Evergreen plants and shrubs provide year-round color and interest in the garden. Bedding plants and bulbs come and go with the summer, but an evergreen can be relied upon to keep an outdoor space appearing well-kempt in all seasons.
Pots and containers are a great way to add greenery and winter interest to your outdoor space. They can be moved around easily and add structure to entries, patios, and terraces.
What Are Evergreens?
As the name suggests, evergreen plants retain their foliage throughout the year – making them ever green (at least for as long as the plant is living). Unlike deciduous plants, evergreens don’t lose their leaves in autumn, when the branches get exposed all winter. As the leaves of an evergreen fall off, new ones emerge to replace them, no matter the time of year.
Evergreens are mostly low-maintenance plants, especially compared to those grown in seasonal pots. They also tend to be hardy to the sometimes very harsh temperatures of a British winter.
Evergreen Gardens Help Sustain Local Wildlife
Just because a plant is grown in a pot doesn’t mean it isn’t handy for wildlife. Opt for plants native to the local area – they’ll soon become a hive of activity.
Other than appearance, one of the main reasons to grow an evergreen garden is to benefit local wildlife. Birds and insects can make a home and enjoy the shelter provided by evergreen plants throughout the year.
Flowering shrubs can be a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, attracting them to the garden where they help fertilize flowers and crops too.
Choosing Evergreen Pot Plants
Many plants are evergreen, and there is a wide array of options when it comes to choosing garden plants. However, not all are well suited to pot and container gardening. Some are simply too massive to thrive in pots, while others survive better when planted in the ground.
Unless you enjoy spending a lot of time pruning, the best evergreen plants to grow in pots are those that are slow-growing. These don’t need much maintenance to keep looking their best and won’t quickly outgrow their allocated spaces.
Evergreen Trees for Planting in Pots
Trees are great for adding height and structure to outdoor spaces, drawing the eye upwards from low-growing plants and creating a more rounded display. Potted evergreen trees look great flanking the driveway or front door or dotted around a patio area for added winter interest.
When positioned in a sheltered spot and watered moderately, bay trees flourish in pots. They can be trained into a lollipop shape or left to their own devices for a more natural look. The aromatic leaves of a bay tree can be used fresh or dried to add flavor to a wide variety of dishes. Also known as Laurus nobilis, these ornamental trees prefer a spot in full sun or light shade. Bay trees are hardy against temperatures of around -5ºC. They may need some extra insulation around the roots in the winter months.
Leathery silvery-green leaves, panicles of small white flowers and the chance of growing your own fresh olives in exceptionally hot summers combine to make this decorative tree a popular choice for patios, balconies and terraces. Olive trees enjoy a sheltered spot in full sun and prefer well-drained soil.
Synonymous with Christmassy winter scenes, holly trees are perfect for growing in pots. Their evergreen foliage is spiky and female trees produce an abundance of bright red berries that provide colour interest in autumn and winter. Holly is an easy plant to care for, but as it matures, it may need extra pruning to keep it the right size for a container garden. Holly trees are fully hardy and flourish in full sun or partial shade.
Dwarf Conifers in Pots
As anyone who has nurtured a pot-grown Christmas tree can attest, small conifers are ideal for growing in containers. They offer year-round structure and, as dwarf varieties have been cultivated not to get too large, they won’t take over the garden.
Juniper Blue Star
This striking little conifer has bright blue-grey needles that add color interest to an evergreen container garden. It has a compact, bushy habit and thrives in full sun or dappled shade. Juniper is fully hardy and does well in most soil types as long as the pot has excellent drainage.
Dense branches and deep green pine needles give this dwarf conifer an attractive appearance. This evergreen shrub gets covered with dark-brown ovoid cones in autumn. Various cultivars are available, many well suited to growing in pots and containers. Mountain pines prefer a spot in full sun with well-drained soil. They are hardy to cold temperatures and only need pruning to maintain the desired size and shape.
This tree does well in containers and has an attractive, almost symmetrical, conical shape. Picea glauca is a slow-growing conifer, which makes it an ideal candidate for container gardening. It prefers its soil moist but well-drained and likes a site out of strong winds where it can bask in full sun.
Evergreen Shrubs for Pots in the Shade
A container garden of delightful evergreen shrubs can do wonders for brightening up a dreary outdoor space. But finding plants that grow well in shaded areas can be challenging. Most evergreens prefer plenty of light, but various plants tolerate and even prefer full or part shade.
Also known as Aucuba japonica, Japanese laurel is a shade-loving evergreen shrub with large glossy leaves. The foliage can be spotted or variegated in contrasting shades of golden yellow. If a male variety grows nearby, the female variety will produce small flowers in spring and bright red berries in autumn. Japanese laurel is tolerant of and will grow well in full shade. However, in some varieties, a more vibrant color will appear when the plant is in light or partial shade.
Available in a rainbow of colors, this low mound-forming shrub grows well in partial shade. Coral bells provide year-round color and complement taller evergreen plants when planted alongside them. These leafy evergreens are easy to grow and require very little maintenance.
Hart’s Tongue Fern
This medium-sized fern has long, wavy-edged glossy green leaves that grow in a rosette shape. It flourishes in light to deep shade in moist but well-drained soil. It is fully hardy and does well in most types of soil. A hart’s tongue fern is ideal for planting alongside beautiful flowers in late summer while providing year-round interest in a shady spot.
Evergreen Climbers and Trailing Plants for Pots
Climbing and trailing plants are a great way to brighten walls, fences, pergolas, and even porches. Ensuring you plant an evergreen climber or incorporate some evergreen foliage into your hanging baskets, the interest they provide will be there all year long.
Many gardeners steer clear of ivy because it is often considered invasive. However, by growing it in pots, the risk of the plant taking over the garden is minimal. Ivy is a versatile outdoor plant that can be trained to climb walls, fences or pergolas or trails from a hanging basket. English ivy is a low-maintenance shrub available in a range of leaf colors, from dark green to light green variegated with gold.
This evergreen herb has small aromatic leaves that look wonderful spilling from pots and baskets. Leaves can get harvested throughout the year, and in summer the evergreen foliage is covered in small pink-purple flowers. Creeping thyme is easy to grow in a sunny position, and the flowers are irresistible to bees.
While not technically an evergreen shrub, winter jasmine does flower during the colder months, so it’s entitled to a place on this list. Well suited to containers, winter jasmine does lose its leaves towards the end of autumn. But bright yellow flowers blossom from the bare branches from winter to early spring, adding color interest at a time when garden flowers are scarce.
Sculptural Evergreens for Pots
Sculptural plants provide architectural interest to the garden. They can be positioned alongside other plants or used as a standalone to make an interesting focal point.
If you like to take the term ‘sculptural’ literally, consider planting box (Buxus). Box is one of the most popular evergreen plants in the UK and with good reason. Its slow-growing nature means it doesn’t need much pruning, making it ideal for topiary. Whether you want to fill your containers with evergreen cones, balls or spirals, box is the perfect plant. It boasts small glossy leaves of dark green and grows well in full or partial shade.
Yucca is often considered an indoor house plant. However, some varieties do well outside and are hardy against the cold temperatures of a British winter. Yucca filamentosa is particularly well suited to growing in outdoor pots. Its long sword-shaped leaves grow in arches from the center, with tall stems producing panicles of creamy white flowers in summer.
Cordyline plants are available in many colors, from bright green to deep-purple, and bring a slightly exotic look to the garden. Mature plants sometimes bloom sprays of small white flowers during hot summers. Their palm-like appearance makes cordylines an ideal choice for adding structure to outdoor spaces. They grow best in full sun or part shade and are generally low maintenance.
Colorful Evergreen Plants
Despite the name, evergreen plants don’t have to be green. Some plant varieties have an autumnal appearance throughout the year while keeping their leaves during winter. These plants can add a vibrant pop of color to outdoor spaces at a time of year when little else is going on in the garden.
Also known as the Christmas berry plant, photinia red robin is a dense shrub with long, bright red leaves that turn dark green later in the year. When left unpruned, clusters of creamy white flowers blossom in spring. This versatile evergreen can be grown as a shrub or trained into a lollipop tree. The most vivid color is achieved when planted in full sun, but Christmas berry tolerates partial shade.
Golden Creeping Jenny
This low-growing evergreen plant boasts golden yellow foliage throughout the year and small five-petalled bright yellow flowers in summer. It is relatively hardy but also does well as a house plant, so you can bring it indoors during the worst of the winter. Golden creeping Jenny works well alongside other plants and is perfect for the edge of the pot, where it can be free to spill over.
As you’d expect from the name, the foliage of crimson stonecrop plants is rather striking. The deep red leaves turn greener during summer and are a stunning bronze-red hue in autumn and winter. In late summer, the greener foliage is complemented by clusters of star-shaped pink flowers blooming from tall stems.
Evergreen Garden Tips
Most evergreen plants are easy to care for and don’t demand lots of attention to thrive. However, those grown in pots do require a little extra TLC to look their best.
Watering is arguably the most important element of plant care. Evergreens planted out in the garden can absorb moisture and nutrients from the ground and only require watering during particularly dry spells. On the other hand, the soil in pots and containers dries out faster, meaning pot-grown plants will need to be watered much more often. Unless it has rained, check the pots every couple of days and water when the top layer of soil feels dry. Watering schedules can be more relaxed during winter when the plant is dormant.
Heavy and consistent rainfall can lead to the opposite problem of pots becoming waterlogged. The easiest way to prevent this is to use well-draining soil and ensure there are plenty of drainage holes at the bottom of the container. You may also wish to use pot feet to lift the pot away from the ground, affording plenty of space for excess water to flow away.
How much or little evergreens need pruning largely depends on how ornamental they are. For example, buxus ball topiary and lollipop stem bay trees require more pruning than an ivy plant left to trail from a hanging basket.
The best time to prune evergreen shrubs is mid-late spring after the frost has passed. Smaller shrubs like lavender benefit from annual pruning, but larger ones don’t require much routine pruning. Simply check for dead or damaged branches and cut them away to promote healthy growth.
Evergreens grow best in acidic soil and benefit from being fertilized annually. Mid-late spring is the optimum time for feeding evergreen plants, just as the growing season begins.
Note that evergreen plants don’t need to be fertilized as much or as often as deciduous ones. This is partly because they tend to grow more slowly but also because they are more prone to fertilizer burn.
Container-grown plants usually need to be re-potted into a larger container every 2-3 years. Choose a pot around 2 inches larger than the old one to give the plant’s roots space to spread.
Even if the plant hasn’t yet outgrown its pot and you wish to keep it in position, it’s worth at least doing a soil change. The soil in pots doesn’t hold nutrients forever, and replacing old soil with new helps keep a container garden happy and healthy.
When Is The Best Time To Plant an Evergreen Shrub?
Generally, evergreen shrubs can be planted at any time of the year. However, those planted in spring will have a bit of an advantage. Wait until the risk of frost has passed and the ground has softened following the winter. Evergreens planted in early spring will have the full season to get established in cool temperatures before the warmth of the summer months comes around.
Whether you choose a larger tree or a smaller shrub, an evergreen plant creates year-round interest even into late winter, meaning the appeal of your garden isn’t limited to just the summer months. With such a varied selection of evergreen plants available, there is no need to resort to artificial plants to spruce up your garden.