Evergreen Perennials

A photo of Christmas fern

During the dregs of winter when most perennials are quietly asleep underground it can be difficult to see life in the garden. Plant a few of these evergreen perennials for a reminder that spring is right around the corner.

By Abby Lapides

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener Nov/Dec 2017.]

During the dregs of winter when most perennials are quietly asleep underground it can be difficult to see life in the garden. Plant a few of these evergreen perennials for a reminder that spring is right around the corner.

A photo of Dianthus 'Pinball Wizard'

Dianthus ‘Pinball Wizard’

The excellently named ‘Pinball Wizard’ carnation, Dianthus, features tie-dyed pink and white fluff balls that look like the true carnation flowers. Their deliciously fragrant blossoms appear from spring into fall. It makes a dense, low-growing carpet of powdery-blue foliage that looks great all year long. For best flowering, deadhead spent blossoms.

Don’t forget about the Lenten rose, Helleborus, – my required

An image of Helleborus 'Wedding Party Mix'

Helleborus ‘Wedding Party Mix’

shade garden plant. The deer- and bunny-resistant beautiful flowers in a rainbow of colors bloom earlier than just about everything! Lenten roses also make great cut flowers, and of course, they have excellent evergreen foliage. The Wedding Party Series of Lenten rose offers vigorous plants with double-petaled flowers in an array of colors.

Autumn fern and the Missouri native, Christmas fern are two fabulous ferns that keep looking great through winter. Autumn fern’s new fronds emerge coppery-red before maturing to deep green. The robust Christmas fern keeps its leathery fronds all winter in most spots of St. Louis. Both are easy to grow, deer resistant and tolerate deep shade.

An image of Carex Evercolor Eversheen

Carex Evercolor ‘Eversheen’

For a delicate pop to landscapes and containers, try one of the sedges, Carex, that keep their color all winter long. The newer Evercolor® series features six different sedges. Of this excellent series, I particularly love two – ‘Everillo’ and ‘Eversheen’. Everillo’s lime-gold foliage lends a brilliant accent to the garden. The dark green edges that surround the bright golden centers of Eversheen’s glossy blades create a striking contrast. These two sedges excel in shade gardens, their wispy foliage pairs well with the large leaves of hostas and the ferny foliage and fluffy flowers of astilbe.

All thrifts, Armeria, have bright grass-like evergreen foliage, but they usually only bloom

An image of Armeria 'Daydream'

‘Daydream’ Armeria

in spring and sometimes again in fall when the weather cools. The 10-year breeding program of ‘Daydream’ thrift fixed the missing summer blooms while still providing the excellent evergreen foliage. ‘Daydream’ offers frost-to-frost blooms that look like a bouquet of pink lollipops on top of a miniature grassy knoll. Thrifts prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They make a top choice for rock and miniature gardens, and for edging.

The often overlooked spurge, Pachysandra, is one of the most scandalously underutilized plants for home gardens in St. Louis. Not only does spurge give us beautiful evergreen foliage that always looks fabulous, but it grows in dark shade, tolerates dry spots, and won’t climb up trees or houses. It’s the perfect groundcover for large areas. I always recommend this plant over the invasive English ivy and wintercreeper. The glossy deep green foliage of ‘Green Sheen’ gives a little more zhoosh than the original Pachysandra terminalis.

An image of Ajuga 'Burgundy Glow'

Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’

Another great groundcover option is bugleweed, Ajuga, which smothers weeds and hugs the ground. They bloom blue or pink spikes in spring and the foliage comes in an array of colors. ‘Burgundy Glow’ has dappled green, cream and smoky pink foliage. The toughest of all, ‘Chocolate Chip’, has small leaves of chocolate with burgundy streaks and deep blue flowers.

If you want easy plants don’t look much further than cranesbill

An image of 'Biokovo Karmina' Geranium

‘Biokovo Karmina’ Geranium, photo by Robert Weaver

‘Biokovo’ and ‘Biokovo Karmina’, Geranium. They offer deeply-lobed round foliage that has a spicy scent which wards off deer and rabbits. In autumn, the foliage turns dark red and remains that way all winter long. Biokovo blooms white with pink stamens while Biokovo Karmina blooms hot fuchsia. Biokovo was named the 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year.

The foliage of many coral bells (Heuchera) remain ever-purple,

An image of Heuchera 'Forever Purple'

Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’

ever-orange or ever-(insert color here). Most grow into mid-sized perfect mounds of brightly colored leaves that have pink or white blooms in midsummer. Many coral bells are extremely hardy and survive well in pots, making them ideal for winter displays. Place a small spruce tree, a sedge or bugleweed, and a coral bell in a pot and you’ll have a beautiful mixed container all winter long. Some newer favorite Corals Bells are the striking ‘Forever Purple’ and ‘Forever Red’, and the frosty foliaged, ‘Silver Gumdrop’.

Many evergreen perennials benefit from a hard cutting in early spring, before new foliage begins to push out. Being able to see some life in the garden will keep your gardening spirits up while you wait out the winter.

Abby Lapides is owner and a speaker at Sugar Creek Gardens Nursery in Kirkwood, Missouri. She has degrees from the University of Missouri, and is a member of the Landscape and Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis.