Few plants provide as much interest and texture to the winter garden as broad-leaved evergreens. Like needled evergreens, these trees and shrubs don’t lose their foliage when autumn arrives. Instead, they add a touch of green (or blue or gold) to the landscape all winter long. Plus, some broad-leaved evergreens also produce berries, which add yet another layer of beauty to the garden.
While there are many broad-leaved evergreens available to home gardeners, not all of them are suited to every garden zone. Some are hardy where temperatures dive as deep as minus-50 degrees F, while others don’t survive temperatures much below freezing. If you live where winters are cold, the following six broad-leaved evergreens are hardy and beautiful, and they deserve a place in every garden. Whether you add them to a foundation planting or a street-side garden, or you tuck them into a perennial garden for some added winter interest, these broad-leaved evergreens will be right at home.
1. Soft Touch Inkberry (Ilex crenata “Soft Touch”)
“Soft Touch” holly is cold hardy down to minus-20 degrees F. It’s a mounded shrub that maxes out at just 2 to 3 feet wide and tall, and it requires little to no pruning. The foliage is dark green, and the small leaves make a lovely addition to the garden year-round. Unlike some other hollies, “Soft Touch’s” leaves do not have spines. Their edges are soft and rounded.
2. English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
Boxwood is a prime garden plant for so many reasons. It’s dense growth habit, moderate growth rate and easy-to-maintain form make it a great choice for small and large gardens alike. The deer-resistant foliage does need some protection from strong winter winds to avoid winter die back where winters are very cold, but it’s fully hardy down to minus-20 degrees. The evergreen, glossy leaves are 1 inch long and quite dense along the stems.
3. Green and Gold Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei “Green and Gold”)
There are several different cultivars of evergreen euonymus, but “Green and Gold” is one of my favorites. Also known as variegated wintercreeper, this shrub maintains its green and yellow variegated foliage all winter long. Winter hardy down to minus-20 degrees, “Green and Gold” euonymus is well behaved and easy to maintain. The glossy, variegated foliage can be grown as a shrub or kept low as a groundcover with regular trimming. Maxing out at just 2 feet in height with a spread of 5 feet, the low, wide growth habit of “Green and Gold” means it’s good at covering a lot of square footage.
4. Rhododendrons (Rhododendron species)
Rhododendrons (pictured above) offer thick, broad leaves to the winter landscape, and large globes of colorful blooms in the early summer. Evergreen rhododendrons make a great addition to foundation plantings and shrub borders that receive full to partial shade. The mature size of each of the dozens of different species and cultivars on the market varies, as does the color of their blooms, the bloom time and even their winter hardiness, so when shopping for a rhododendron, be sure to check the label to make sure it’s fully hardy in your region and that the blooms will be a color you enjoy.
5. Miniature Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata “Dwarf Pagoda”)
If you’re looking for small broad-leaved evergreens that don’t require much pruning, this is a great choice for you. Reaching just 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide at maturity, miniature Japanese holly is super slow growing (it only grows about an inch a year) and hardy down to minus-20 degrees F. Preferring full sun to light shade, the tiny, round, evergreen leaves are glossy and dark green, and they’re stacked against each other in rows along the stems, giving the plant a really interesting appearance. Introduced through Rutgers University, this selection looks like a funky bonsai plant and is excellent for rock gardens and patio beds.
6. Oregon Holly Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
Oregon holly grapes are attention-grabbing broad-leaved evergreens. The new growth is bronze colored and it ages to a deep, glossy green that persists on the plant year-round. In fall, the foliage turns a rich purple-red. The fragrant yellow flowers in spring are followed by elongated clusters of purple, grape-like fruits in the summer and fall. With a spreading growth habit, Oregon holly grape adapts well to shadier spots, but be forewarned that the edges of the leaves have sharp spines. Useful as a low hedge or under-planting, most varieties of Oregon holly grape are hardy to about minus-20 degrees F, though some tolerate winter winds better than others. Here in Pennsylvania, these plants do best in a sheltered spot where they’re protected from drying winds.