Evergreens for the Balcony and Patio

A well-furnished balcony or patio should look attractive throughout the year, even in the depths of winter. Evergreen plants are an important feature of a balcony or patio planting plan as they provide colour and shape when the season for annuals is over, and deciduous plants have shed their leaves.

Choosing evergreens

Evergreens fall into three main categories: plants grown purely for their foliage, those which have the added benefit of decorative flowers, and plants which produce both flowers and fruit. The choice is wide, and includes climbers, large specimen plants and bushy shrubs. Choose plants to suit the size of your balcony or patio, taking into account their height and spread in maturity. A young conifer of a fast-growing species may grow too large for a particular spot in three or four years, while a dwarf variety with similar features will give pleasure for many years. Another point to keep in mind is the aspect as, for example, sun-loving plants will not thrive in a shaded position.

Ivy

Creating an effect

Climbing evergreens are particularly successful on the balcony. They provide privacy and give the feeling of ‘clothing’ the boundaries, turning the area into a miniature garden. Grow them trained against a wall or trellis or let the tendrils trail prettily from a basket or elevated trough.

Caring for your plant

Evergreen plants are fairly adaptable to changes in temperature throughout the year, but strong winds, particularly from the east, and scorching sun may cause damage to the foliage. Group plants with care, according to whether they need sun or shade. Smaller, more fragile plants may have to be repositioned for extra shelter during the winter, and the hardier shrubs or small trees brought out, if they can be moved. Keep plants well-watered during warm weather, watering during the evening if possible. Feed regularly while plants are growing vigorously and treat pests and diseases as soon as their presence becomes evident.

Use tall, columnar varieties of conifer to add height behind containers of flowering plants during summer. Spring-flowering bulbs show up well against their green, grey or yellow foliage.

Containers for evergreens

Containers-for-evergreens

Give evergreens plenty of root space, bearing in mind that they may grow too large to be easily repotted. Plant an established climber in a large, deep container and top-dress with fresh compost every year. Raise all containers on bricks, metal or terracotta stands to aid drainage and deter slugs and snails. Fully-planted patio containers are heavy to move easily and can live on small trolleys with wheels so you can change their position easily each season. Window-boxes and wall-pots are useful for small spaces but need frequent watering during hot weather.

Choosing compost

Peat-based composts are ideal for balcony containers as they are light in weight even when wet. Soil-based compost has the advantage of drying out more slowly in hot weather, but is heavy.

Choosing varieties

Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’ is a neatly growing ivy with gold splashed leaves. Euonymus fortunei varieties are low, bushy plants 60cm (2ft) high with silver or gold variegated foliage. Dwarf and tall-growing conifers including Juniper, Spruce and Pine. Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ is a low-growing shrub, grown mainly for its beautiful foliage which changes from red to green through shades of pink and cream. It needs lime-free compost. Spotted Laurel Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ has glossy, deep green leaves mottled with gold.

Flowering evergreens

  • Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Jessop’s Upright’ is a useful herb with pretty mauve flowers.
  • Ceanothus x ‘Delight’ is a large shrub which produces masses of bright blue flowers in spring.
  • Hang plants in pots or baskets to fill wall-spaces, but remember to water them generously in warm weather.
  • Hebe ‘Carl Tescher’ is a low-growing, creeping shrub with grey-green foliage and violet flowers in summer.
  • Iberis sempervirens grows 23cm (9 inches) high, has bushy, dark green foliage which is covered with heads of white flowers during May and June.
  • Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera japonica climbs vigorously. ‘Halliana’ has sweetly scented white flowers.
  • Evergreen Azaleas and Rhododendrons are attractive, but need an acid soil and protection from early morning sun. Mahonia ‘Charity’ produces fragrant yellow flowers in winter.
  • Yucca filamentosa is exotic with stiff, sword-shaped leaves and panicles of cream flowers. The leaves of ‘Variegate’ have yellow margins.

Evergreens with berries

  • Skimmia japonica ‘Fragrans’, 90– 120cm (3-4ft) high, has fragrant white flowers followed by scarlet berries.
  • Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ can be trained against a wall, growing 4.5m (15ft) high. Its white flowers are followed by bright orange berries.

Groups of evergreen plants come into their own during winter when many plants die.  At other times of the year, they provide a green backdrop to more colourful plants.

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