The Best Evergreen Shrubs for Your Garden, Gardener’s Path

13 of the Best Evergreen Shrubs for Your Garden

Gardeners worldwide are always looking for the newest, flashiest, most amazing plant to add to their collection.

But that stunning thriller of a specimen gets lost without a solid foundation of shrubbery, and no material fulfills this duty better than an evergreen shrub.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

A reliable and easily maintainable foundation for your garden is a few evergreen shrubs away, so let’s cut to the chase and start talking shrubbery!

Wait, What Is a Shrub?

Good question, and an astute observation! Unfortunately for everybody, the standard definition of a shrub is, “a woody plant smaller than a tree with multiple stems near the ground.” That leaves a lot to be explained!

Photo by Matt Suwak.

Let’s skip all of that and assemble our very own idea of what constitutes an evergreen shrub:

  • Less than fifteen feet in height
  • Multiple stems growing from the same point in the ground
  • Responds well to pruning and maintenance
  • Has year-round foliage

There we go, that’s much better!

Photo by Matt Suwak.

Each type of shrub listed below will have at least one recommended cultivar for you to grow in your yard, and they are organized by zone, from coolest to warmest.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

As a final note, double check your growing zone before making a purchase and ensure your new shrub is a match! Specific cultivars may have more narrow growing zones.

Juniper ‘Blue Rug.’ Photo by Matt Suwak.

Let’s get right into it!

13 Best Evergreen Shrubs for the Garden

  1. Leucothoe
  2. Cherry Laurel
  3. Azalea
  4. Yew
  5. Euonymus
  6. Mugo Pine
  7. Pieris Japonica
  8. Viburnum
  9. Mahonia
  10. Boxwood
  11. Juniper
  12. Yucca
  13. Rosemary

1. Leucothoe

A nice choice for areas ranging from the Northeast to the southeastern United States. Leucothoe is a hardy, native, and deer-resistant evergreen shrub that requires minimal special care.

Leucothoe axillaris ‘Curly Red.’

Better yet, it’s happy to spread beyond its initial planting area and is a great choice for a section of the garden where you have a lot of square footage to cover and are working on a budget.

Leucothoe adds a handsome dash of color, and provides you with an excellent evergreen shrub. Check out your local nurseries for these guys, or try this L. fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’ from DAS Farms, available via Amazon.

I’m a fan of Leucothoe fontanesiana because of that gorgeous color the new foliage produces.

This variety also tends to spread out quite happily and responds with minimal fuss to heavy pruning; I recently had to clear out over fifty percent of a hedge of L. fontanesiana and had zero hesitation doing it.

L. axillaris is the best native option to use if you’re interested in growing an all-native garden. It is at its best in the southeastern United States, and offers handsome flowers and dependable foliage.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 5-8

2. Cherry Laurel

Also known as Prunus laurocerasus, this is a favorite evergreen shrub in the Philadelphia region. Blame its popularity on the characteristic red berries it produces, or its eagerness to grow in warm and humid regions.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

The plant is happy to stand upright, and resists most pests and problems. The only problem I’ve run into is that P. laurocerasus is happiest in a warmer environment, and can suffer in the northernmost extent of its growing ranges.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

Gardeners in the northern limits of the growing area for P. laurocerasus can expect to see some branch dieback during the winter, or wind burn in exposed areas.

P. laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ is an evergreen shrub that I have plenty of hands-on experience with.

The lovely white flowers give way to gorgeous black berries, and the persistently dark evergreen foliage of this cultivar offers tremendous value as a background plant wherever you need a backdrop of green with seasonal white flowers.

Growing in an area with little natural sunlight? Consider P. laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis,’ the schip laurel, for an upright option.

Schip Cherry Laurel, 12-16″ Tall, available via Amazon

One of our landscape architects favors schip laurel over almost all others, so even though I’m sick of seeing this evergreen shrub everywhere, it’s impossible to ignore its incredible value to the landscape.

It grows taller than other members of this species, and that’s valuable in and of itself!

Growing Zones: Typically zones 6-9

3. Azalea

These are a favorite of mine for about… oh… two hundred and sixty-three reasons?

They grow well in a variety of conditions and promise beautiful spring blooms. Better yet, the difference between a shaggy azalea and a well-formed one is only a matter of basic pruning.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

I find that an appreciation of the azalea’s natural tendency to be wild is best countered with fearless shaping.

I prune azaleas in the spring immediately after flowering, but will remove obnoxious or form-ruining shoots of growth as late as September.

I’ve written an entire guide on growing azaleas, complete with recommended cultivars, so check it out for more suggestions!

Choosing an evergreen variety is important for year-long performance. The evergreen azaleas tend to have thicker, leathery leaves while the deciduous varieties have a softer and more delicate leaf.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 6-9

4. Yew

I love yew… that is, “yew” as in Taxus baccata – sorry if I got your hopes up!

Photo by Matt Suwak.

As far as reliable and handsome evergreen shrubs go, it’s hard to beat this one. It produces little more than a soft evergreen foliage and the occasional red (and toxic) red berry, but its performance in the garden is stellar.

Some birds will eat the seeds of the yew, but the seed passes harmlessly through the digestive tract of the animal and causes no trouble.

While yew isn’t typically grown for its usefulness to wildlife, it doesn’t hurt to offer those birds something else to munch on.

I had a family of sparrows living in a yew bush at my last apartment and they made great use of the branches as shelter, and surely nibbled on whatever berries they could find.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

Yew responds very well to pruning and shearing, and can be shaped to whatever form you desire.

These tend to be pretty resistant to most ailments as well, which makes them an excellent worry-free evergreen shrub option for your yard.

The Taunton spreading yew (T. x media ‘Tauntoni’) is a good choice for informal areas. It tends to maintain a modest height of about 4 feet, and is happiest when it gets to go a little wild.

If you allow your ‘Tauntoni’ to grow free, you’ll see its branches develop into long “shoots” that have always reminded me of a porcupine. I’ve used these in rock gardens and areas where too much formality isn’t necessary.

For a more formal and solid hedge, check out Hicks yew (T. x media ‘Hicksii’). It reaches a height of nearly 12 feet, and responds well to heavy pruning for growth as a formal privacy hedge.

Hicks yew grows across most of North America so it is perfect for many gardens, as long as they aren’t too wet!

Growing Zones: Typically zones 4-7

5. Euonymus

Euonymus for all of us! I like these guys because of the variety in form and color you can find, and except for being a bit messy these evergreen shrubs aren’t plagued with pests and other problems.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

You can find tall and upright Euonymus, as well low and controlled ones.

Most folks are familiar with the Euonymus variety known as burning bush, but the evergreen varieties of this plant are where Euonymus is at its best.

Although the shrub seems to do best when it’s allowed to grow free and kind of wild, I’ve seen perfectly manicured Euonymus hedges before as well.

The handsome colors of this evergreen shrub are also easy to work with in the garden, and add plenty of variety and stable year-round color to your yard.

The Manhattan Euonymus (Euonymus kiautschovicus ‘Manhattan’) grows to six feet tall in zones 5-10, and is a good option for warmer climates.

With a simple green leaf that’s still lustrous and handsome, it benefits from a bit of protection from strong winter winds to avoid leaf burn.

‘Emerald Gaiety’ Euonymus, available via Nature Hills

For a shorter option, try Emerald Gaiety (E. fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’). Not only does it offer a more modest height and spread than others, its soft colors promise to highlight and never detract from the rest of your garden.

This evergreen shrub can even become a climber if provided with the right supports, like a trellis or arbor!

Growing Zones: Typically zones 5-9

6. Mugo Pine

The Mugo pine, or Pinus mugo, is a favorite of mine.

I don’t know why, exactly; it might be that it’s just a simple pine tree, and it might have something to do with its somewhat contorted growing habit, but I love this evergreen shrub.

The Mugo pine is great in rock gardens and gardens with an Asian theme, but it will thrive in just about any dry and rocky area. If there’s a headache related to mugos, it’s that they can be pretty slow growing.

But that’s alright, since it’s hard to find a good evergreen shrub that looks as unique as a mugo that stays small and contained. With a little bit of patience, you’ll have something that works as a statement piece as well as background color.

You’ve only really got one option with this plant: the dwarf Mugo pine (P. mugo var. pumilio). It’ll reach a height of about four feet and spreads out up to ten feet.

Hardy and self-reliant, this is the perfect option for the garden when you want to plant it and forget it.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 2-8

7. Pieris Japonica

Sometimes known simply as Pieris or japonica, this is a lovely show-off of an evergreen shrub.

Whether it’s the lustrous evergreen foliage highlighted with tinges of red and gold or the cascade of bell-shaped flowers, the Pieris has a place in your garden.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

These evergreen shrubs prefer a shady spot where they will be protected from drying winds, and like to set roots into acidic soil.

Well-draining soil is preferred, to prevent nasty fungal infections, and this species is susceptible to many of the same conditions as azaleas.

More specifically, you’ll want to keep an eye out for powdery mildew, bark scale, white flies and leaf miners, and calcium deficiencies.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

I’ve only seen Pieris used as foundation points in the garden and never as a hedge, but it could be something worth pursuing! Its colors are similar to that of Leucothoe and the two could make an interesting pairing in the garden.

‘Mountain Snow’ Pieris, available via Nature Hills

The Mountain Snow Pieris (P. japonica ‘Planow’) is my personal favorite. It maxes out at a height of about five feet and has a similar spread, but the real appeal is the bright red foliage it develops on its new growth. Really a fantastic sight to behold in your own garden!

Its height of about two feet with a similar spread requires no special pruning, and its foliage maintains a green color accented with beautiful flowers. A short row of Cavatine is jaw-dropping when in full bloom.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 5-9

8. Viburnum

This species offers a variety of evergreen options, and plants are usually quick to fill up space in the yard.

Because the list of available types of viburnum is huge, you’re just about guaranteed to find one that will be happy in your garden’s conditions.

Photo by Matt Suwak.

Just keep an eye out when you’re purchasing these at a garden center or selecting one other than those on our suggested list; some varieties of viburnum can grow to be huge and others are more deciduous in nature.

Still others can be pesky to prune, like the leatherleaf variety, because they produce an irritating sort of dust on the leaves.

This dust is easily visible when the leaves are shaken, and can make maintenance of the shrub uncomfortable.

While the dust isn’t harmful, it is irritating, so I will wear an isolation dust mask when working with them. Alternatively, spraying the foliage with a hose helps to minimize any falling dust.

Even so, these flowering evergreen shrubs are a solid choice for your yard and tend to be considerably resistant to pests and diseases.

They also take well to pruning and don’t require much more than some general maintenance, though thickly overgrown masses of viburnum may require heavier removal of old limbs.

Despite its drawbacks, I love the leatherleaf type (V. rhytidophyllum) as my evergreen viburnum of choice! It can reach a height of about ten feet and loves to spread out, sending up new leads of growth during every growing season.

Leatherleaf V. Rhytidophylloides ‘Alleghany,’ available via Amazon

It will bloom from May through June and tapers off as the summer heat intensifies.

Unassuming white flowers do not detract from the rest of the garden. Prune these immediately after flowering, because viburnum starts setting new buds in the fall!

Growing Zones: Typically zones 3-9

9. Mahonia

One of my favorite evergreen shrubs, Mahonia is a plant for people who want something tough and edgy that doesn’t skimp on visual appeal.

It looks like a short and stubby cross between a holly and a staghorn sumac, except it has some very lovely colors and fruits that add a nice accent to the dark green leaves.

It isn’t for everywhere, though, because this is one prickly customer. The leaves are rather sharp and pointed, and tend to aggravate anybody who handles them. It’s also simultaneously a slow grower and a plant that is all too happy to produce volunteer seedlings.

That said, if you’ve got room for a prickly evergreen shrub to ward off trespassers, or you simply want to add a bit of rough-and-tumble flavor to your yard, give mahonia a shot. It’s handsome and worthwhile in its own way, and might be the perfect evergreen shrub for your home!

‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia, available from Nature Hills

For a less prickly customer, consider the Soft Caress Mahonia (M. eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’). The leaves have less of an edge or point than other mahonia cultivars, and this variety is happy to grow in the shade.

It also has a short growth habit and spread, reaching about four feet tall and wide. The only hang-up is that it’s acclimated only to the narrow swath of USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9.

20 Oregon Grape Holly Fruit Vine Seeds (Hollyleaved Barberry Mahonia Aquifolium), available via Amazon

If you want the real deal, try these seeds for Oregon grape (M. aquifolium). The resulting plant will reach nearly eight feet in height and about six feet in width, producing beautiful bluish-purple seeds that wildlife like small birds and insects adore.

Directly plant the seeds in the fall in your garden and cover with about half an inch of soil, then watch for the tell-tale prickly leaves to appear!

Growing Zones: Typically zones 5-9

10. Boxwood

An evergreen shrub roundup could not be complete without that trusty garden companion, the boxwood (Buxus).

Now, I need to admit I have a certain distaste for boxwood because of how often I see it used on the properties where I garden, and you can only prune so many hundreds of them before you develop a similar distaste yourself.

But all of that aside, boxwoods are an ideal evergreen shrub because of their ease of growth, tendency to maintain a uniform growing pattern, and their eager response to pruning.

They maintain their color year-round, and are not typically not prone to many illnesses, though boxwood blight is typically fatal to these shrubs.

Use boxwood as a long hedge, or to add individual blobs of green in your landscape; I like to think of them as giant green meatballs, dotting the yard. They work well in almost any capacity, and there are enough cultivars to find exactly what you need.

My personal favorite boxwood is the Winter Gem (B. microphylla japonica ‘Winter Gem’) because of its stronger form and more appealing foliage.

These work ridiculously well as a long hedge of green meatballs, and are a breeze to prune. They’re also stronger against winds, snowfall, and general abuse than other boxwoods I’ve worked with.

‘Green Mountain’ Boxwood, available from Nature Hills

For a more conical plant, try the Green Mountain boxwood (B. x ‘Green Mountain’). With softer foliage and a more upright growing habit, this is a good choice if you want to sprinkle a few around your yard as reliable and upright evergreen shrubs that don’t steal the show.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 4-8

11. Juniper

Juniper (Juniperus) is an old favorite of mine. It was one of the first shrubs I worked extensively with on a tree nursery where I once worked, and I eventually came to savor the irritating feeling their needles provide to bare skin.

Cossack juniper (J. sabina).

Add to those memories its absolute ease of growing, and you’ve got yourself a worthwhile evergreen shrub!

Variety could be juniper’s middle name. You’re able to find low-growing and ground-hugging varieties next to others that grow to become 100-foot-tall trees, and a huge variety of perfectly-sized evergreen shrubs for your yard.

If you’ve got a dry and rocky area where nothing seems to grow, pop in a juniper and watch it take off. These shrubs are perfect for soil retention and as foundational hedges, though the low-growing varieties offer excellent evergreen ground cover.

My go-to favorite is Blue Rug juniper (J. horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) as both groundcover and accent in the garden.

It’s perfect for growing over and then cascading down a wall or arrangement of stone, and its short height of about six inches is offset by its spread of up to 8 feet! You could buy a handful of blue rug junipers and cover an entire area very quickly, all with a cool blue color.

If you prefer a plain green color, try the ‘Sea Green’ juniper (J. chinensis ‘Sea Green’). It reaches up to about six feet in height and is as easy to care for as they come.

‘Sea Green’ juniper. Photo by Matt Suwak.

These will fill in areas quickly, so plant smartly! Its soft textured foliage breaks up structures like decks and other backgrounds as well, and it can also hide your foundation from view.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 2-8

12. Yucca

I’ll add some Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) to this list because they’re gorgeous, hardy, and produce one of the coolest flowers you’ll ever see! Their status as “shrubs” might be up for debate, but in warmer regions of the country, this is a solid choice for year-round greenery.

Photo by Allison Sidhu.

Sharp and upright rosettes of thick green leaves identify this plant, but its enormous flower stalk makes this an evergreen shrub that functions as the main act! The foliage is unique among evergreen shrubs, and adds some fun variety to the texture of your garden.

They are highly resistant to… well, pretty much everything, and that’s a big plus in our book. As the plants age and weather, they produce little twisted bits of fiber, making these an option for those who don’t mind a wilder looking garden.

I’m a sucker for variegated plants, so the Color Guard Yucca (Y. filamentosa ‘Color Guard’) is my first suggestion. Once established, it requires very little attention, and it can be root divided every few years. It reaches a height of one to two feet. Not bad!

For a more uniform color, try Adam’s Needle yucca (Y. filamentosa ‘Adam’s Needle’). It produces an almost identical flower but reaches heights of two to four feet. Stagger the two of these together, and you’ll find they nicely complement each other.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 4-10, might survive in zone 11 in protected conditions

13. Rosemary

Our last is something most of us grow as an herb, but for gardeners way down in zone 11, Tuscan Blue rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’) can serve as an excellent evergreen shrub!

It is a plant that does not respond well to wet feet or cold conditions and prefers warmer, drier climates.

It can reach heights of six to ten feet, and produces beautiful and delicate blue flowers. It’s one of the few shrubs that produces something edible and makes it worthwhile as an addition to a kitchen garden.

Growing Zones: Typically zones 8-11, might survive mild winters in zone 7.

Big, Green, and Reliable: Evergreen Shrubs Are the Way to Go!

Oftentimes, we think of evergreen shrubs as plain, boring background plants in the garden. And that’s true, to some extent.

A solid hedge of green or some reliable and easy-growing shrubs in the yard help bind everything together. But some of these can be show-stoppers themselves, and that’s pretty great!

Photo by Matt Suwak.

It’s impossible to put together a list of every single evergreen shrub out there, so I’ve focused on the ones I can personally recommend and endorse here. Which ones will you choose to add to your garden space?

Photo by Matt Suwak.

Let us know! I’m always happy to read suggestions and questions in the comment section below, or via our pages on social media.

For even more woody shrub and ornamental suggestions for the garden, check out our full archive here.

Thanks for reading, and check in on Gardener’s Path again soon!

Photos by Matt Suwak and Allison Sidhu © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Nature Hills Nursery, DAS Farms, Garden Good Direct, Heirloom Garden, and Seedville. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Matt Suwak

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

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