In the spring time, it is natural to think about planting flowers and vegetables, but it is also a good time to think about planting evergreens. While any shrub or tree gives some year round form to the landscape, nothing does it as uniformly as an evergreen. Before everything has burst into color, it is a good opportunity to contemplate the barest form of your yard. Where might some evergreens soften the bleakness of winter?
Where you plant an evergreen is important for many reasons. Not only are they hard to remove once established, but they aren’t inexpensive. To make the best decision possible, consider these things:
- Growth rate and shape – Have a good idea of how much space you can devote to such a permanent feature. Pick a spot that can accommodate the true size of a mature evergreen.
- Pruning – Will a particular plant need to be pruned to keep a desired shape? If it is not done regularly, it is difficult to catch up in a way that keeps the evergreen looking nice. If this has to be done, you will want convenient access for not just yourself, but your equipment, without having to torque your body to avoid accidentally cutting down a fence or falling into the swimming pool. Just as important, know if the cuttings are poisonous so that you can choose a location that is safe for pets or children.
- Roots – Are there pipes or driveways nearby that will suffer from roots blocking or protruding? We have some mature pine trees next to our asphalt driveway. The roots from those trees have turned about half its width into a mini mountain range. The only way to fix it would be to cut the roots, thereby risking the lovely trees, or attempt to raise the driveway.
- View – Are you trying to block or preserve a view? Full grown evergreens are what they are all year long.
- Debris – Even though evergreens have their version of leaves all year long, that doesn’t mean they are the same ones. There is significant turnover of things like needles and pine cones that will accumulate under them. This will probably include some sap. Think about where you won’t mind this.
- Protection from the weather – Some people use evergreens for a wind break, but not all evergreens stand up to the weather equally well. How well this will work depends on the height of the wind break and the size of the open area between it and structures. If you want to do a really thorough job of figuring this out, look at this link on How Windbreaks Work.
- Animals and Insects – Evergreen shrubs tend to harbor critters. Whether it be wasps nests, spider societies, or rodents, the reliably dense thicket of many evergreens is attractive to such wildlife. As such, you may want to avoid having them grow up against or near your house. The same sturdy characteristics make evergreen plants extra good ladders, so don’t plant them where they will help pets or small children escape! I have had my chickens climb such things to get out of a pen.
- Structure destruction – Another problem with any plant up next to a structure is that it tends to harbor moisture or invade the building materials with roots, because it senses the building as a hill to be engulfed. The weight of the expanding plant might also smash or break parts of buildings. You probably want to avoid rot and other forms of deterioration from this. On the other hand, a well place evergreen shrub could be a creative trellis out in the open.
- Watering – People tend to think of evergreens as low maintenance, which they basically are, but they still need water. They need extra care the first year, but still some attention to water after that until they are well established, so you will want to make sure there is a way other than carrying buckets to get it to them.
- Weeding – It can be very challenging to weed around evergreens. The density of the plant, bug populations within, and general prickly nature of both their wood and needles make them hard to deal with. You might think about arrangements that give as much access as possible around the base of the shrubs, so that you can attend to regular mulching and reach weeds trying to hide in the thick of things.
Once you have settled on a specific location and role for your evergreens in the landscape, you will want to see which plants qualify for the job. You will want to think about things like:
- Dwarf plants may be called such simply because they are very slow growing. They may very well get to be large over time.
- Both height and density affect the privacy and protection an evergreen will give.
- Some evergreens have strong distinct odors.
- Be aware of which climate zones are recommended. Since your evergreens probably won’t be next to your house, they will bear the full brunt of all weather extremes.
- Determine the average life span.
- Shape is not only an aesthetic concern in choosing an evergreen. It may affect how the plant holds up to weather.
- Density of a plant affects how light and sound get through or are absorbed.
- Some plants have a clear preference of a certain range of soil pH. To disregard this is risky. It is very challenging to alter soil pH for any length of time.
One strategy for finding your favorite evergreens to plant is to actively observe what is planted in your area. Take photos of plants and groupings that you like. Your local garden nursery can probably help you identify them. If you happen to see something interesting at a friend’s house, ask them for details. When did they plant it? Do they like it? What is the maintenance like? Of course, there is always the internet and books, but make sure the photos have something in them for comparison to help you really know what the plants look like. Here are a couple of websites I’m looking at:
Good resources for picking out the right type of evergreen tree for you.
Although fall planting is theoretically fine, the stress of winter on a newly planted evergreen (or any tree or shrub) can be fatal. The time left in autumn to establish roots can be unpredictable. If there is an early cold snap, it can be shocking. Outside water usually has to be turned off due to the ground freezing, so if the winter ends up with less than adequate precipitation, the plant will suffer. Also, the temperatures can fluctuate so much in winter that a new plant trying to get started could be left with no reserve if it accidentally starts to grow during a warm spell, then is subjected to immediate cold again.
Spring planting makes it easier to tend a newly planted shrub or tree, evergreen or not. The warmer weather means it is more likely you will go outside. Water is more imminently available. The weather is predictably on a warming trend and the ground unlikely to freeze hard again. All of this helps get your evergreen well established before the first winter in its new home.
Evergreens can be very useful in providing a sturdy frame for the rest of your spring garden, but you will really appreciate them in the winter. They can be the eternal sculptures that give continuity and form to the changing seasons. Without them, the landscape can seem a desolation of flat gray interspersed with skeletal branches, but with them, winter seems more like a cozy wardrobe change