Evergreen shrubs are the ideal way to add year-round greenery and structure to your garden. There’s a type of evergreen shrub to suit every desire and function. Azaleas and camellias produce beautiful flowers, while evergreens like bay or box are ideal for topiary or hedging.
In this article, we’ll look at the top evergreen shrubs. We’ll also look at which evergreens to use to achieve different characteristics in your garden.
What are evergreen shrubs?
Evergreen shrubs are plants that retain their leaves all year round. Evergreen shrubs usually have woody stems and branches. Evergreen shrubs can be found in almost every environment on Earth. Many evergreen shrubs do produce flowers and fruits, making them an important part of the ecosystem for pollinators and wildlife.
The difference between shrubs and trees is height. In most cases, a plant is classed as a shrub if its ultimate height measures somewhere between 6 and 10 metres. Shrubs can be less than 2 metres tall and are sometimes classed as subshrubs. Plants that we may think of as trees can technically grow as shrubs if they don’t reach over 10 metres tall.
Top 10 Evergreen Shrubs
1. Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.)
Azaleas are closely related to rhododendrons and belong to the Rhododendron genus. Azaleas can either be deciduous or evergreen shrubs or small trees. Azalea species can be found in Asia, North America, and Southwestern Europe. Evergreen azaleas typically come from Asia.
Azaleas are prized for their colourful flowers. Common colours include orange, pink, purple, red, and yellow. Azalea flowers have five or six stamens, while rhododendron flowers have ten. Azaleas also have softer leaves compared to rhododendrons.
Azaleas have fairly straightforward care requirements and make excellent flowering evergreen shrubs for beginners. These shrubs prefer moist, acidic soils enriched with organic matter or mulch. Azaleas grow fairly slowly and make good shrubs for containers. Provide a sheltered spot with partial shade.
2. Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is a versatile evergreen shrub or tree native to the Mediterranean. Bay leaves are extremely aromatic and are used in cooking as flavouring or seasoning. Bay laurel has been used extensively across the Mediterranean since Greek and Roman times.
Bay laurel shrubs produce smooth, shiny elliptical dark green leaves. Bay laurel flowers are light yellow-green and emerge in the spring. Bay laurel is extremely versatile in the garden as it can be shaped through topiary or grown in containers. Bay is excellent for adding structure to any garden.
Bay laurel prefers a sheltered spot with full sun. These fragrant shrubs require well-draining soil that’s still rich in nutrients. The leaves can be harvested throughout the year.
3. Camellias (Camellia spp.)
Camellias are attractive evergreen shrubs grown for their gorgeous flowers. The Camellia genus contains somewhere between 100 and 300 species that belong to the tea family (Theaceae). Camellias are mainly found in parts of Southeast Asia such as China, Indonesia, and Japan.
Camellias produce large beautiful flowers that are usually pink, red, or white. Most flowers have between five and nine petals and emerge between late winter and early spring. Camellias have glossy dark green oval-shaped leaves with slightly serrated edges.
Camellias prefer moist, acidic soils and don’t respond well to drought. Camellias are fairly fast-growing evergreen shrubs, sometimes growing as much as 30 cm each year. These flowering shrubs require a sheltered spot with partial shade.
4. Common Box (Buxus sempervirens)
Common box (Buxus sempervirens) is an evergreen shrub typically used to create hedges. Common box is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in parts of Europe, North Africa, and Southwestern Asia.
Common box is one of the most well-known hedging and topiary plants and is used extensively in formal gardens. Common box produces small green leaves that have a faint scent. Common box is vulnerable to diseases like box blight and pests such as box tree caterpillars.
Common box requires well-draining soil and full sun or partial shade. Hedges can be trimmed and shaped during the summer. Common box responds well to trimming and is ideal for topiary shapes such as balls, cones, or blocks.
5. Daphnes (Daphne spp.)
Daphnes (Daphne spp.) are wonderfully fragrant evergreen or deciduous flowering shrubs. The genus contains approximately 95 species from Asia, Europe, and North Africa. Daphnes can help bring colour to the garden during later winter and early spring and make excellent cut flowers.
Daphnes can grow as upright shrubs (up to 1.5 metres tall) or spreading prostrate shrubs. Daphne leaves vary in shape and can be hairy or smooth. Daphne flowers emerge in clusters and range from green to pink, purple, yellow, and white. Evergreen species usually have green flowers.
Daphnes grow fairly slowly and are ideal for smaller gardens. Daphnes require moist, well-draining soils and partial shade. Daphnes do not require regular pruning.
6. Holly (Ilex spp.)
Holly shrubs are a group of approximately 560 deciduous or evergreen plants in the Ilex genus. The most common species is Ilex aquifolium – the English holly. Holly shrubs are fantastic ornamental evergreens and can also be trimmed and trained into hedges.
Holly shrubs are famous for their glossy green spiky leaves and colourful berries. During the winter, the black or red berries create a visual contrast with the green foliage. Holly shrubs produce small white flowers with four petals in spring and summer.
Holly shrubs can tolerate most light conditions but need moist, well-draining soil. Holly shrubs are slow growers so don’t require much pruning. If you want to shape a holly, prune it as desired in late summer
7. Junipers (Juniperus spp.)
Junipers belong to the Juniperus genus in the cypress family (Cupressaceae). Junipers are coniferous evergreens that can grow as spreading prostrate shrubs or upright shrubs and trees. Junipers are famous for their fruit cones, which are used to flavour gin.
Junipers are native to parts of Asia and the Mediterranean. Junipers can have both spiky needle-like foliage and flattened scale-like leaves. The foliage shows shades of blue, green, and silver. Junipers can be used as ornamental plants or hedges.
Junipers have fairly easy care requirements. Junipers require full sun or partial shade and acidic, well-draining soil. These evergreens are fairly drought-tolerant and often don’t need much water once established. Although pruning isn’t essential, junipers can be shaped in the winter.
8. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
The lavender genus (Lavandula) contains nearly 50 species of flowering herbs belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae). The most common lavender species is English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Lavender is highly prized for its fragrance, which is used as an essential oil. Lavender is native to parts of Africa, Europe, and Southwestern Asia.
During the spring and summer, lavender plants produce blue, pink, purple, or white flower spikes. The flowers are wonderfully aromatic and are extremely popular with pollinators. They can also be dried and used around the home. Lavender also produces slightly hairy greyish-green leaves.
Lavender grows well in Mediterranean borders and pots. Lavenders require loose, well-draining soils and full sun wherever possible. Lavenders perform best when cut back after the flowers have finished.
9. Mahonias (Mahonia spp.)
Mahonia is a popular genus of evergreen shrubs containing around 70 species. Most mahonias are found in parts of Asia, North America, and Central America. The most well-known species is the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium).
Mahonias have large glossy green leaves with serrated margins. Mahonias can flower from early autumn until early spring in some climates. Mahonia flowers are typically yellow, produced in clusters that attract bees and other pollinators. Once the flowers have finished, mahonias produce blue-black fruits.
Mahonias depend on partial shade and can handle poor, well-draining soils. These evergreens can tolerate drought during the summer. They require pruning once a year but are otherwise pretty low-maintenance shrubs.
10. Photinias (Photinia spp.)
Photinias (Photinia genus) are a group of approximately 60 evergreen shrubs that are closely related to apple trees. Photinias are indigenous to parts of Asia including China, Japan, and Thailand. Photinias are low-maintenance ornamental shrubs that work well in borders or as hedges.
Photinias typically grow between 4 and 15 metres tall. During the early summer, photinias produce beautiful clusters of white flowers that have a subtle fragrance. Photinias also have green or red leaves with toothed margins. The bright red fruits are an important food source for birds.
One of the most popular photinia species is Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’, which produces beautiful red leaves. Photinias grow best in acidic, well-draining soils and prefer some sun or partial shade.
Top 5 Tropical Evergreen Shrubs
1. Fatsia japonica
Fatsia japonica is one of the most famous tropical evergreen shrubs. Fatsia japonica is indigenous to southern parts of Japan and Korea and belongs to the Araliaceae family. Fatsia japonica grows up to 5 metres tall, producing large glossy green leaves with eight lobes.
Fatsia japonica is an excellent tropical evergreen shrub for containers. These shrubs are fairly low-maintenance and grow slowly. Fatsia japonica tolerates most light conditions and can also thrive in coastal areas.
2. Fuchsias (Fuchsia spp.)
The Fuchsia genus consists of approximately 110 tropical evergreen shrubs and trees. Most fuchsias are native to South America and the Caribbean.
Fuchsias are popular for their dramatic flowers. Fuchsia flowers have four pink or red sepals that gradually open like a trumpet, exposing four dark purple, pink, or red petals. The flowers hang like jewels from the branches. Fuchsias usually flower from summer until autumn.
Fuchsias prefer sun or partial shade and well-draining soil. Many varieties require a sheltered spot and tender fuchsias must be protected during the winter. Fuchsias are ideal tropical evergreen shrubs to grow in pots. Deadhead the spent flowers to encourage fresh blooms.
3. Japanese cheesewood (Pittosporum tobira)
Japanese cheesewood (Pittosporum tobira) is an ornamental tropical shrub from the Pittosporaceae family. It’s also known as Australian laurel and comes from Southeast Asia.
Japanese cheesewood produces glossy, leathery oval-shaped leaves. These evergreens can reach up to 10 meters tall. Japanese cheesewood flowers are white and have a slightly orange scent.
Japanese cheesewood shrubs suit Mediterranean or tropical gardens. These plants are drought-tolerant and are quite hardy. Japanese cheesewood requires full sun or partial shade and well-draining soils.
4. Rice-paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer)
The rice-paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) belongs to the Araliaceae family and is native to Taiwan and other parts of eastern Asia. The pith of this tropical evergreen shrub can be turned into rice paper. Rice-paper plants are also used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Rice-paper plants have large leaves with deep lobes that look similar to those of Fatsia japonica. Several cultivars of the rice-paper plant are available, including Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’.
Rice-paper plants grow fairly fast and work well in tropical-themed borders. These tropical evergreen shrubs need well-draining soil and full sun or partial shade.
5. Schefflera (Schefflera spp.)
Although known best as houseplants, scheffleras like Schefflera arboricola can also be grown as outdoor tropical evergreen shrubs. The Schefflera genus contains as many as 900 different species native to Australia, China, and Taiwan.
Schefflera shrubs are not cold-hardy, with many unable to handle temperatures below 13ºC. Schefflera shrubs need partial or full shade and warm, humid conditions. The soil needs to be humus-rich or improved with plenty of organic matter.
Evergreens to use for landscaping
Evergreens work brilliantly for landscaping. Because they retain their foliage throughout the year, evergreen shrubs can be permanent structures in your garden. You can use evergreen shrubs to frame other plants or direct visual interest around the garden.
Some of the best evergreen shrubs to use for landscaping are species that work well as hedges or topiary. Evergreen shrubs that suit landscaping include:
- Arborvitae (Thuja spp.)
- Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)
- Common box (Buxus sempervirens)
- European yew (Taxus baccata)
- Juniper (Juniperus spp.)
Tall evergreen shrubs can be a central ornamental feature of your garden. Tall evergreen shrubs are usually species that grow above 4 metres tall. Some of the best tall evergreens include:
- Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
- Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
- Irish juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Hibernica’)
Small or dwarf evergreen shrubs work well as border hedges in formal gardens. Small evergreens are also good ground cover. Some of the best small evergreen shrubs include:
- Blue star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)
- Common heather (Calluna vulgaris)
- Dwarf English box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’)
Low-maintenance evergreen shrubs provide a solid foundation for your garden. These shrubs won’t take up much of your time, allowing you to focus on other areas. Some of the best low-maintenance evergreen shrubs include:
Fast-growing evergreen shrubs can quickly add shape and structure to your garden. Some of the most popular fast-growing evergreens include:
- Camellias (Camellia spp.)
- Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
- Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
- Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii)
- Rice-paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer)
Ornamental evergreens add impact and spectacle to any garden. Ornamental evergreen shrubs can be large or may have vibrant flowers or foliage. Some of the best ornamental evergreens include:
- Azaleas/Rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.)
- Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)
- Camellias (Camellia spp.)
- English holly (Ilex aquifolium)
- Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
Evergreen shrubs fulfil multiple functions in the garden. They can be used as ornamental centrepieces, especially if they produce beautiful flowers. Evergreen shrubs also make excellent hedges or topiary plants and respond well to shaping.