>I’m Dreaming of a Green Winter

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The inspiration for this article came to me as I saw a mockingbird just outside my window in the weeping Yaupon holly feasting on the abundant red berries.  It made me forget about the bitter and damaging cold conditions of the winter of 2011 and all the work it will take to restore my ornamental gardens this spring.  It also made me think how beautiful that shiny green holly plant looked with ornamental red berries during the gloom of winter.   So, I began to think about other plants that brighten up the dull winter landscape as evergreens while most other plants are dormant and unattractive.  
My top ten list follows.  Criteria is that these plants retain their foliage and ornamental aspects throughout the winter down to 15 degrees in Zone 8b without noticeable damage.
1. Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon Holly):   This small leafed holly, native to TX and the south can be as small as 2’x2’ (dwarf form), as straight as a telephone pole (upright form), or as intriguing in the weeping form, or grown into a small tree form.  The important thing to know is that yaupons, like most hollies bloom on the female plant as long as male plants are nearby for pollination.  As with most hollies, they prefer a neutral to acidic soil, otherwise might turn chlorotic.  This is a tough plant, drought tolerant and very cold hardy.
2. Saphora secundifolia (Texas Mountain Laurel):  This large shrub or small tree likes it dry and is tolerant of alkaline soils.  The grape fragrance of their spring bloom along with glossy green foliage year round makes this native plant a standard for central TX gardens.  It will eventually and slowly grow into a small tree form. 


3. Eleagnus pungens (variegated cvs only):  The foliage on this evergreen plant has a silverly underside and a very flexible branching that can actually be tied into a knot without breaking.  Insignificant blooms in spring are fragrant.  Due to it’s rapid rate of growth, I recommend only growing the variegated cultivars which are much slower growing and require considerably less maintenance.  They add much color to your landscape.
4. Acca sellowiana (Pineapple Guava):  The dull green foliage with pubescent silvery underside makes this plant a year-round attraction in the garden.  Unusual shaving brush like red and white blooms in spring are followed by edible fruit in fall.  The bark is exfoliant, reddish and ornamental as well. 
5. Podocarpus microphylla (Japanese Yew):  This plant, native to Japan, is a conifer with elongated leaves, not needlelike which provide an attractive texture.  It comes in columnar, conical, or dwarf growth forms .  I believe this plant is underutilized and more deserving in home landscapes.  It prefers neutral to slightly acidic soils.  Closely relatated plants include Cephelotaxus harringtonia which comes in upright and prostrate growth forms.  Cephalotaxus looks more like the English Yew grown further north.
6, Raphidophyllum histrix (Needle Palm):  The hardiest of all palm trees. it will survive to below zero temperatures.  This short palmate leafed palm has a bundle of black upright needles eminating from the base, representative of it’s name.  It has a nice rosette and formal looking shape and grows to 3-4’ tall.  There are many other cold hardy palms to consider as well (Brahia, Serenoa, Nannorhops, and Trachycarpos).
7. Tjuga occidentalis (Arborvitae):  A flat leaved conifer that does offer a winter tinting to its bright green foliage, very compact and full.  Similar conifers such as Chamaecyparis do not grow well in central TX due to the hot summers, but Arborvitae endure both heat and cold extremes well.  Arborvitae comes in conical, dwarf, globular, and threadlike forms  as well as golden colored foliage cultivars.
8. Leucophyllum fruiticens “silverado” (dwarf TX sage):  The variety recommended stays compact and small for easier maintenance.  This silver leafed native plant loves dry, alkaline soils, full sun and withstands our climatic extremes.  The lavender blooms of late spring, early summer add to it’s beauty. Green forms are also available.
9. Hesperaloe parviflora (Red Yucca):  The straplike leaves eminating from the base of this plant offer a nice flowing texture with threadlike filaments along the edges of each blade.  In summer, large, long lasting spikes of tubular flowers add to it’s beauty.  A yellow flowering variety has been introduced also.
10. Sotol wheeleri (Wheeler’s Sotol):  A nice rosette shape, long thin blades with spined edges give this exotic looking succulent plant it’s appeal.  The silvery foliage of this species add another color dimension.  The native Sotol texana has solid green foliage. 

Also consider these plants which meet the same criteria.

1. Sanolina spp. (green and silver varieties):  Not getting taller than 12” x18” wide, the ftagrant foliage of this densely compact plant are adorned by small yellow composite flowers in spring.  This plant lures you into feeling and smelling it by it’s fine texture and aroma.  
2. Penstemon baccharifolius, (Rock Penstemon): This small woody shrub stays 12” tall and wide, with spikes of red tubular flowers in summer.  The foliage shows a maroonish winter tinting and is very winter hardy.
3. Yucca spp (palida, gloriosa, recurvifolia, etc.):  Our experience during the most severe winter in Austin is that must yuccas are resistant to winter extremes, unlike most Agaves.  Variegated forms are a little less tough than non-variegated.
4. Teucrium fruiticens (Bush Germander):  This compact silvery or green form shrub actually likes to bloom in colder months with small lavender, salvia-like blooms.  
5. Abelia grandiflora:  A nice small leafed evergreen shrub which comes in a variety of sizes, growth forms, and variegations.  Blooming in early summer adds to it’s charm. 
6. Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary):  This fragrant compact shrub is so aromatic, and has a beautiful texture of deep green foliage resembling short pine needles.  Bloom occurs in spring.  It comes in bush and weeping forms.  It can be used for cooking year round as well.
Do keep in mind that many of the recommended plants come in various cultivars which offer variety for your garden. Also remember that variegated plants are more susceptible to winter damage than all green in most but not all cases. Some evergreens offer a special winter tint or color change (rust or maroon shades) during cold conditions. Blended well with dormant or deciduous plants, they keep your interest going during the off season. When most lawns have turned brown, the addition of garden greenery is a welcome sight. We are not without many beautiful choices for adding color to our winter landscapes.  I have included the botanical names for the plants recommended above to make it easier to research them further on Google.Although not evergreen, but a winter winner, is the Possomhaw Holly (Ilex decidua) for winter ornamental value plus provision of food for birds .  Like the Yaupon, they will attract feeders and retain their beautiful berries along naked branches in lieu of greenery all winter.  
So don’t wait until fall to finally decide to add greenery to your landscape for winter.  A well balanced garden will include plants of interest for all seasons.  Then you can dream about a white Christmas along with a green winter.
A dwarf Podocarpus – a much overlooked hardy evergreen


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