Non-conifer evergreen plants

bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)February 29, 2012

We all have conifers, wonderful evergreen plants for New England, and I do like them very much. But has anyone anything to contribute regarding other broadleaf evergreen plants? We all know about Rhododendron and Azalea, but what else are you all growing? What about Aucuba, Cherry Laurel, Ilicium, Camellia, Gardenia and other evergreen plants such as yucca, bamboo, agave or even the hardy palms (Trachycarpus and Rhapidophyllum)? I do love our traditional New England temperate gardens, and I have many of the "must haves", but I'm also interested in adding new things too. I hesitate to use the term "exotic", because many of the things that are so common in our gardens today, actually are exotic in the true meaning of the word, i. e. they originated elsewhere and were brought here at some time in the past, probably by pioneering gardeners who, like me, also wanted to add new things. So who's growing what and where?

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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Not really exotic, but I grow osmanthus and various ilex species. I inherited a huge old Osmanthus heterophyllus and I keep adding Osmanthus 'Goshiki' and lately 'Gulftide'" to make a grove. Fall flowers that are fragrant.

As far as hollies, I have Ilex opaca 'Goldie', 'Jersey Knight', and 'Maryland Dwarf'; Ilex meserveae 'Blue Maid' and 'Honey Maid'. Lots of pieris species too.


    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:05AM
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NHBabs z4b-5a NH(4b-5aNH)

Many of the ones in Bill's list are not hardy here, and certainly none of what I have would qualify as exotic. In addition to Rhododendrons I have Leucothoe, Kalmia (Mountain Laurel), some heathers (Calluna), and one bamboo which stays greenish, but never gets huge and usually has some die-back. I use it rather like a large grass, and though I don't need to cut it to the ground in spring, it does need some trimming most years, particularly if we've had heavy wet snow. I don't expect it will get much bigger than 4-5'. I also have one variegated boxwood that has survived 6 or so years, but not gotten taller than about a foot over all that time.

In my previous garden I had a yucca grown from seed I had found in Colorado. It was a very sharp plant and though I liked the flowers, I don't think I'd grow it again. I also had an Erica (heath) which I loved.

There are also a bunch of low-growing evergreen plants that really brighten things up after hard freeze when there isn't snow on the ground: Heuchera, cranberry (Vaccinium), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), Polygola, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and clubmosses (Lycopodium).

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:35AM
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I have both variegated and solid dark green euonymus here and there in my garden. I love the solid green best altho' there's a yellow/green variegated that's lovely, just very small still after 5 years. They're very slow growing.

Variegated Japanese sedge/Carex 'Ice Dance' retains both form and color right through the winter. Last year I planted divisions to edge a bed in place of the rocks I'd used originally. It looks much better. A solid blue/gray C. nigra also retains its form year-round. Stokesia laevis/Stoke's aster 'Klaus Jelitto' has remained green through the winter as well altho' it's relatively new so I can't say it does so every winter.

Vinca minor/creeping myrtle makes an evergreen groundcover that's apparently just as happy in full sun as it is in deep shade and everything in between. There are large carpets of it here and there around my garden, planted long ago by my parents. I rip it out where I don't want it and let it keep spreading in areas like steep banks and under the hydrangea along the boundary.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:41AM
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asarum(z6 Boston)

Aucuba Mr. Goldstrike was planted in dry shade one fall, but didn't return. I must say that in the woods where I planted it, it didn't really look at home. So I am not sure that I can think of a good setting for this in my yard. I had been interested in plants that could tolerate dry shade.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:42AM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

I am growing 2 varieties of cherry laurel: Otto Luykens and Schipkaensis. I love these plants. The leaves are very glossy and more attractive than rhodies in winter and the flower spikes in spring have a very strong and pleasant aroma. And deer WILL NOT eat them. Schipkaensis is a very attractive and large upright variety that is decently hardy and is in my opinion a very under utilized plant in southern New England. It makes a great hedge or screen. I am also growing Aucuba successfully--another under utlized plant I think. What else---I have 2 varieties of southern magnolia--Braken Brown Beauty and Edith Bogue. The BBB is huge now---my EB is young. But I am finding the EB to be more hardy in that it is less apt to burn in a colder than normal winter. I also have a Nellie Stevens holly (a cross between Enlglish and Chinese Holly I think) is an attractive variety but it will not be hardy much further north than the south coast. I have also tried Pyracantha--but not much luck. I had it sighted in an open windy location and it died back after the cold January of 2004. But I think it would do fine in a more sheltered spot. But those thorns! Too painful for me.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 1:23PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Asarum, I would try planting Aucuba in spring rather than fall. Especially if it's in a dry area, because the roots won't have time to grow with a fall planting, and that can lead to drying out problems from winter wind. Usually the drying in winter is the cause of failure more than cold for many broadleaf evergreens.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 1:26PM
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One of my favorite evergreens, not used anywhere near as much as it should
be, is nandina domestica - especially now that they've developed so many
hardier new varieties. Not all N.E. gardens can use it, since z. 6b is pretty
much it's limit. . .but it's list of attributes is impressive: tolerates dry shade;
can definitely handle root competition (several of my specimens have thrived
for 15 years under silver maples!); lovely clusters of small white flowers in Spring, which turn into clusters of brilliant red berries that frequently last
the winter; the leaves of many varieties take on a lovely purplish cast over
the winter, and Nandina "Fire Power" actually burns red, after sporting
chartreuse foliage in the Spring! To top it all off, they produce seedlings
(from the occasional berry droped by a bird) as well as off-shoots from
the spreading plant, which is in no way invasive.

This is my first season trying Spring-blooming camellia ('April Kiss'), but
it certainly seems to have survived this unusually mild winter. . .after three
years, the Viburnum x pragense still faithfully retains it's leaves all winter,
as does the lovely Buxus 'Golden Dream' (courtesy of Variegated Foliage
Nursery in CT). My Abelia grandiflora and Abelia 'Little Richard' are both
considered "semi-evergreen", but this winter they've retained almost
complete foliage.


    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:35PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I am not the adventurous gardener that Bill is but I did try an evergreen shrub called Ilex 'Sunny Foster'. Forest Farm lists it as hardy to zone 6. I bought it at a nursery in CT after seeing a gorgeous specimen in a garden. Very carefully sited it after discussion with them. Next spring it was dead as a doornail. I am in zone 6a, so I don't know why it didn't work out.

I have a lot of dry shade in my garden (the Ilex SF was not planted in those conditions though), and that is a challenge. Boxwood does very well for me. I've bought Taxus and that does well. Ilex 'Honey Maid' along with the usual Blue Hollies seems to like me. I am even having trouble with Rhododendron and Azaleas. I have a Leucothoe axillaris, that does okay. So it's a good thing I like Boxwood and Hollies.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 9:16AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Prairiemoon, have you ever had a pH test done on your soil? What works and doesn't work sounds pretty familiar. My pH is over 7. Rhododendrons and azaleas take a lot of soil preparation. Boxwood likes it. Taxus tolerates pretty much anything. Evergreen ilex lose some hardiness.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 10:39AM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)


Aren't all us gardeners "adventurous" to some degree? We never know for sure what's going to be the star of the garden or fail miserably! That's part of the fun and challenge. I've had the old tried and true things disappoint completely some years, and other things surprise me with how well they do.

I am surprised that you have problems with Azalea and Rhododendrons though. What's the issue with them? Do they die off, or maybe grow but not bloom, etc.?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 10:41AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Mad gallica and Bill, the last time I tested my soil was about 10 years ago and it was 6.0 at that time. I've already decided to do another soil test this year. We'll see if that has anything to do with it.

Our neighbor across the street has a great Rhododendron in front of his
house that is huge and blooms wonderfully, and he does absolutely nothing to that shrub. So, I'm not sure what the difference is. I have neighbors with five mature Silver Maples within 5 to 15 feet of my lot line on two sides and another neighbor with a London Plane, a White Pine and 7 Spruce trees within 5 to 10 feet of my lot line on another side. And I have a small 1/4 acre lot.

We make our own compost and add it every year and spread a lot of bark mulch too, save neighbors leaves with our own and chop them up and mulch with those, use the sprinklers in dry spells. I just think the surrounding trees are sucking the moisture and the nutrients out of the soil. But, maybe the PH could be part of it.

The azaleas that I've had the longest have grown and bloom every year and are in the front. My kids gave me 'Girard's Fuchsia' azaleas and a 'Nova Zembla' Rhody for Mother's day the last few years and I planted those in the back in the dripline of the Maples. They did bloom the first year, but they are looking like the leaves are sparse and not as vigorous. The Rhody lost foliage and has a number of bare stems. It has new growth around the base, though. They're just not thriving the way they should.

Thanks for mentioning the PH....good idea.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:58PM
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I have a question for the shrub masters: do azaleas have a life expectancy of only X number of years? Reason I ask is my mother planted one in full sun on the south side of the house years ago that's 4+ ft. tall but not particularly robust, produces a limited number of flowers and has fewer than a half dozen main branches. I've read that azaleas prefer part shade. It's also planted about 14 inches away from the foundation so I'm guessing that alone doesn't help an acid lover.

I planted another flame orange one the year I moved here but set it at the northeast corner of the house where it only gets a few hours of morning sun. It's doing okay but has taken a beating during a couple of harsh winters.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 3:00PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Leaching from aged cement isn't a problem. However, there is the question of what is the soil pH. Reasonable unamended soil pHs for my county range from about 4.5 to 8.0. So blind assuming isn't going to get you far.

The strangest part of this, is that here both Cooperative Extension and the local nurseries seem totally ignorant of the lime issue. OTOH, Soil & Water, and the water softener people are quite reliable.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 3:40PM
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squirejohn zone4 VT

Christmas Fern

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 3:50PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

It might be helpful to know what kind of azaleas you're growing. The common hardy types should do well for you in sun or part shade. Shade is sometimes recommended when they are grown further south. Then there are the indica types, the ones sold by florists for Easter and Mothers' Day. Those usually have somewhat larger, softer and fuzzy leaves, and are barely hardy in New England. Then there are the Mollis types that are deciduous, the ones with the big bold red and orange and yellow blooms. They also seem to do fine in full sun here. So if you do go to a nursery it would be really helpful if you know what kind(s) you are having the problem(s) with.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 4:02PM
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The daphnes are evergreen and the d. odora variegata is ready to bloom. I also love my nandina and the red leaved photinia, mountain laurel, mahonia, leucothoe and skimmia. There are the perennials heucheras, black mondo grass, euphorbias, carex ice dancer, hellebores and the cyclamens have been around for a while.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 9:11AM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Hollies (incl. Nellie Stevens), broom (cytisus hollandia), inkberry, bearberry (arctostaphylos uva-ursi; I love that name with the Latin for "bear" at the end).

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 10:52AM
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Yes, Nandina domestica is a wonderful plant - the berries are still brilliant, even now, in March, and some of mine have really nice red winter foliage. That's apparently not ALWAYS a genetically determined trait, since I see wide variation among ones that came as rooted cuttings from the same parent.

I use Euonymus kiautschovicus 'Manhattan' for screening - grows quickly and can be kept narrow if needed. Nice glossy foliage, pretty red berries - someone here complained that it draws flies when in bloom, but I find that interesting, not a problem.

I wish I'd planted much more holly osmanthus, and fewer actual hollies way back when I was working on my privacy screening. The osmanthus is really lovely - I just have a plain green one, but I do love the form.

My variegated daphne doesn't look like it's even thinking of blooming yet - maybe in April?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 6:36PM
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