Gold Evergreens


Very often in July and through August the garden looks fairly plain, especially the foundation plantings. A vast number of shrubs have flowered earlier and they offer little interest until fall brings out leaf color or fruit. This is the time to note what really catches your eye. How about the gold and yellow evergreens? It seems a contradiction, but the yellow evergreens can brighten your landscape at this time of year. There are numerous species of yew (Taxus), arborvitae (Thuja), and falsecypress (Chaemacypress) that can be dwarf, for the small space, or large specimens of 30 feet or more.

Strategically placed, they can break up the medium green of midsummer. In addition, for fall and winter, they can have the same effect as forsythia in raising the spirits. Many people believe, if they see a yellowish evergreen, that it is dying. There are phases during the season when the plant may not be as bright. Or they may look a little haggard. However, they are great plants for the periods of summer and winter doldrums.

A few favorites are listed here, to illustrate different uses and shapes. There are far too many varieties to cover all aspects of this under-utilized class of plants.

Gold Yew (Taxus cuspidata "Aurea Nana") is a bright yellow shrub, growing wider than tall. It is a very slow-growing dwarf evergreen, perhaps achieving 1-3" per year. It fits well in a rock garden, along walks or beds as a low border, and near birdponds. Full sun is needed to keep its color. Trimming should be done in early spring to allow new growth to hide cuts and the green interior of the plant.

Sherwood Frost Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis "Sherwood Frost") is a dwarf, upright shrub that has creamy white tips, giving it a variegated look. For a more upright broad form, this fits well around the foundation or small garden. Its mottled appearance is unusual and attractive.

Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae (Thuja occ. "Yellow Ribbon") is a narrow upright shrub, growing to about 10' tall and 3' wide in twenty years. It has light yellow foliage that is consistent throughout the year. It is a good corner plant or fits beside a front entrance. George Peabody Arborvitae (Thuja occ. "George Peabody") has a similar shape, but gets wider and taller if untrimmed. The golden foliage turns even deeper in winter and, by late February, has almost a burnt orange hue that fully covers the plant.

Gold Hinoki Falsecypress (Chaemacypress obtusa "Aurea") grows broad and tall, although not faster than most people can trim. It generally grows 3-6" a year. Like Hinoki, it has a fan-shape growth habit. The yellow-gold color is more yellow in summer, turning gold in winter, and colors the outer foliage, while showing dark green in the intereior of the plant. This shrub makes a good hedge, corner-of-the-house plant, or informal specimen, when standing alone. It does best sheltered from wind.

Gold Threadleaf Falsecypress (Cham. pisifera "Filifera Aurea") is broadly upright, growing wider than tall when young. There are many similar to this which grow more slowly, although Gold Threadleaf only grows about 3-6" per year. It is noteable for its light yellow, threadlike foliage, which is consistent all season. The graceful, downward-hanging foliage is a very good contrast to other evergreens and shows best when trimmed informally in the spring, so that new growth covers the evidence of shearing. This plant does not look its best trimmed formally or late in the summer.

Spice up your mid-summer landscape and winter whitescape with some sunny splashes of color. Discard the notion that yellow means an unhealthy plant. Have a forsythia-like plant to cheer you all year. Give this a try and you will not regret it.

This column ties into the midsummer color theme in trying to get some life around the foundation. There are many plants which bloom all summer or near summers' end. The right perennials, planted between foundation shrubs can work, but the focus here is on shrubs which can do the same. Keep your eyes open for others that may work in your area. The following are mostly Zone 4 shrubs, but the first is a worthy, somewhat risky, specimen.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus), which is borderline, can survive in the right place in the Maine interior. There are white, pink, red, and blue varieties, which are very showy mid to late summer. I like this shrub for its late bloom, variety of colors, and the fact it can flower so abundantly no green shows. It grows 8' tall and often as wide. If used as a foundation plant, put it at least 4' from the house. This shrub is worth taking a gamble on if you live in central Maine and it is an excellent choice nearer the coast.

Summersweet (Clethra) usually flowers late July into August. The white or pink flowers are upright spikes, borne on new growth on the outer plant. The fragrance is as strong as lilac, which makes it an excellent choice planted near a deck or kitchen window. Summersweet tolerates sun or shade and needs moist soil when being established. The larger varieties can grow to 8' or more. "Hummingbird" Summersweet grows 4' to 6'. Pruning should be done after flowers fade or a hard pruning before leaves emerge in spring works well.

Hydrangea are great bloomers. The most familiar, Pee Gee Hydrangea (Hyd. paniculata "Grandiflora"), grows to 10' or so. It carries blooms late summer to fall and can be used in dried flower arrangements. Like other hydrangea, Pee Gee grows in sun or shade and is soil tolerant, when established.

Annabelle Hydrangea (Hyd. arborescens "Annabelle") grows to about 4'. It has large white flowers from late June to fall. When planted where snow is piled or falls off the roof, this shrub will survive and bloom every year. There are similar macrophylla varieties in pink and blue, but most of these are not as hardy as Annabelle. However, All Summer Beauty Hydrangea has done better than Nikko at Shaker Hill Nursery.

Potentilla (Cinquefoil) is a low, spready shrub, growing from 1' to 3' tall. Foliage can be green to dusty blue-green. Flowers are buttercup shape and size, single -layer petals in white, yellow, orange, red, and pink. There are minor variations of colors but all seem to flower from June into late September. This shrub prefers moist, rich, well-drained soil. When it starts to get woody and unkempt, prune severely before leaves emerge. This will promote a lot of new growth and better flowering. Potentilla make good low hedges. They also add depth to foundation plantings when set in front of taller shrubs that are near the foundation.

Spirea will bloom best in June but a few can be encouraged to flower all summer. The way to do this is by carefully removing the dead flowers with scissors or hand pruners. The best of the spirea for continuing blooms are Anthony Waterer and Coccinea (Spirea bumalda "Coccinea"), which are nearly identical and have deep pink , wide flower clusters. They do best in full sun but can tolerate shade. Fall color is an attractive red. Maximum height is 4' and they tend to be wider than tall. Hard pruning can be done before leaves emerge. Large, woody stalks should be removed and the overall size reduced by as much as one third.

When planning your garden areas, do not forget to work in the above plants for color. Spring is bursting with its numbers of flowering shrubs; and, with the above choices, you can enjoy blooms extending through the growing season.


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Poland Spring, Maine
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