Q: I want to landscape my new home with evergreens so it looks as good in winter as in summer. Suggestions?
A: While an unchanging yard sounds appealing, evergreen can be, well, ever-boring. If you are still planning, think about the value of seasons and the gifts of a winter landscape: the music of rustling leaves from deciduous trees and the crescendo of bees and birds drawn to fall’s fading blooms and browning seeds, or a glimpse of bright red winter berries seen through an arbor.
After the exuberant growth of coastal summer, isn’t there a sweet relief in winter’s clean, spare landscape? Isn’t it a bit like decluttering, or finally changing that overstuffed victorian room to a fresh, cool Scandinavian look?
An appreciation for winter’s aesthetic asks us to enjoy a quieter beauty. Uplighting the interesting skeleton of deciduous trees creates a dramatic backdrop for winter patio parties around the outdoor fireplace. And there are few sights more arresting than early morning frost sparkling along a beautifully tonal, bare winter stem.
Use your evergreens for what they do best, anchoring corners and foundations, screening views, providing privacy, defining lines and backgrounds. But punctuate evergreens with seasonal plants that offer winter interest (berries, form or structure, seeds, texture), and you can have it all.
Sometimes a specimen actually offers it all, like the evergreen camellia’s winter blooms. Use seasonal plants to add drama. Reserve a spot for colorful winter bulbs, and plant a flowering shrub or two. A single plant bursting into bloom lights up winter’s neutral palette.
Both our evergreen and seasonal plant choices are too numerous to list, but we’ll mention a few for consideration. Native deciduous River Birch offers a dramatic winter profile and the texture of beautifully peeling bark. Crepe myrtle and saucer magnolia are smaller deciduous trees with striking winter structure, texture and tonal color.
Deciduous Japanese laceleaf maples or the textured stems of our native oakleaf hydrangeas retain mass to fill the same empty space in winter as in summer, but with a completely new look. Don’t be afraid to enjoy a skeletal shrub’s role in nature’s cycle of winter hibernation and spring emergence.
Consider the many native plants that feed our wildlife while heralding the seasons. Buttonbush or the purple-berried Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) are deciduous, display seasonal color and enliven the fall and winter landscape with interesting seed pods and berries.
Serviceberry, fringe tree or “Grancy Grey Beard” (Chionanthus virginicus), or the large, shady tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipfera) are other deciduous native trees to consider for seasonal interest.
On to the numerous evergreen options, which must begin with the hollies (G. Ilex), from large trees to dwarf shrubs, filling a variety of landscape roles as well as providing winter’s holiday decor. Give them sunlight, average water and occasional food based on your soil testing result.
From large hollies choose among Savannah Holly, American Holly and Foster’s Holly, Lusterleaf Holly. Among the smaller tree/large shrub hollies, choose from Mary Nell, Nellie R. Stevens, Leah Bates, Burford or Ilex cassine (dahoon holly). Ilex vomitoria offers several varieties filled with colorful winter berries.
The dwarf yaupons are the perfect tough landscape plants for either sun or part shade They suffer from few pests and easily replace somewhat fussier boxwood. Native “Weeping Yaupon” (Ilex vomitoria, v. Pendula) is a small tree of unusual, pendulous form that works as a striking winter specimen with its bright red winter berries.
Magnolia and Live Oak are iconic evergreen trees of the south. The large Southern magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) offers evergreen leaves, a holiday decor bonus and the seasonal interest of summer flowering and fall seed pods.
Fir trees, junipers, pines, cryptomeria, cedars — each offers lush, soft evergreen texture or wonderful fragrance and deserves consideration. A slender tree form for limited space is Podocarpus, often called a yew, and there are varieties that can be pruned as hedges or tree-formed.
Small evergreen trees like the familiar native wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), loquat, citrus and palms are evergreen options, and for dry shade areas don’t forget dependable aucuba and fatsia. For evergreen hedges, screens, groupings, foundations or beds, try cleyera, I. glabra v. “Nigra” inkberry, giant Liriope, “Oscar” dwarf yaupon and other yaupons, “Soft Touch” holly, evergreen azaleas, pittosporum, Agarista populafolia (which has a dwarf form marketed as “Leprechaun”) or one of the many flowering viburnum varieties, which include large shrubs and dwarf forms like the V. obovatum, v. “Ms. Schiller’s Delight.”
Winter’s flowering evergreens are dominated by camellia japonica for shade and camellia sasanqua for sun, heritage plants that have made a home here. Remember that some great seasonal flowering trees are not evergreen, but don’t let that cause you to ignore redbud, cherry, flame azaleas or star and saucer magnolia, with blooms that trumpet winter’s end.
There are good online sources for landscaping tips, or revisit the Ask A Master Gardener two-part landscape series in Lagniappe’s online archives from July 21 and Aug. 4 of this year (lagniappemobile.com/category/style/gardening).
With the artful placement of a few deciduous plants having great skeletal form, and the addition of winter blooms or berries, a year-round evergreen landscape becomes our Southern winter’s gift.
You are invited to these upcoming gardening events:
What: The Holiday Home, Decorating for the Season
Presented by: Carl Clarke, designer and owner of Southern Veranda of Fairhope
When: Monday, Nov. 14, 10 a.m. to noon
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Cost: $15, payable to Mobile County Master Gardeners upon reservation
Reserve by Thursday, Nov. 10, [email protected] or call 251-574-8445
What: Lunch and Learn
When: Monday, Nov. 21, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Long Leaf Pine, a Southern History, presented by Fred Nation
What: Mobile Master Gardeners 2016 Greenery Sale (In conjunction with the MBG Holiday Poinsettia Sale)
When: Friday, Dec. 2 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 3 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile
Please place pre-orders by Nov. 15 for wreaths and best selection
Pre-order form: https://mg.aces.edu/mobile/category/announcements/
Purpose: Helps provide a scholarship for an area student majoring in horticulture
What: Farming 101 (for beginning or transitioning farmers) presented by Mobile County Extension Office
When: Tuesdays from Dec. 6 to April 4, 6-9 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Cost: $80 for entire series or $10 per session (includes materials and refreshments)
For more info: call 251-574-8445 or email [email protected]