The Q&A Archives: Evergreens for Planters

Question: I have 2 large round planters in the sun. I have used alberta spruces in them, but they continue to die. What evergreen would you suggest? I also want to replace my present monkey grass with the dwarf type. Is there a particular type dwarf better than others for my area? When should I do this?

Answer: Two of the easiest to grow evergreens include 'Sky Pencil' holly (Ilex crenata); it will grow to about four feet tall, but it will never get any wider than about 8". 'Sky Pencil' looks equally good in the ground or in a pot, where it can remain for several years. Another unusual upright plant is the juniper called 'Skyrocket' (Juniperus scopulorum). This sun lover is hardy to Zone 4, maintains beautiful silvery-blue foliage year-round, and grows to 15 feet tall and just two feet wide.

Hope one of these is just right for your landscape.

Liriope muscari ranges from 12 to 24 inches in height. When not called monkey grass, it's also known as lily turf or simply liriope. `Big Blue' is the most popular and available selection. The leaves are 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide. Liriope is usually dark green in color, but some selections, such as `Silvery Sunproof ' and `John Burch,' have striped white or yellow leaves. Those selections tend to do better in sunny locations.

`Evergreen Giant' grows tall, usually 2 to 3 feet in height. It makes a nice foundation planting against the house under low windows. It isn't as cold tolerant as other selections and is best suited for the Coastal and Tropical South.

Liriope spicata, sometimes called creeping liriope, has soft narrow foliage. Because its foliage is not stiff, it forms a loose mound. It isn't recommended as an edging plant because it spreads aggressively and will quickly grow into turf areas and flowerbeds. It works well in large beds as a ground cover, where weeds have a hard time competing with it.

Ophiopogon japonicus, commonly referred to as mondo grass or mondo, is very similar to liriope but much smaller, growing 6 to 12 inches tall with 4-inch-wide leaves. Its fine texture makes it a good ground cover in tight spots.

Mondo grass is not recommended for full sun locations because of leaf burn. A little shade allows it to retain a deep blue-green color. `Silver Mist' is a variegated form with green-and-white leaf blades. There is also black mondo grass (0. japonicus 'Nigrescens') which has very dark foliage. This selection is more of a specimen plant and is slow to establish itself. Dwarf mondo (there are several dwarf selections) is tiny, growing only 3 inches tall. Many times dwarf mondo is used in cracks and crevices of walkways. Its low profile keeps it from interfering with your footing.

Mondo grass and liriope can both suffer from cold damage during bad winters; foliage can turn brown and look rough. You can run a lawnmower set on its highest setting or a string trimmer over them in late February to remove discolored foliage before new growth appears. When trimming, don't cut too close to the crowns of the plants or you may hurt new foliage. Even when cold damage isn't a problem, it helps to cut these plants back every few years to rejuvenate tattered foliage and promote new growth.

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