heat and casting a cool shade. Shrubs can vary greatly in size from one species to another, so make sure you give them sufficient space to thrive.
Ornamental shrubs are useful for the ecosystem
A shrub can be home to birds and other small creatures. It is also a great place for small creatures to hide from predators. Some shrubs can also bear cones or berries which are a great food source for birds. As a rule of thumb, the more diverse a garden is, the more useful it is for the ecosystem. As such, make sure your garden includes at least a few shrubs.
You can use shrubs to create quiet and private spaces
Not only are shrubs great as heat insulators, but they also keep dust at bay and can form sound barriers. If you live close to a busy street, the noise can become a nuisance. Luckily, unpleasant noise can be blocked by the density of a shrub’s foliage. Just like footsteps are muffled by a carpet, so are street noises muffled by shrubs.
So, if you live in a noisy area, you can use shrubs to create a sound barrier. Tall shrubs can also create privacy. Many people use shrubs as natural fences. You can also place them along existing fences for privacy and shelter from various annoying outdoor factors.
Shrubs purify the air
All plants clean the air, but the purifying properties can differ from one plant to another. Due to their dense foliage, shrubs are great air purifiers. Moreover, since they remain green all year long, they never cease to clean the air. Moreover, evergreen scents are also very refreshing and relaxing. Pine scents always make you feel as if you are in a forest, so your stress will melt away as soon as you sit next to your evergreen shrubs.
Ornamental shrubs can be used for décor purposes
Evergreen shrubs make for great greenery for different types of decorations. Pinecone branches can be used for making wreaths. Broadleaf branches on the other hand look great in vases and centrepieces. Shrubs are also sturdy enough to be decorated. If you opt for conifers, you can decorate them with ribbons, lights, and other seasonal decorations during the winter holidays.
How to care for evergreen shrubs
Evergreen shrubs are quite hardy and don’t need a lot of attention. We love these ornamentals because they do not require a lot of maintenance. The trick is to be aware of their needs from the get-go and to plant them in the right place. When they are planted in the right spot, these hedges will need minimum care.
Step #1 – Planting
The most important risk with evergreen shrubs is the potential of drying out during wintertime. If you can plant them on the north side of your property, they will get a good amount of sun in the summer and some much-needed shade in the winter.
As far as the soil requirements go, good drainage is essential. A slightly acidic pH can also give your shrubs a better chance to thrive. If your shrubs are not planted in the best position of the local winters are not favourable for them you can apply an anti-desiccant coating in late fall. This will help the shrubs do a better job conserving water.
Step #2 – Watering
Watering is particularly important for newly planted shrubs. You should check the soil moisture at least once a week. You must check the soil at a depth of 10-15 cm. It should feel slightly damp. Each plant has different needs, but most young evergreen shrubs require moist soil. Keep in mind that evergreen shrubs continue to lose moisture in the cold season, especially on sunny or windy days.
As such, you must help them survive the cold season by watering them deeply in autumn. Nonetheless, make sure not to drown your young plants. The soil should have good drainage. If it takes too long for the soil to drain add some organic matter to it. Organic matter also helps soil that is too handy by improving its water retention capacity.
When it comes to the watering schedule, try to water your shrubs early in the morning. This will allow the excess water to drain by nightfall, thus preventing root rot. Avoid watering during the afternoon, as much of the water will evaporate due to the heat. Watering deeply and infrequently will help develop a stronger root system. On the other hand, light and frequent watering sessions lead to shallow root systems and make the plants very sensitive to draughts.
Step #3 – Pruning
While evergreens are advertised as low maintenance, all shrubs require pruning to maintain a groomed look. Before you grab your pruning tools, you must determine the right time for this task. Spring is the best time for trimming evergreen shrubs. Make sure the danger of the last frost has completely passed before you get to work.
Some gardeners like to do light pruning before the growth period starts. Nonetheless, most gardeners will prune their shrubs in mid or late spring. If you allow your shrubs to grow a little before pruning them, you will have a better idea of how to prune them to maintain their natural look. Nonetheless, if the shrubs are flowering, you should allow the flowering process to end before pruning.
As far as the equipment goes, a pair of hand clippers are essential if you are going for a natural look. If you are feeling creative, you might also need some hedge trimmers and some loppers. Pruning in a natural shape is recommended not only for beginners but for most gardeners. Unless you are expecting a formal crowd to visit your garden, there is no need to trim a plant into an unnatural shape.
Be careful, not to shear too deep because evergreens are slow growers and they can take a long time to recover from a deep wound. To prune in a natural look, follow the direction of the plant limbs and try to maintain the plant’s overall shape, in a more groomed style and on a smaller scale.
Cut overgrown limbs and cut back in places where you want to see new growth. Take frequent pauses to analyze your progress and make sure you are maintaining a natural look.
A small disadvantage of evergreen shrubs consists of the fact that some varieties tend to grow very quickly and, without pruning, they can get out of control. Older shrubs can become quite difficult to remove, especially if they are overgrown. In addition to that, some varieties such as boxwood and holly can affect the foundation of your house, so make sure you plant them within a safe distance from buildings and fences.
These are but a few of the many evergreen shrubs that can beautify your garden all year long. We hope that you will pick at least a few for your garden. If you opt for other evergreen plants make sure to check their needs before planting them.
Keep in mind that evergreen plants are very hardy, but each specie can have specific requirements. Most hedges need pruning, but remember to always stick to the shrub’s natural shape. Unnatural shapes may look good in formal environments, but they require a lot of work to be maintained in those shapes.
What types of evergreen shrubs are you currently growing in your garden? Let us know in the comments!