I’m not sure why, but it seems as if it’s just as hard to resist buying a cute little evergreen as if it were a playful puppy or a purring kitten. As many of us can attest to, before you know it evergreens, as well as a puppy or kitten, can turn into more work then we imagined.
It’s not the poor little evergreen’s fault when it becomes a giant beast taking over a sidewalk or covering up the window. My best advice is, know what you’re buying before you bring it home! Before you buy your plant, measure the location where you want to place the plant. I can’t over emphasize how important it is to know the size your plant will become when it’s fully-grown.
All too often, what was once a cute little Broadmore juniper, can suddenly become a monster reaching 14 inches high and 10 feet wide. That adorable little buffalo juniper can escape a confined area and be 12 inches high and 8 feet wide. Without knowing it, you may become a pruning slave to these bushy creatures.
Upright junipers can become the Great Danes of the evergreens. Some may surprise you by their size. A skyrocket juniper can reach a height of 20 feet. This can come as quite a shock if you bought the little guy to place by the front door or under the eaves of the house.
Junipers and arborvitae have a dead zone, and pruning into this dead zone, past the point where green tissue is growing, is not good. I assure you, it will never recover!
New green growth will not occur on the brown sticks. If you need to prune into the dead zone to make the tree or shrub fit into a location it’s time to think about replacing it with a more suitable planting.
Junipers can be made into some incredible shapes to add formality or fun to the landscape, but keep in mind, it takes time and work to keep them looking fantastic. Also, junipers and arborvitae growing in the shade are rather intolerant of pruning.
Dwarf mugo pines can become another huge shock if you don’t know what you’re buying. Think of these guys as the poodles of the evergreen world. Mugo pines can range in size from the very small “toy” shrub to a 5-by-10 foot “standard” shrub. When purchased from reputable garden centers, the tag will state the mature size.
Spruce come in about every size that you might want. You definitely want to check the tag before bringing one of these home. It’s easy to get a lot more than you bargained for.
Pyracantha can be a really pretty shrub with its evergreen leaves and bright orange berries if it’s grown in the right location. You can prune these guys, but they like room to grow.
Cotoneaster is another plant that you should be aware of. These guys come in a wide variety of sizes and will do about any trick that you want. They will grow upright to a height of about 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide or stay short and compact reaching a mature size of only about 2-2.5 feet. They can decorate a rock garden, tolerate hot conditions, serve as a low growing ground cover, or fall gracefully over a garden wall.
Some have black berries, which the birds will enjoy during the winter, while others have very showy red berries. The cranberry cotoneaster turns a maroon-red in the fall, and will tolerate partial shade or full sun. With the exception of a few cherry slugs every once in a while, it will give you very few discipline problems.
Like a puppy, although not near as much work, some evergreens need a bit of protection. Many evergreens cannot tolerate direct sun or wind. Hollies and birds nest spruce need shelter from the elements. Alberta spruce and Euonymus do not do well on a south or east side of a building because the winter sun is just too intense for them.
If you have a shrub that is getting too large, it is better to prune it back a little at a time. Better yet, consider replacing severely overgrown plants with smaller cultivars or other species. It will be worth it.This might be the best advice that you’ll get all day; if that cute little evergreen isn’t wearing a description label, walk right past it. Don’t even stop to pet it!
Linda Corwine McIntosh is an ISA certified arborist, licensed commercial pesticide applicator and advanced master gardener.