Sunday, December 16, 2018

Choosing Evergreens for Outdoors and Indoors - A post by Christine Wegman

Choose evergreen trees and shrubs for your garden that will have the added benefit of making beautiful winter arrangements for the holidays and beyond. 

By this time of the year we all have a pretty good idea of what landscape designers refer to as the “bones” of our gardens:  those plants that act as structural elements by their shape, size and color.  Structural plants look much the same throughout the garden year.  Often focal points that draw the eye to perennial and annual color, they remain handsome during the winter.  Mostly evergreen shrubs, some are deciduous trees and shrubs that remain an attractive presence through the winter because of their beautiful form or the color of their bark.  They are the elements that give a garden winter beauty.    

Now is a good time to take a look at your garden with an idea to improving its structure.  Annuals have gone to seed and perennials have died back.  It is easy to see where planting a small tree or evergreen shrub would improve the overall look of the garden, both in summer and winter.  This could be a tall, narrow conifer for the back of a border, a small crape myrtle with attractive winter bark, or even some low-growing juniper for the front of a border.  Making room amongst the flowers for a few conifers or small broadleaf evergreens can make a garden beautiful all year.  Visiting a few conifer nursery websites – Iseli is a good example – will give you lots ideas for how this can be done.  There is a conifer or small evergreen for just about any place in a garden, even heavy shade.  This winter, make a note of where some evergreen plants are really needed and then search the web to find what might work in your situation.  As you plan for more winter structure, keep in mind those plants that are good for winter arrangements.  If you plant strategically, you can have a bit of fresh greenery in the house through much of the winter.  And, of course, you can bring a branch in to one of our meetings for horticulture credit. 

Conifers are the quintessential greens for holiday decoration, and almost any conifer you plant in the garden will look beautiful indoors.  Some conifers last better indoors than others.  Juniper, arborvitae, cryptomeria (false cypress), cedar and cypress are all long-lasting for holiday arrangements and will grow in our area.  Pine is another one that is beautiful in holiday arrangements, but I have had better luck with short needle pines than long needle types indoors.  Color, as well as texture, is an important factor, and there are many new small conifer introductions with colorful yellow or blue foliage that will make any arrangement pop.

Broadleaf evergreens are another staple of holiday decoration.  Magnolia is a southern favorite because it looks beautiful and is lasts well.  The leaves of the ubiquitous skip laurel are perfect for indoor greenery.  Boxwood is unparalleled for arrangements and will last throughout the holidays.  There are a number of variegated varieties that are easy to grow and make a beautiful eye-catching addition for any indoor arrangement.  Aucuba is a plant that many of us grow; it too lasts well indoors, and if kept in water, will often take root.  Nandina gives a light airy effect to arrangements, and ivy – variegated or not – does well in wreaths or arrangements.  Holly is not as long-lasting as some of the other broadleaf evergreens, but the berries (on female plants) are the best source of red, and are pretty on their own with the leaves clipped off. 

Bare twigs and branches give any arrangement added structure and interest.  If you plant red or yellow twig dogwoods, now is a good time to begin pruning them.  They will need to be pruned back in the spring, and if you have a mature plant, you won’t miss a few stems.  Harry Walker’s Walking Stick is another plant that works well in arrangements.  I have never had any success with willows, curly or otherwise, as we can’t offer them their preferred moist, sunny environment. 

Harvesting evergreens for holiday arrangements is not difficult.  Think of it as pruning the plants, rather than just cutting what you need for indoors.  This will give you a lot of leftover foliage, but will retain the plant’s good looks for the rest of the season.  The foliage will grow back in spring and the plant will be healthier for a good pruning.

I make two wreaths for the holidays and this strategy has worked pretty well for me over the years.  I still need to get yellow cedar foliage from my local Garden Center, but for the rest, I can bring it in from the garden. 

Christine Wegman is a Rock Spring Garden Club member in National Capital Area Garden Clubs' District III.  She is one of the go-to 'hort' experts in her club. Christine and her husband, Charlie Flicker, are avid and generous gardeners and have cultivated a delightful garden (for any season) in Arlington, Virginia. 

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