Evergreen plants with fall and winter color | Column

As I promised last week, here are some plants well suited for the “lazy gardener” who for whatever reasons beyond my understanding can’t abide with the thought of raking leaves or looking at sticks. The following plants will keep their foliage all winter as they go through their act of changing colors as the temperatures get colder and colder. You get the best of both worlds, fall color and evergreen foliage.

PJM Rhodie — Here’s a great rhodie that won’t cover the front room window. Smaller sized leaves turn a rich mahogany in winter and have a very distinct fragrance to them. The purplish-pink flowers come out in early spring and are striking against the dark winter foliage. Hardy to –25 degrees and heat tolerant, PJM grows 4’ tall and is very durable. There are several variations to choose from.

Nandina — Heavenly Bamboo. Don’t panic, this is not a true bamboo and won’t take over your yard. Nandina will grow in sun or shade and comes in several forms from dwarf that only grows 18” tall to the standard forms that reach 6’ tall. Nandina has pleasingly textured foliage that is reminiscent of bamboo. Terminal clusters of white flowers produce red berries in winter that are perfect for using in holiday wreaths. The foliage, which is a soft light green during the season, takes on purple, red and bronze tints in the fall and then turns fiery crimson in the winter. Gulf Stream and Sienna Sunrise are my favorite. Fire Power ain’t too shabby either.EUONYMUS — two varieties come to mind, Emerald Gaiety with green and white foliage and Emerald and Gold with green and good foliage. Both take on fabulous tones of pink and purples in the winter. You can plant them as a ground cover and maintain them at 18-24 inches tall. Full sun or afternoon shade.

Abelia — sometimes deciduous but usually evergreen, Abelias have foliage that takes on rich winter colors. Kaleidoscope is by far the best with variegated foliage in the summer that becomes all the colors of a kaleidoscope in the winter. Plant them in full sun for the best colors.

Leucothoe — This is a wonderful plant that should be in a lot more yards than it is. Leucothoe is native to the south-eastern U.S. but seems to be at home here in the northwest. It’s a great “woodland” looking plant that has glossy foliage with white bell shaped flowers in spring. Normally sold as a shade plant, it will do just fine in sun if the soil is enriched with compost and adequate moisture is provided. I’ve even seen it used as a low growing hedge at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Stems are arching to 2-3 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide. The leaves emerge bronze, turn dark green in the summer and then return to a reddish-bronze in the winter. Rainbow is my favorite.

Cryptomeria Japonica Elegans — Plume Cedar. This is a conifer with needle-like foliage but unlike any pine or spruce you have ever seen. Very soft feathery foliage is a pleasing bluish-green in summer turning to a rich coppery red or purple in the winter. This variety can grow into a tree, reaching 40 feet tall. Surprisingly, there are several conifers that take on a plum color in the winter. This has something to do with the cold temperatures, much like gardeners that turn blue in the cold!

Bergenia — Known in England as Pig Squeak because of the sound made when you rub your fingers over the foliage, Bergenia has been around forever. An evergreen perennial that blooms in early spring with stalks of white to pink nodding flowers, the coarse glossy foliage is what makes this plant so useful. Use it as a ground cover or for a broad foliaged accent in either sun or shade. Several varieties are now available that turn a striking bronze in the winter. Winter Glow and Bressingham Ruby come to mind.

Euphorbia — An evergreen perennial known for it architectural qualities in the garden, Euphorbia looks rather tropical or succulent as though it should belong in Southern California. But it is perfectly hardy for the northwest and makes a great addition to the garden. Black Bird, Glacier Blue and Shorty are my new most favorite flavors. Plant them in full sun and hold back the water in the summer.

So this completes my three week expose on working fall and winter color into the garden without the use of flowers. I’ve presented lots of options for your consideration. The rest is up to you. All you need to do is hoof it on down to your favorite garden center and check out their offerings, talk to their staff, buy something and take it home and plant it. And if you do this you will be one step closer to creating a garden of year ‘round interest. It’s that simple.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. You can reach him at 425-334-2002 or email at

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