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Evergreen in Zone 5? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted Feb 25 2010 11:36am
In hopes of creating some winter interest, I have planted a number of shrubs and perennials that are touted as being evergreen in zone 5. I'm not a big fan of prickly spruces or highly allergenic junipers, but I have kept my eye out for some broad-leaved evergreens, which are few and far between for my climate. Here's a rundown one how some of my choices have fared this winter, starting with the good and moving on to the bad and ugly.

The only coniferous evergreens in my yard are baby 'Blue Star' junipers, which do not produce pollen (unlike the rest of their family). With a hardiness rating all the way down to zone 3, of course they're doing perfectly well. I am completely in love with this steely blue color. Winter has brought out some interesting pinkish highlights, which you won't see in this photo because it was taken last fall. All of these photos are from last summer or fall. I couldn't make myself venture out into the cold today to get fresh ones, sorry.

My favorite 'Otto Luyken' laurels are looking better than last winter, with very little windburn on the leaves. I think this is because their roots have had another year to grow, so they can find moisture more easily even when the top layer of ground is frozen. I know gardeners in warmer climates think laurels are boring, but I am SO HAPPY to have one good-looking, glossy, broad-leaved evergreen in the garden.

'Blue Emerald' creeping phlox still has some green in its leaves, but they're mostly an unattractive purplish-brown. There definitely aren't any flowers right now (this photo is from last fall, remember?). These plants aren't adding any beauty to the garden right now, but maybe they're better than bare earth?

My hellebores are causing a dilemma. The ones that are shaded by the house in winter have lovely green leaves, but they don't have any flowers buds yet. The ones that are getting some winter sun have flower buds but also have large brown areas on the leaves. The whole point of hellebores is to get early flowers, right? But I'd also like pretty green leaves in winter. Apparently the bad news is that you can't have both here in zone 5.

Some of my heucheras are more evergreen than others, but none of them look fabulous. 'Green Spice', shown above in summer, is now showing all shades of grey. 'Prince of Silver' is probably the best looking of the family, but it has a bunch of dead dogwood leaves caught between its mauvey-silver leaves, which kind of ruins its appearance. 'Palace Purple' melted after the first frost. 'Lime Rickey' and 'June Bride' are somewhere between bad and ugly.

Although evergreen 'Big Blue' liriope is hardy in zone 5, it is definitely not evergreen. Its leaves are currently grey and rotting, though I can see a bit of green at the base. I expect it will be lovely again in the summer, but right now it's definitly ugly.

My 'Elfin Pink' penstemon (leaves shown above in summer) are almost exactly the same color as the liriope right now - ugly rotten grey. Although they were touted as evergreen, I guess that only applies to warmer climates.
Other evergreens in my garden include candytuft/Iberis sempervirens (currently purple-brown and sagging), 'Emerald Gaeity' euonymus (only looking so-so, but with interesting pink tones in the leaves) and Vinca minor (looking pretty good). I plan to add a couple of 'Green Tower' boxwoods this spring, which supposedly keep their green color all winter - wait for an update in a year and I'll tell you how they do. And the very best, secret weapon, iron-tough 'evergreens' that I'm planning to add? Some big boulders! They'll add some structure and winter interest and look just as good in winter as in summer. I picked out some pretty ones a few weeks ago and will post pictures of them soon.
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