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Never Lose Color: Use These Evergreens That Change Colors In Winter

Nov 19, 2015 08:32AM ● Published by Kevin

Color is what most people want in their gardens and containers.  Folks quickly think of blooming plants to supply such color, but color also comes from foliage. We’re all familiar with deciduous trees and shrubs whose leaves turn colors in the fall, but a few evergreen shrubs exist that take on a different color in the winter and add interest to that season.  

Abelia Kaleidoscope

This cultivar of abelia lives up to the definition of “kaleidoscope - a variegated, changing pattern or scene” since it undergoes changing colors through the seasons.  Spring foliage sports light green centers and bright yellow leaf margins.  Summer foliage takes on darker green centers and a golden to creamy-yellow outer edge.  As temperatures drop in the fall, the leaves assume a combination of green, golden yellow, orange and red.  Those colors intensify during winter and really make the plant stand out in the winter landscape, especially when it’s planted en masse.

Kaleidoscope performs best in full sun to partial shade.  These conditions also promote the best leaf color, fullness and flowering.   Abelias tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but need good drainage and some moisture to look their best.  Abelias also prefer soils that are acidic to neutral in pH since soils high in pH will cause chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves due to lack of iron).  Once established, abelias demonstrate moderate drought tolerance, but they certainly respond well to supplemental irrigation and fertilization.  They have no serious disease or insect problems.      Use Kaleidoscope in small groupings, mass plantings, containers or anywhere a splash of color is needed.  To make the colorful variegation of Kaleidoscope stand out even more in winter, plant in front of dark green evergreen shrubs such as hollies.  Cool-season color that combines well with Kaleidoscope includes Skyline Copperfield pansies and mixed or burnt orange snapdragons.     

Andorra Juniper

While I was growing up, my dad planted Andorra junipers (Juniperus hortizontalis Plumosa) across the front of our porch on the west side of the house.  Growing only 1 foot tall and 8 to 10 feet wide, it was the perfect, low-growing evergreen to hide the porch’s concrete slab and the base of the four columns.  When winter came, this juniper turned a plum or purple color, which was fine in and of itself, but I remember thinking the purple color clashed with our red brick!

Plant Andorra junipers in full sun in average, well-drained soils with medium moisture.  They actually tolerate a rather dry, sandy or gravelly soil and do well in zones 3 to 9.  During the summer, the foliage is green to blue-green but turns bronze-purple during the winter, giving the plant definite winter interest.

Use Andorra juniper as a ground cover in rock gardens, along foundations, on slopes, in mass plantings or cascading over retaining walls.  Its winter color will look especially good in front of white, gray or a light, plum-colored brick.  I still don’t recommend planting it in front of red brick! 

Nandinas

Nandinas are tough, durable and versatile evergreen shrubs that grow in just about any kind of soil and with low maintenance requirements.  Most varieties grow in sun or shade, although some cultivars prefer more shade than others.  Many new varieties have emerged in the last several years, and some of these have summer but especially outstanding winter color.

Flirt grows 18 to 24 inches tall and makes an excellent, low-growing shrub that takes full sun or shade.  New growth on Flirt is maroon, and that color persists somewhat during the summer, but it really intensifies during the winter.  The maroon color during any season is best in full sun.  Use this shrub as a ground cover or as a foundation planting beneath low windows.  Cool-season color that looks good in front of it includes pansies, dianthus or red cabbage/kale.       

Gulf Stream grows 3 to 4 inches tall and has copper-colored new growth during the summer, but the foliage turns red during the winter.  For a striking winter combination, plant white cabbage/kale, kale Winter Bor or Swiss chard Bright Lights in front of it.      

Firepower and Nana also grow 18 to 24 inches tall and turn flaming red during the winter.  Plant these in full sun en masse and enjoy the striking contribution they make to the winter landscape.  Border with white or other colors of pansies, dianthus, white alyssum or white cabbage/kale for optimal contrast with the bright red foliage.       

Purple Wintercreeper

Purple wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei Coloratus) is a trailing, evergreen ground cover that grows about 1 to 2 feet tall in full sun to part shade in any soil that is well drained.  It spreads along the ground forming a bushy mat until it reaches a vertical surface, which it then begins to climb. It features lustrous, oval-shaped, dark green leaves during the growing season.  Come winter, though, the leaves turn dark purple and make a noticeable statement in the winter landscape.  Use this plant to cover a large area or on a slope to control erosion.  Its height can be managed by mowing over it on the lawnmower’s highest setting or by using a string trimmer.

Try any of these evergreen plants to add new interest to your winter landscape.  You’ll enjoy their colors during the warm months, but you’ll be delighted to see them change colors at a time of year when many other plants have lost their color.  With these plants, you’ll never be at a loss for color.

Written by Steve Huddleston

Share your fall foliage photos with us by emailing them over to mansfieldmagazine@locable.com and your work could be featured on MansfieldMagazine.com in a fall-themed gallery.

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