One of the most challenging pursuits of perennial gardening is ensuring that there is always something to provide interest throughout the year. With our brutal Minnesota winters, sustaining frigid temperatures and feet of snow for nearly half of the year, winter interest is often overlooked, yet is exceptionally important. Evergreens not only provide wonderful winter interest in stark contrast to mountains of snow and dormant plants, but also can act as great points of interest and anchors for your garden design throughout the growing season as well, excellent for framing landscapes and buildings in foundation plantings, or providing contrast and relief in background plantings.
Juniperus (ju-NIP-er-us), or juniper, a group of coniferous (cone-bearing gymnosperm) plants in the cypress family, Cupressaceae, are native to many regions, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. Junipers range in size from the spreading, carpet-like growth habits of cultivars like ‘Green Carpet’ or 'Blue Chip' Juniper which act as excellent shrubby groundcovers, to mid-sized shrubs and trees, like the shrubby ‘Grey Owl’ or conical 'Wichita Blue,' to upwards of 50 feet in some species like the Minnesota native Juniperus virginiana. Juniper have needle-like or scale-like leaves that deter animal feeding, accompanied by iconic berry-like structures (galbuli) that typically appear blue, and are beloved by birds. Plant junipers in areas of full sun in well-drained soil, though these hardy plants will tolerate a range of soil conditions without issue and are exceptionally salt tolerant, as well as drought tolerant once established.
Taxus (TAKS-us), or yew, are a group of trees and shrubs native to regions of Japan, Korea, and China, belonging to the yew family, Taxaceae. Yew are excellent shade tolerant evergreens and, like juniper, range widely in size, from three feet tall and several feet wide, as with the ‘Emerald Spreader’ Japanese Yew and similiar shrubby forms perfect for shearing into an evergreen hedge, to more tree-like forms upwards of 20 feet tall, as with the ‘Hicks’ Yew. Needle-like, flat leaves against beautiful red bark are often accompanied by modified seed cones containing a single seed, which mature into a bright red berry-like structure (aril) in the fall for birds. Yews are an excellent evergreen for both sunny and shadier areas, growing in full sun to full shade, and tolerating a range of soil conditions.
Be sure to water new evergreens thoroughly up until the ground freezes in the fall to keep them thriving and green all winter long.