Needle-leaved evergreen conifers are the main source of green in most of our landscapes this time of year. However, there are a few broadleaf evergreens that are especially appreciated in mid-winter when most broadleaf plants are leafless.
The most widely grown broadleaf evergreen shrub in our area is the Oregon holly grape (Mahonia aquifolium). It has holly-like leaves, yellow flowers in the spring, followed by clusters of purple, grape-like clusters of fruit in late summer. It can grow up to 5 feet tall, but the variety “compacta” grows only 2 to 3 feet tall. It is shade tolerant and can be grown under trees. It thrives best on the east side of buildings, where it is somewhat protected from the wind.
Creeping holly grape (Mahonia repens) is an excellent low shrub or ground cover that typically matures at about 2 feet. It has the same yellow flowers, holly-like leaves and grape-like fruit. Both repens and compacta work well under windows.
Euonymus fortunei is an evergreen vine or shrub that is available in several leaf colors. As a ground cover, it grows a foot or two high but can climb higher next to walls or structures. It is easily kept at whatever height you want with minimal pruning. Purple leaf wintercreeper (E. f. colorata) has purple winter foliage and is the most vining. Emerald Gaiety has white-edged leaves. Emerald ‘n Gold has yellow-edged leaves. Both of these are shrubs that grow about 2 to 3 feet high. Other selections are also sometimes available. They will all grow in full sun to shade. Although previously considered somewhat susceptible to winter damage, they have performed well in recent years, especially in protected locations or when mulched with leaves or snow.
Several low growing perennials retain their leaves all winter. Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), with white flowers in early spring, makes an attractive mounding green ground cover about 8 to 12 inches high.
Rockcress (Arabis) has silvery-green foliage and white or rose-pink flowers in early spring. It grows 4 to 6 inches high. False rockcress (Aubrieta) is very similar but grows slightly shorter. It has a wider range of flower colors, including lavender and purple as well as shades of pink.
Basket of gold alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis) also has silvery-green foliage and is a good companion for the rockcresses, with its contrasting golden-yellow flowers. It blooms at about the same time and grows about 6 to 8 inches high. Mountain gold (Aurinia montana) is a native alyssum with lemon-yellow flowers. Both spread by self-seeding but can be easily contained by removing unwanted seedlings. The alyssums and rockcresses can be grown in sun to partial shade.
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) is another silvery gray leaved ground cover that produces a mass of white flowers in June. It spreads quickly and becomes so dense that few weeds grow where it is planted. It prefers sunny, dry areas.
Plant these broadleaf evergreens this spring for year-round interest.