Hardy Perennials With Evergreen Foliage

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Hen-and-chicks and sedums still hold interest, even in the heart of winter. Photo: http://www.wsj.com

There’s a long tradition of describing shrubs and trees according to the persistence of their foliage. Indeed, conifers are often simply called evergreens, while those (relatively few) trees and shrubs that hold onto their leaves all year in cold climates, like rhododendrons and boxwoods, are called broadleaf evergreens. They’re highly appreciated for the color they give to our gardens even in winter. 

Strangely, little attention seems to be paid to hardy perennials with persistent leaves, those non-woody plants that hold onto their leaves all through the year, even in winter, even in cold climates. And hardy evergreen perennials are fairly few in number: most cold-resistant perennial plants do lose their leaves in the fall. Still, with leaves that are still present even as cold weather sets in, and while their neighboring perennials go from green to brown, those perennials that do hang onto their foliage do add beauty and interest to the garden in the off-season.

Of course, how long evergreen perennials decorate the garden depends on local conditions. In my area, they’re mostly of interest in the fall, then again in early spring, because in midwinter, my garden is totally covered in snow. And evergreen perennials are, practically by definition, low to the ground and readily hidden by snow. Still, their persistent foliage is an attraction for at least a few months every year: before and after snowfall.

Color Changes

Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ with purple leaves
Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’: in winter, it’s no longer exactly green, but the leaves are still there. Photo: heetahgarden.com

“Evergreen” probably isn’t the best of terms to apply to perennials with persistent leaves, as the foliage doesn’t necessarily remain the same green in the fall and winter it was in the summer. Some darken, others turn reddish or purple. Variegated foliage often takes on a pinkish tinge in cold weather. And some perennials, like most heucheras, with their range of leaf colors that nearly covers the entire rainbow, were never really green at all, even in summer.

Even so, the word is widely used … and most gardeners understand that evergreen really means the leaves hang on all year long.

How Cold Can Evergreen Leaves Take?

Hellebore with brown leaves due to winter damage.
Sometimes there’s winter damage in colder climates, as on this hellebore, so a bit so spring pruning may be necessary. Photo: Spring Hill Nurseries

Not all evergreen perennials truly remain green all winter in very cold climates. Some do suffer from cold damage. I ought to know: in winters when temperatures drop to -30 °F (-35 °C), which they do some years where I live, some evergreen perennials will die back considerably. For example, hellebores (Helleborus spp.), usually considered evergreen elsewhere, might be best thought of as semi-evergreen in my climate. So, in those extra-cold years, they look great in the fall until they disappear under the snow, but need a bit of a trim come spring. Slight winter damage never seems to harm these regionally semi-evergreen perennials, though, and they soon produce a new crop of healthy leaves.

Evergreen Perennials You Can Grow

Here are some evergreen perennials you can try. Those marked with an asterisk (*) will be semi-evergreen in cold climates.

I confess that I did mostly include choices for cold winter climates: in mild climates, there are many, many more evergreen perennials and indeed, relatively few plants lose their leaves seasonally, so there’s no real challenge in finding plants with persistant foliage.

Ajuga 'Catlin's Giant' with purple foliage.
Ajuga ‘Catlin’s Giant’ Photo: http://www.whatgrowsthere.com
  1. Ajuga or bugleweed (Ajuga spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  2. Alpine water fern (Australoblechnum penna-marina, syn. Blechnum penna-marina)—hardiness zones 7–9
  3. Alyssum (Alyssum spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  4. American barrenwort (Vancouveria hexandra)—hardiness zones 4–9
  5. Autumn fern, wood fern* (Dryopteris spp.)—hardiness zones 4 or 5–9
  6. Azure bluet (Houstonia caerulea)—hardiness zones 5–9
  7. Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia spp.)hardiness zones 3–9
  8. Barrenwort*, some species (Epimedium spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  9. Basket of gold (Aurinia saxtalis, syn. Alyssum saxatile)—hardiness zones 3–9
  10. Beach fleabane daisy (Erigeron glaucus)—hardiness zones 4–9
  11. Bellflower, some species (Campanula spp.)—hardiness zones 3 or 4–9
  12. Bergenia (Bergenia spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  13. Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)—hardiness zones 2–9
  14. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’)hardiness zones 6–9
  15. Blue corydalis, some species (Corydalis spp.)—hardiness zones 5–9
  16. Blue fescue (Festuca glauca)—hardiness zones 3–9
  17. Blue moor grass (Sesleria caerulea)hardiness zones 4–9
  18. Blue oat grass* (Helictotrichon sempervirens)—hardiness zones 3–9
  19. Blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis, syn. Laurentia fluviatilis)—hardiness zones 6–9
Fern-like green and black leaves of Brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platts Black’).
Brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’). Photo:  xeraplants.com
  1. Brass buttons (Leptinella spp.)—hardiness zones 5–9
  2. California fuchsia* (Epilobium canum, formerly Zauschneria garrettii)—hardiness zones 5–9
  3. Campion (Silene spp.)—hardiness zones 2–9
  4. Chamois Cress (Hornungia alpina, syn. Hutchinsia alpina & Pritzelago alpina)—hardiness zones 4–9
  5. Chatham Island Forget-me-not (Myosotidium hortensia)—hardiness zones 8–9
  6. Chilean bridal wreath (Francoa sonchifolia)—hardiness zones 7–9
  7. Cinquefoil, some species (Potentilla spp.)—hardiness zones 3 or 4–9
  8. Common chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)—hardiness zones 4–9
  9. Common sage (Salvia officinalis)—hardiness zones 5–9
  10. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)—hardiness zones 3–9
  11. Creeping mazus (Mazus reptans)—hardiness zones 5–9
  12. Creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris)—hardiness zones 6–9
  13. Cushion bolax (Azorella trifurcata)—hardiness zones 4–9
  14. Daylily, some species and cultivars (Hemerocallis spp.)—hardiness zones 5–9
  15. Deer fern (Blechnum spicant)—hardiness zones 5–9
  16. Draba (Draba spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  17. English ivy (Hedera helix)—hardiness zones 6–9
  18. Euphorbia or spurge, some species (Euphorbia spp.)—hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7–9 or -10
White spring flowers (insert) on background of evergreen leaves, Evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
Evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is usually grown for its white spring flowers, but it forms an attractive mat that remains green all year. Photos : seedcorner.com & conservationgardenpark.org
  1. Evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)—hardiness zones 4–9
  2. Fairy foxglove (Erinus alpinus)—hardiness zones 4–9
  3. Foamflower (Tiarella spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  4. Foamy bells (× Heucherella cvs)—hardiness zones 4–9
  5. Fraisier (Fragaria spp.) — hardiness zones 2–9
  6. Geranium, some species (Geranium spp.)—hardiness zones 3, 4, or 5–9
  7. German catchfly (Lychnis viscaria)—hardiness zones 3–9
  8. Germander (Teucrium spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  9. Geum or avens, some species* (Geum spp.)—hardiness zones 3, 4 or 5–9
  10. Giant feather grass (Stipa gigantea)—hardiness zones 6–9
  11. Globe daisy (Globularia spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  12. Gold drop (Umbilicus oppositifolius, syn. Chiastophyllum oppositifolium)—hardiness zones 4–9
  13. Greater periwinkle (Vinca major)—hardiness zones 7–9
  14. Greek horehound (Ballota pseudodictamnus)—hardiness zones 7–10
  15. Ground morning glory (Convolvulus sabatius, syn. C. mauritanicus)—hardiness zones 7–9
  16. Hair grass (Deschampsia spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  17. Hardy ice plant (Delosperma spp.)—hardiness zones 3, 5, 6 or 7–10
  18. Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium, syn. Phyllitis scolopendrium)—hardiness zones 5–9
  19. Hellebore*, Christmas rose, Lenten rose (Helleborus spp.)—hardiness zones 4, 5 or 6–9
  20. Hen-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp. & Jovibarba spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  21. Hepatica (Hepatica spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  22. Heronsbill (Erodium spp.)—hardiness zones 4, 5 or 7-9
Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie' with purple leaves touched by frost.
Heucheras, like this H. ‘Berry Smoothie’, look great with a tinge of frost. Photo: http://www.plantagogo.com
  1. Heuchera or coral bells (Heuchera spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  2. Holly fern (Crytomium spp.)—hardiness zones 5–10
  3. Irish moss, Scotch moss (Sagina subulata)—hardiness zones 3–9
  4. Italian arum (Arum italicum)—hardiness zones 5–9
  5. Jacob’s ladder* (Polemonium spp.)—hardiness zones 2 or 3–9
  6. Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa)—hardiness zones 5–10
  7. Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria spp.)—hardiness zones 5 or 6–9
  8. Lady’s mantle* (Alchemilla spp.)—hardiness zones 3 or 4–9
  9. Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina)—hardiness zones 3–9
  10. Lamium (Lamium spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  11. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)—hardiness zones 5 or 7–9
  12. Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)—hardiness zones 7–9
  13. Lewisia (Lewisia spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  14. Lily-turf (Liriope spp.) – hardiness zones 5–9
  15. Lithospermum (Lithospermum spp.)—hardiness zones 5–9
Pulmonaria ‘High Contrast’ with green leaves marked with silver.
Lungworts, like this Pulmonaria ‘High Contrast’, can be the star of your fall to early spring garden. Photo: http://www.gardenia.net
  1. Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  2. Lyre-leaved sage (Salvia lyrata)—hardiness zones 5–9
  3. Marble-leaf sea holly* (Eryngium variifolium)—hardiness zones 4–9
  4. Miniature mat daisy (Bellium minutum)—hardiness zones 7–9
  5. Miniature sweet flag (Acorus gramineus)—hardiness zones 5–9
  6. Mock strawberry (Potentilla indica, syn. Duchesnea indica)—hardiness zones 5–9
  7. Moroccan daisy (Rhodanthemum hosmariense)—hardiness zones 8–9
  8. Moss phlox (Phlox subulataP. douglasii & P. stolonifera)—hardiness zones 3–9
  9. Mountain avens (Dryas spp.)—hardiness zones 2–9
  10. New Zealand burr (Acaena spp.)—hardiness zones 5–9
  11. New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.)—hardiness zones 9–11
  12. New Zealand iris (Libertia spp.)—hardiness zones 8–9
  13. New Zealand scab plant (Raoulia australis)—hardiness zones 6–9
  14. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)—hardiness zones 4–9
  15. Pachysandra or Japanese spurge (Pachsandra terminalis)—hardiness zones 4–9
  16. Pampas grass (Cortaderia spp.)—hardiness zones 6 or 7–9
  17. Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)—hardiness zones 3–9
  18. Peacock spikemoss (Selaginella uncinata)—hardiness zones 6–9
  19. Penstemon, some species (Penstemon spp.)—hardiness zones 3, 4 or 5–9
Vinca minor Illumination with yellow and green leaves
With its evergreen leaves liberally splashed with yellow, Vinca minor ‘Illumination’ can easily illuminate your garden in all seasons. Photo: garden.org
  1. Periwinkle (Vinca minor)—hardiness zones 3–9
  2. Pink or carnation, many species (Dianthus spp.)—hardiness zones 2, 3, 4 or 5–9
  3. Primrose (Primula spp.)—hardiness zones 2, 3 or 4–9
  4. Pussy-toes (Antennaria spp.)—hardiness zones 1–9
  5. Quaking grass* (Briza media)—hardiness zones 4–9
  6. Rampion (Phyteuma spp.)—hardiness zones 5–9
  7. Rock cress (Aubrieta spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  8. Rock jasmine (Androsace spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  9. Rock rose (Helianthemum spp.)—hardiness zones 5 or 6–9
  10. Rock-thyme (Acinos spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  11. Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria)—hardiness zones 3–9
  12. Rupturewort (Herniaria glabra)—hardiness zones 5–9 
  13. Rush (Juncus effusus)—hardiness zones 4–9
  14. Sandwort (Arenaria spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  15. Saxifrage or London Pride (Saxifraga spp.)—hardiness zones 4, 5 or 5–9
  16. Sea thrift (Armeria spp.)—hardiness zones 4 or 6–9
  17. Sedge, some species (Carex spp.)—hardiness zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7–9
  18. Sedum, most species (Sedum spp.)—hardiness zones 2, 3, 4 or 5–9
  19. Shield fern, Christmas fern (Polystichum spp.)—hardiness zones 3 or 6–9
  20. Silver sage (Salvia argentea)—hardiness zones 5–9
  21. Silver-edged horehound* (Marrubium rotundifolium)hardiness zones 4–9
Silver leaves of Cerastium tomentosum
Silver leaves make snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) attractive long after its spring flowers are gone. Photo: Syrio, Wikimedia Commons
  1. Snow-in-summer (Cerastium spp.)—hardiness zones 3 or 4–9
  2. Soapwort (Saponaria spp.)—hardiness zones 2 or 4–9
  3. Stinking iris (Iris foetidissima)—hardiness zones 6–9
  4. Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis)—hardiness zones 5–9
  5. Thyme (Thymus spp.)—hardiness zones 2, 3 or 4–9
  6. Torch lily or redhot poker (Kniphofia spp.)—hardiness zones 6–9
  7. Tunic flower (Petrorhagia spp.)—hardiness zones 2–9
  8. Turkey tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora)—hardiness zones 8–10
  9. Veronica, most species (Veronica spp.)—hardiness zones 3 or 4–9
  10. Viola or perennial pansy (Viola spp.)—hardiness zones 2, 3 or 4–9
  11. Wall cress (Arabis spp.)—hardiness zones 3–9
  12. Wallflower (Erysimum spp.)hardiness zones
  13. White clover (Trifolium repens)—hardiness zones 3 or 5–9
  14. White star creeper (Lobelia pedunculata, syn. Pratia pedunculata)—hardiness zones 6–9
  15. Whitlow-wort (Paronychia spp.)hardiness zones 4–9
Asarum europaeum with heart-shaped shiny green leaves
The shiny green leaves of European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum) are as attractive in January as in June. Photo:www.plantsoftheworldonline.org
  1. Wild ginger, some species (Asarum spp.)—hardiness zones 4 or 6–9
  2. Wineleaf cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata, syn. Potentilla tridentata)—hardiness zones 1–9
  3. Winter iris (Iris unguicularis)—hardiness zones 8–9
  4. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)—hardiness zones 2–9
  5. Wood rush (Luzula spp.)—hardiness zones 4–9
  6. Wulfenia (Wulfenia spp.)hardiness zones 5–9
  7. Yarrow* (Achillea spp.)—hardiness zones 2, 3 or 4–9
  8. Yucca* (Yucca spp.)—hardiness zones 3, 5 or 6–9

2 thoughts on “Hardy Perennials With Evergreen Foliage

  1. Well, we do not get much color here in autumn. I remember that there are a few evergreen conifers that get ‘interesting’ color though, even here. I wish I could remember their names. One of the blue ground cover junipers gets rather purplish tips. One of the cyrptomerias also gets rather purplish and bronzish. I did not think they were pretty, but they were interesting.

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