Plant colorful evergreen shrubs to liven up the landscape

By Jim Janke | Jun 09, 2014

For most folks the word “evergreen” generates a mental picture of narrow-leafed plants like yews, pines and cypress. Or perhaps they think of broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and cherry laurels. And certainly these plants have an important role to play in landscape design in the mountains.

But if you want to add color and interest to your landscape, try one of these four. They are all evergreen or semi-evergreen in our climate.

— Doghobble or Fetterbush (Leucothoe fontanesiana) is a moderate grower in partial to full shade. Different varietals are available that are less than 2 feet or more than 6 feet tall and wide. Some have bronze or reddish foliage, especially in fall. We use ‘Scarletta’ (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Scarletta’) as foundation plants on the north and west sides of our house and only need to trim them every few years. Leucothoe likes acidic soils, in the range of pH 4.5 to 6.0.

— Heavenly Bamboo ‘Firepower’ (Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’) is widely used for its dramatic red leaves; other varietals have different foliage colors. Heights range from 1 to 6 feet. Nandina is best in partial or full sun, and will tolerate a wide range of acidic soils, pH 4 to 6.5. Plant in large groups for the best effect.

— Barberries (Berberis thunbergii) are popular for their foliage color. Leaves can be various shades of purple, red, gold, orange, green, or bronze. Many varieties have bright yellow flowers in spring. Barberries will withstand both slightly acidic and slightly basic soils with a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5. Sizes between 1 and 6 feet tall are available. Use them to form a hedge impenetrable to neighbors and their pets, or as accent plants.

— St. John’s Wort (Hypericum sp.) is a group of semi-evergreen shrubs with long-lasting yellow flowers in summer. Varieties are available that only get 6 inches tall, while others reach 4 feet tall and wide. Partial to full sun and neutral soil (pH 6.5 to 7.5) are preferred. We have a triangular group of Hypericum x moseranum ‘Tricolor’ on a slope between 3 crabapple trees, and the multicolored foliage provides an interesting contrast to the surrounding vegetation.

Planting.  Get a soil test to determine if any amendments need to be added. Soak the roots well before planting, but don’t drown them in a full bucket of water overnight. Dig a hole at least twice as wide as the root ball and just as deep, then break up the soil in the bottom of the hole with a garden fork. Add organic matter like compost or pine bark to the soil from the hole, and mix in a handful or two of rock phosphate or superphosphate. Do not add any other fertilizer at planting time. Place the plant in the hole so that it will be at the same level as it was in the nursery container.

Watering. Soak immediately after planting and every few days for a couple of weeks. Water deeply on a regular basis for the first 2 years. Once established they shouldn’t require watering except in extreme droughts.

Fertilizing. Wait a couple of months until the roots are established, then add a light application of a balanced fertilizer (like 10-10-10) every other month until mid-summer. Fertilize once in spring the second and third years. You shouldn’t have to fertilize after that unless a soil test shows a deficiency.

Be sure to locate these plants where you will see them all year, especially in winter when color is at a premium.

For more information, call the Haywood County Extension Center at 456-3575. © 2014 NC State University.

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