Evergreen trees keep their leaves all year round, as opposed to deciduous trees which lose their leaves in autumn. Evergreen trees are useful in gardens for a variety of reasons: the foliage and shape look good all year round, so as well as ornamental appeal, this makes evergreens particularly good for screening trees and privacy in the garden. What's more, evergreen foliage offers valuable shelter for birds and other wildlife in winter. Evergreen trees come in a range of sizes, and several are excellent trees for small gardens. Some also make excellent screening trees.
Choosing an evergreen tree
The size, shape and growth habit of evergreen trees varies considerably, so it's important to think carefully when choosing the right evergreen tree for your garden. Think about how large the tree will eventually become and how its shape will impact the space you plant it in, particularly in relation to nearby houses and buildings. Small evergreen trees can still make an impact in your garden.
Top things to consider when buying an evergreen tree:
- Ultimate height
- Shape and width
- Root spread (which tends to match the tree’s height)
- Speed of growth
- Pruning requirements (if any)
As with all long-lived hardy plants, check that the tree suits your garden conditions, particularly the soil type, amount of sun or shade, cold tolerance, and if it needs to cope with wind.
Although there’s a lot to think about, it’s worth getting it right as a tree will become a major feature in your garden for many years to come.
More on trees and evergreens in the garden:
Browse our list of the best evergreen trees to grow, below.
Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo
This neat evergreen grows slowly into an attractive multi-stem tree or large shrub. As well as foliage for year-round interest, strawberry trees bear plump red fruits and white bell-shaped flowers. Thrives in a sheltered spot, particularly in coastal locations.
Height x Spread: 3m x 3m
Bay tree, Laurus nobilis
An adaptable and versatile evergreen, Laurus nobilis bears dark green, aromatic leaves, which can be used as a herb in a variety of dishes. It's tolerant of trimming and shaping, making it ideal for a range of simple topiary shapes such as pyramids and standards, either in the ground or in large pots. A pair of bay trees flanking a front door is a common sight in urban gardens.
Grow your bay tree out of cold winds, in sun or part shade. Left unpruned, bay will develop into a small to medium sized tree.
H x S: 5m x 4m
Cotoneaster is a large genus of shrubs and trees. Slender branches bear long, narrow, dark green leaves which make an excellent foil for white flowers in spring, followed by red, orange or yellow berries. Bear in mind that some cotoneasters are listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and are not recommended for growing in rural areas or areas close to nature reserves. Most tree cotoneasters form a rounded to wide-spreading head of branches.
H x S: up to 6m x 6m
Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica
The loquat has large, bold, dark green, ribbed leaves up to 30cm long. Large open clusters of scented white flowers are borne in autumn, which are sometimes followed by pear-shaped orange-yellow fruits. These stylish evergreen trees can often be spotted growing in urban gardens where they do best in the sheltered microclimate cities provide. Loquat can be grown as a small tree or trained against a wall: it needs full sun.
H x S: 8m x 8m
Cider gum, Eucalyptus gunnii
This fast-growing evergreen tree hails from Australasia. It has long, grey-green, glaucous leaves, which have a strong menthol aroma when crushed, and attractive, peeling white to cinnamon-coloured bark. An un-pruned tree can reach 20m in height. However, this species of eucalyptus tolerates very hard pruning and can be coppiced (cut back to the ground) or pollarded (cut higher up to allow a trunk to develop). If regularly pruned, its leaves become rounded and much more intense in colour, popular for flower arranging. Grow in full sun.
H x S: 2.5m x 1m
Eucalpytus pauciflora subsp. niphophila
The snow gum is related to the cider gum but is much less vigorous. They are a good choice if you are looking for evergreen trees for small gardens, as it forms a neat small-growing tree with a head of attractive, long, and slender grey-green leaves. The trunk is a particular feature, developing a ‘snakeskin’-like patchwork of grey, green, and cream bark. It sometimes bears small, snow-white flowers in summer but foliage and bark are its main attractions. Snow gum will tolerate most soil types and does best in full sun.
H x S: 8m x 8m
Bull bay, Magnolia grandiflora
This is one of the most magnificent evergreen trees, bearing enormous glossy leaves with bronze undersides and large, cup-shaped white flowers in summer and autumn with a citrus fragrance. It does best in a sheltered and sunny site to be grown as a tree: in colder areas, grow against a wall. The variety ‘Exmouth’ is hardier than the species, while ‘Goliath’ has the largest flowers.
More like this
H x S: 12m x 8m
Olive tree, Olea europaea
This classic Mediterranean tree grows surprisingly well in sheltered sunny sites in the British Isles. It has pale grey-green, evergreen leaves and is compact in size. Olives thrive in conditions closest to the hot, dry climate of their native habitat: full sun, free-draining soil, and shelter from winds. Olives look particularly good in urban and contemporary gardens and grow well in pots, either as bushes or trained as small standards on a clear stem. They look especially good framing a front door or with other Mediterranean plants on a sunny patio.
Hardy palms are brilliantly architectural plants for sunny sites. They grow in a range of garden styles, from gravel gardens to Mediterranean-style exotic gardens. The most compact and versatile hardy palm is the Mediterranean fan palm, Chamaerops humilis, which forms a dense clump of bold green to blue-green palm leaves and can be grown in the ground or a large container. The Chusan palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, develops a slender hairy trunk topped with a fan-like cluster of green palm leaves, eventually growing to several metres and able to achieve much more height in a mild, sheltered location. Cordyline australis can develop into a small tree over time.
H x S: 2m x 2m
Holm oak, Quercus ilex
This evergreen oak, Quercus ilex, has small, holly-shaped leaves and a rounded, domed habit. Holm oak is native to the Mediterranean but grows well in milder areas and is often used as a screening tree. It also lends itself to clipping and shaping into different topiary forms as well as ‘pleaching’ – trained into a wide flat panel on a clear trunk.
H x S: 12m x 8m
Advice on buying evergreen trees
- Most evergreens are slower growing than deciduous trees, so in most cases the options are to buy a small plant and wait for it to grow, or buy a bigger, more expensive version so it fills the space straight away. The exceptions are cotoneasters and eucalyptus which are reasonably quick-growing and which can be bought as plants around 1.5m high
- Consider the space you have and the impact on nearby buildings before you buy
- Evergreen trees are available from garden centres and nurseries. Bear in mind that specialist nurseries may offer more choice