Evergreen conifers for Central Texas:

Tis the season for lovely Christmas cards with pictures of beautiful songbirds sitting in lush evergreens dusted with snow. I don't long for lots of snow. I am very happy with our mild Texas winters. I just long for lush evergreens, because they make the drab winter landscape beautiful, and the thick leafy green branches are a haven for little songbirds trying to escape the cold night wind. Further north, evergreen conifers are the foundation of the garden and most everyone uses the shrubbery around their houses for this very reason. I wonder why more people don't do that here in Texas? Our choices are broad as there are many conifers that grow well here, plus many other shrubs that are evergreen, also.

Perhaps it's just not part of the culture to grow thick plants near your house here because so many people are afraid of snakes. But snakes will happily live under your house or outbuildings, especially is you keep pet food out day and night which encourages rodents - which mightily entices some snakes to visit. In many tropical countries people don't even want grass near their house for this reason, and actually sweep the dirt to make is smooth and looking well kept. But I long for lush greenery around my house, and the drab brown uniformity of a Texas winter seems rather depressing. Now hardly anyone wants lots of Juniperus ashei (we call then cedars) growing around their house because so many of us get cedar fever allergies, but other junipers than Juniperus ashei are my first choice as conifers because they are extremely drought hardy, are tolerant of many soil types, and come in various beautiful varieties such as the blue clones. There is a juniper suitable for any garden from giant trees to creeping shrub ground covers that are only a few inches tall. Juniperus Scopulorum "Wichita Blue" is an old favorite which can get 20 ft tall and 6 foot wide. There are also the dwarf cascading types to use a groundcovers such as "Blue Rug", "Pacific Blue" among others. I have two planted on our storm shelter which I hardly water, and they are growing just fine.

There are various yellow clones also, but I rather think they look sickly due to the fact that so many plants here show yellow if they are not alkaline tolerant and get chlorosis. Chlorosis is where the plant can't take up iron nutrients, and is anemic because the soil is too alkaline for it, which is why the best treatment is not more iron, but to neutralize the soil by adding ammonia fertilizer, or better yet, mulch and humus. Because of this, even if the yellow tinged junipers are supposed to look that way, I'm not fond of the color, but your choice may not be mine.

Junipers and other evergreens may get winter spider mites, but they do not get the summer species of mites that show little webs. The treatment is to just hose them off with a vigorous water spray once in awhile. This works well because it disrupts their breeding cycle. The little sapsuckers are the size of dust specks, and the way to tell if your evergreen shrubs and trees have them is by shaking a branch over a white cloth. The plant won't show any damage until the next summer when entire branches will die, so the best thing is to just hose them off once-in-awhile if there hasn't been any hard rain to do it for you.

Chinese junipers are another fine choice for Central Texas. Sargent's juniper is a beautiful feathery spreading shrub that gets 3-4' tall x 8-10' wide. Upright conical varieties includle Juniper 'Spartin' which gets 17' x 5'. Juniper 'Bluepoint' gets 8' tall x 4' wide. None of the junipers do well in poor drainage. This makes them susceptible to blight and root rots. My next choice are the hollies, such as the American holly native to east Texas, but it needs rich acidic sandy loam. It can reach 50 ft. Most hollies, except for the Youpon holly, like moist, rich soil. The Burford holly can get 25 ft, and Youpon hollies, which are native here can reach 20 ft. But there is also a dwarf youpon holly that only gets 5 foot tall, but it can get twice as wide. None of these should be a foundation planting around your house unless you plan to prune a lot. Songbirds love the red berries on all holly species.

Next I love Chamaecyparis. These evergreen conifers also come in many varieties, shapes and sizes. Some get really big in Texas, 35X20 feet, and others are dwarf and can be used to anchor points in the garden, or corners of your house. Some are nearly round and come in tints of yellow. I like them because most have soft, glossy green foliage, and they are nice to touch. The leaves might die back inside near the trunk and turn brown, but this is natural, and they will remain bright green on the outside. These are hardy plants that need little care, but they might also get winter spider mites if it's a very dry winter. This only touches upon a few evergreens you could plant around your home to brighten up your winter scenery, and encourage songbirds to stay around. There are many others which I will touch upon next time.