Evergreen trees and shrubs have lasting impact in winter

Fine landscapes contain a broad blend of evergreen and deciduous plants. Evergreens provide structure and consistency to the surroundings. Deciduous plants, on the other hand, offer change and seasonality. Many of our best flowering trees and shrubs are deciduous plants, further adding to the variety they bring to their gardens.

Most landscapes primarily feature evergreen shrubs and deciduous shade trees. You probably don't want to have shrubs that drop all their leaves to expose your house or your patio. By comparison, you want shade in the summer and sun in the winter, so you might choose a pecan, red oak or Chinese pistachio as your primary tree. But, don't feel like deciduous trees are your only options.

Here are the best of our evergreen trees and why you might want to plant one.

I'm a big fan of live oaks. In fact, if it weren't for pecans already holding the title, live oaks would certainly qualify as our state tree in Texas. They grow in the swamps of Southeast Texas, and you'll find them on the rolling hills of the Edwards Plateau.

The best thing about live oaks is how they take on a hero status as things turn brown for the winter. At a time when other plants have dropped all their leaves and closed shop for the winter, live oaks shine, with their deep green, evergreen foliage. Look around you the next time you're out, and you'll see the magnificence of old specimens of this venerable tree. Live oaks shine.

There are places, however, where live oaks won't fit. They're not well-suited to areas that are troubled with oak wilt, and they're certainly not good for small urban landscapes. They're big trees, up to 40 feet tall and 75 feet wide at maturity, so you don't want to cram them up against streets, power lines and two-story houses.

Space savers

If space is an issue, there are other evergreen trees that you ought to consider. Southern magnolias, native to East Texas, are sometimes candidates, but, like live oaks, they're also large trees when they mature. Granted, they're more upright and less spreading than live oaks, but varieties Little Gem and Teddy Bear are much smaller. Little Gem grows to 35 feet tall and 25 feet wide, while Teddy Bear is projected to get no taller than 20 feet and no wider than 15 feet at maturity. It's a much newer selection, so we haven't had as much time to see it perform in North Texas conditions.

Looking for something still smaller? Two hollies merit consideration. Yaupon holly, trained as a small tree, grows to 20 feet tall and wide. It's a handsome native Texas plant, especially the female yaupons that load themselves up with small red berries all winter.

Nellie R. Stevens hollies are also trained tree-form. Although you'll most commonly see them sold and planted as large evergreen screening shrubs, nurseries are offering single- and multitrunk specimens. Their foliage is extremely dark green and bold-textured. Their berries are marble-size, and every plant will produce them once it attains a reasonably mature size and form. Their trunks become quite prominent, often to 6 inches in diameter.

Junipers round out our list of evergreen landscape trees, and they do so with style. Our local native eastern redcedar juniper (Juniperus virginiana) is a fine screening tree. However, if you plant it in a row, allow at least 20 feet between plants. Closer plantings will result in crowded trees that will lose lower branches after 10 or 20 years.

Many other tree-form junipers are available, although they're not common. You'll be most likely to find them at independent retail nurseries that also sell wholesale to landscape contractors. Varieties like Burkii and Canaertii can be ordered in for you, especially in spring, when trucks are delivering almost daily.

Neil Sperry publishes Gardens Magazine and hosts Texas Gardening on WBAP AM/FM noon-1 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m.-noon Sundays. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227 or 214-787-1820.