Evergreens for Yards and Gardens: Beyond Pines and Spruces, Part 2 Evergreens for Yards and Gardens: Beyond Pines and Spruces, Part 2

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Rhododendrons and Azaleas

Rhododendrons and Azaleas are both members of the Rhododendron family. Similar in growing requirements, the major difference is in the size of the plants and blooms, Azaleas being the smaller of the two. Rhododendrons are often used as shrubs to adorn houses and fence lines, and to brighten spaces below tall trees.

Rhododendrons prefer coarse, acidic soil and need only partial sun, so they are ideally suited to areas where many other plant species cannot grow. Plant Rhododendron species with other plants and shrubs with similar requirements for light and soil, such as ferns and Hydrangeas. Mixing a variety of Rhododendron bushes in coordinating colors makes a striking garden of like-minded plants, too.

Rhododendron flowers vary in color as well, usually from pink to light purple, but sometimes bloom in shades of yellow or orange, depending on the plant variety. Like Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron species bloom in the Spring, extending until early summer, and are a good way to create early color and utilize the remaining foliage as accents to summer blooming perennials.


American and English varieties of Holly are possibly the most well known. Hollies are known for glossy evergreen leaves, pointed at the tips, and striking, bright red berries that are held by the branches throughout much of the winter. These are the plants much loved for use in crafts and highly popular in Christmas decorations. However, there are many varieties of Holly available, some with dark colored berries and others with yellow or orange fruits. Holly are shrubs that are quite compact and so require little if any pruning. Most popular species grow to a moderate height, but among the many species are a wide range of sizes.

Like most evergreen species, Holly shrubs prefer acidic soil, but need full sun for optimal berry production, for which Holly bushes are famous. Holly will grow in partial shade, but will likely produce few flowers and berries.

Holly shrubs are usually either male or female, with the exception of some hybrid varieties. Both male and female plants flower, but without the pollination of flowers from a male plant, female Holly bushes will not produce berries. Male Holly plants do not produce berries. Generally, a male plant needs to be planted within 100 feet of a female for pollination to occur. There are some varieties of Holly that are self-pollinating; landscape or nursery personnel can help to recommend a self-fertile variety, or advise you as to the need for both male and female plants and their placement.

An added benefit of planting Holly bushes is that the berries provide food for birds and wildlife in the winter, attracting a variety of bird species to your yard and gardens. Well fed birds are more likely to make your home theirs in the spring, and aid in natural pest control throughout the warmer months.


Pyracanthas, also commonly known as Firethorns, are heavy berry producers like the Hollies, and also like the Holly varieties, pyracanthas attract many enjoyable birds and wildlife.

Pyracanthas provide year-round greenery and bright berry color from late summer until wintertime. They flower in the late spring, with very fragrant blooms that last until early summer. Berry colors are bright and red, orange, or gold.

Pyracanthas are a little more finicky than many evergreen varieties, requiring well-draining, rich soils. Most varieties of Pyracantha have thorny stems, so planting them where there is room to work around them prevents cuts and scrapes from the large thorns. Planting the thorny bush can also be used as a deterrent to dogs and humans trampling nearby garden beds.

Firethorns can be used in very decorative landscape applications. Utilizing a technique known as espalier, Pyracanthas can be trained to grow flat against buildings and retaining walls, sometimes being trained to mimic the shape of a fan. Pyracanthas can be used to build informal hedges and boundaries, or plant a low growing variety as a brightly colored cover for slopes and bankings.

These are only a small handful of the many ornamental evergreen varieties. The benefits of and uses for evergreens in landscape planning are vast, from simple shows of color to screens, windbreaks, boundaries and hedges. Enjoy evergreen foliage during winter when many other trees are bare and gray, and benefit from abundant and colorful flowers and fruits throughout the remaining year.

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