Most gardens are packed full of color from early spring until late fall. Come winter, the outdoor splendor seems to fade along with the light. However, this need not be the case. Growing evergreen shrubs and plants not only provides your garden with year-round structure, but can also add color, fragrance, and interest on even the darkest days.
This collection of evergreen shrubs all bring something different to your garden, such as variegated foliage, scent, and structure. Not only will they help to brighten up dreary winter gardens, these evergreen shrubs will act as the perfect accompaniment to your year-round planting schemes.
The holly bush is one of the most well-known evergreen shrubs. After all, its glossy, dark green, spiky leaves and red berries are a staple image on Christmas cards. This hardy plant seems to thrive during the colder months. Furthermore, its winter berries provide food for birds, while its flowers attract bees and pollinators in springtime.
There are many variegated forms of holly, including spiny or smooth-leaved versions. This variety makes holly a great addition to a mixed border or as part of a dense hedge, ideal for keeping deer and other animals out of your garden.
For something different, try Blue Holly. It’s a tall, up to 15ft, variety that produces glossy blue-green leaves against dark purple stems. When Blue Princess, a female plant, is placed alongside Blue Prince, the white flowers of blue holly give way to the plant’s traditional red berries.
This tough but versatile evergreen shrub does well in sunny borders. Photinia can also be used for hedging, or planted in large containers. The glossy, red leaves of Red Robin—a popular hedging variety—slowly change throughout the seasons, turning through shades of bronze to a rich, deep green.
3. Box (Boxwood, Buxus)
This versatile, evergreen shrub is a favorite in borders and as edging thanks to its compact structure. In fact, box is so compact that even after heavy snowfall it will retain its shape, leaving the snow to sit on top. This compact structure has also made the plant a popular choice for topiary enthusiasts.
Box produces vibrant shades of green leaves throughout the winter months. Like other evergreen shrubs, it’ll tolerates deep shade, meaning that it’ll grow in dark corners or under tall trees.
4. Paperplant (Fatsia japonica)
One of the most versatile evergreen shrubs, Fatsia produces large leaves on stout stems. It’s an eye-catching, architectural shrub that will add structure to your garden. It also does well in coastal areas and in shady spots.
Camellias are popular for their rich, glossy foliage and large spring flowers that come in a range of pinks, red, yellows, and whites. Originating in the Asian woodlands, they thrive in a slightly acidic soil. As a result, they’ll benefit from a regular application of ever-useful coffee grounds.
These elegant, large evergreen shrubs can be used in a mixed planting scheme or as a standout plant in a well tended border. Dwarf varieties are also available.
Lavender only flowers in the warmer months, attracting scores of pollinators such as bees and butterflies. That said, it’s also one of the hardiest evergreen shrubs out there. During the winter months, lavender’s silvery green foliage will add ground-level color to your garden. This useful companion plant tolerates drought conditions and does well in light, sandy soil.
Euonymus is a tough, versatile plant that can add color to even the darkest and most difficult gardens. The cultivar Euonymus fortunei is a versatile evergreen shrub that will add color to your winter garden. For something different, try Euonymus fortunei “Gold Splash”. It’s an ornamental variety that produces variegated leaves throughout the year, and will also produce fruit in autumn.
A later flowering shrub, Mahonia brings warm shades of yellow to winter gardens. Even in the coldest winters, its small, delicate flowers will hang like bells from the plants holly-like spiny leaves. In addition to winter color, the plant also brings a fragrant aroma to your garden. Once spring begins bees, will head for its vibrant flowers.
9. Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica)
This is a versatile plant that will grow in a border, pot, or small garden. When stirred by the wind, its layered, fern-like foliage produces a rustling sound. The khaki green leaves of the “Firepower” variety will turn into flame-like colors, adding vibrancy to the frostiest day. Meanwhile the elegant leaves of “Obsessed” brighten winter gardens with crimson shades.
Hebe is possibly the most well-known of all the evergreen shrubs. The many varieties of Hebe, from the steel-green, compact leaves of Red Edge that turn purple at their tips in the winter, to Frozen Flame, which produces grey-green, white. and pink variegated foliage, reliably add color to the dark winter months. Hebes will thrive as border shrubs or in patio pots.
Unlike other evergreen shrubs, daphne flowers during the winter and early spring. It produces delicate little flowers of soft white and pink, which give off a fragrant scent. This gorgeous plant adds a welcome splash of color to the winter garden.
This slow-growing shrub’s leaves are plain, but variegated varieties are available, such as Daphne odora “Aureomarginata”, which produces glossy, yellow leaves. Happy in the sun or partial shade, Daphne is a great option for woodland and rock gardens as well as mixed borders.
Also known as “Spotted Laurel”, this is a tough evergreen shrub that tolerates shade, drought, pollution, and other difficult conditions. Aucuba’s broad leaves can add a tropical feel to your wintry garden with their bright golden spots. It’s happy as a specimen plant in a border, but will also grow well in a large container.
Note: if you want Aucuba berries, you’ll need both male and female plants.
Azaleas can produce rich, winter color during the colder months, while their pink, peach, purple, coral, and white flowers will add early season color in springtime. Great in a hedge, as part of a large planting scheme, or marking a path, Azaleas prefer dappled shade and dislike harsh winds. Just make sure that you select an evergreen, not deciduous variety.
For something slightly different, the compact “Girard’s Rose” variety will produce deep red foliage in the winter months, and vibrant, rose-colored flowers in the spring.
14. Winter Heath (Erica carnea)
Winter Heath is a hardy, low growing evergreen shrub, ideal for rock gardens, low borders and as ground cover.
During the winter, it’ll produce long-lasting clusters of bell-shaped pink flowers, which sit against the plant’s needle-like foliage. This plant originated in the European Alps, and therefore grows well on slopes or banks, as these conditions cater to its preference for sharp drainage.
Also known as “kinnikinnick”, this is one of the hardiest evergreen shrubs available. Bearberry will produce clusters of small urn-shaped pink or white flowers in the spring, which will be replaced by red berries that last all winter long. It’s happy in the most difficult conditions, and is both very winter hardy and low maintenance.
The “Coral Beauty” variety is an attractive plant that’s a reliable ground cover option in sunny areas. During the fall and winter months, its leaves turn a rich bronze red shade, complimented by masses of coral red berries. It can also be grown on slopes to control erosion, or trailed over rocks and walls.
16. Mountain Laurel
This plant is native to New England, and is often grown for the red, white, and pink cup-shaped flowers that emerge from it each spring. However, its leathery green leaves make it an ideal ornamental winter plant.
Mountain Laurel is a versatile shrub that will grow well in a cottage garden or in a woodland planting scheme. It flourishes happily in the shade of tall trees, and can nicely complement rhododendrons and azaleas. Since it’s a slow-growing plant, you won’t need to prune it very often.
Juniper is an extremely cold-hardy evergreen, and most varieties are low-sprawling evergreen shrubs. This makes their colorful leaves—from gold to blue-green shades—an attractive groundcover option. Other varieties are upright in their growth habit, so they can be used effectively in borders or hedging.
Rhododendrons are flowering evergreen shrubs that produce showy blooms amongst dark, green leaves. There are now cold-tolerant varieties available, so they can add color to your hedging all year round.
There are a number of evergreen shrubs in the cypress family. For example, the graceful limbs of the cold-tolerant False Cypress produce delicate, fern-like needles. It grows in a pyramid shape, and is a low-maintenance accent plant.
Siberian Cypress is another cold-hardy variety. In the winter, its fern-like foliage turns from green to a maroon shade, and its hardy nature makes it a durable ground cover option.
Just because winter has brought the cold and dark, doesn’t mean that your garden has to become dark and gloomy as well. With a collection of evergreen shrubs, you can add color, interest, and fragrance to your plot. While their value may fade as your garden awakens each spring, you’ll treasure them once again the next time winter rolls around.