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Master Gardener Becky Livermore: Evergreens thrive in our area

By Becky Livermore, Master Gardener

Our North Country is crowded with evergreen trees growing among the poplar and birch. A stroll through nearby woods gives us armloads of greens for the upcoming holidays – a swag on the front door, a cover on the mailbox and boughs for the fireplace mantel.

In the woods around our home on the river, we’re lucky to have several kinds of evergreens. I include branches from each – red pines (Norway), white pines, spruce and balsam fir – in decorations, as they are so different from one another in appearance, texture and fragrance.

If you don’t have access to woods nearby, adding evergreens to your landscape for outdoor beauty, shelter from northwest winds and holiday greenery might be in your future. There are several considerations to keep in mind.

The first involves money. Evergreens cost more than deciduous trees. A small evergreen in a gallon-sized pot may cost as much as $30. Another consideration is size. Evergreens, unless kept severely pruned, can become huge. The neat and cute potted arborvitae may grow several feet and end up covering your living room window! Know the mature height and width of the trees/shrubs you want to add before buying. Once purchased and in the ground, it’s too late to bring them back to the nursery.

Color and texture are considerations. Green isn’t just green. There’s yellow-green, blue-green or gray-green. Which will look good together and compliment your house? Do you have space for a hedge to stop snow/wind or only room for a specimen plant?

Before making a decision, do three things. First, make a diagram of your house/lot that’s drawn to scale (more or less). Draw in anything that’s permanently in place such as sidewalks, trees, septic system, etc. Do you have heavy clay or sandy soil? What kind of sun/wind exposure? These are all things to keep in mind when choosing evergreens.

Next, take a drive around your neighborhood and see which evergreens appear to be thriving. It’s easier to have success with native plants that grow naturally in our area. Use other folks’ experiences to help in your decision.

Thirdly, study up about evergreens for the northland. Check with the Minnesota Extension Yard and Garden Information website at, the Department of Natural Resources or the local forestry service. The better armed we are with researched information, the more successful we’ll be in our planting endeavor.

Here is my list of favorite evergreens. Balsam Fir, not usually sold in garden centers as it’s considered a “wild” tree and not propagated for resale, can be transplanted from the woods. The smaller they are when transplanting, the better. Balsam’s fragrant, flat needles with gray/silver undersides don’t easily fall off. Balsam prefers moist, heavier soils and makes a great Christmas tree.

Juniper adds fragrance and texture to gardens. Many varieties do well in our area; some creep along the ground while others reach 10 feet in height.

Arborvitae has soft lacy foliage. It grows in partial shade and needs protection from dry winter winds. There are many varieties, differing in shape/size/hardiness. Some need more pruning than others, but one thing’s for sure: the deer love them! Count on fencing them in (or the deer out).

Scotch and Jack pines are fast growing and picturesque with their orange-red bark and twisted branches. Norway (red) pines with long stiff needles grow well in sandy soil; white pines have softer needles in bunches of five.

Be patient after planting evergreens. They are naturally slow growing, but shoot up quickly after a few years of growth. In the meantime, with the holidays approaching quickly, pay a visit to your friends who live out in the woods. Maybe they’ll be willing to share an armload of fresh evergreens and a cup of holiday cheer.