Evergreen Native Plants

After the autumn leaves fall we start thinking of plants that will keep our interest throughout the winter.
Evergreen Native Plants - Articles


Petite cones of Canada Hemlock. Photo: Kathy Salisbury

Though there are many plants with berries and interesting bark that can add interest to the winter landscape, Pennsylvania also offers some native evergreens that can help form a backdrop to deciduous berrying shrubs or highlight dramatic bark. Perhaps one of the most challenging features of creating a native landscape is incorporating evergreens. Our Eastern deciduous forest ecosystem tends to support those plants that lose their leaves in winter, so they don't become overburdened by the weight of the snow or slowly desiccate exposed to dry winter winds. However, there are a number of native evergreens suitable for making an appearance in a native garden or any other type of landscape.

Remembering that a healthy system, one that supports a diversity of animal life, has 4 layers - the herbaceous or groundcover layer, the shrub layer, the understory layer and the canopy layer, here are some native evergreen plants that will fill each level. Creating this layering in the landscape not only benefits wildlife but creates a landscape that offers year-round seasonal interest.

Groundcover/Herbaceous Level

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Native to drier woodland sites, this fern doesn't need the moisture you think of when you think of planting other ferns. Growing 1-2' tall this native evergreen compliments shaded naturalized or formal landscapes.

Robust fronds of Christmas Fern stand up to snow. Photo: Kathy Salisbury

There are dozens of Carex species (Sedges) you can use in your landscape. Most of them evergreen, most of them deer resistant. The two here provide some interesting foliage color and texture.

Seersucker Sedge (Carex plantaginea)

The shiny wide leaves of this sedge are bright green and puckered and wavy. It reaches its ultimate 6-12" tall in full to part shade with moist soil, but will grow in nearly any part of your garden.

The puckered bright green leaves of native seersucker sedge adds color and texture to a winter landscape. Photo: Kathy Salisbury

Spreading Sedge (Carex laxiculmis)

The narrow grass-like silvery blue foliage of this evergreen sedge adds additional foliage color and texture to the landscape. This shade loving groundcover prefers average soil.

Strappy blue-green leaves of creeping sedge add color to the landscape. Photo: Kathy Salisbury

Shrub Level

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

Preferring partial shade Mountain Laurel is the state shrub of Pennsylvania. Showy flowers in shades of pink and white abound in May on a happy plant, which will be growing in moist acidic soils with high organic matter. Provide some mulch to keep the roots cool.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

An evergreen holly that may not look much like a holly. Small elliptical green leaves adorn this slow-growing shrub. Notorious for getting "bare knees" consider planting one of the evergreen sedges below to help hide naked lower stems as this plant ages. Plant in full sun to part shade in moist soils. Though not very showy, the black berries are great for wildlife.

Understory Level

Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)

growing to 30' tall this native evergreen Rhododendron sports large pink flowers in mid-Summer and supports a wide array of wildlife. Think of the cool, moist ravines you would naturally find this growing when you site this particular plant. Do not plant in hot and dry locations.

Canopy Level

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

The smooth gray bark of this native evergreen tree could be confused with American Beech if it weren't for the spiny shiny green leaves and red berries persisting into the winter. Be sure this tree is situated in moist, acidic soils and that you have a male nearby to ensure a beautiful set of shiny red berries.

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus viginina)

One of the best trees you can plant for wildlife habitat, this native sports blue berries through the winter. Tolerant of a wide variety of soil moisture and pH the only thing this plant is particular about is sun--it needs sun.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Preferring well-drained slightly acidic soils, the Eastern White Pine is a bit more tolerant of various soil moistures than other native evergreens. Growing to more than 100' tall where it is happy, this fast grower should be given plenty of room.

Feathery needles of Eastern White Pine soften the landscape. Photo: Kathy Salisbury

Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Rarely planted now because of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, this native evergreen and State Tree of Pennsylvania is losing popularity as a landscape plant. However, if you are willing to monitor your trees and protect them if needed in order to save this tree in Pennsylvania make sure you give it the cultural conditions it needs. The wrong plant in the wrong place creates stressed plants that are more susceptible to disease and insect infestation and that is certainly something this plant doesn't need. Found in the wild in cool moist woods, this is one evergreen that doesn't seem to mind the shade. Do not plant in heavy soils, prefers well drained slopes.

Incorporating just a few of these native evergreens will not only add seasonal interest to your landscape but considering the layers of a landscape while you do will enhance the benefit of the display to the homeowner and to the resident wildlife.