Including evergreens in your home landscaping provides many unique benefits to wildlife and people.
Benefits to Wildlife:
Cover and Nesting sites for birds – Dense evergreen shrubs are a key cover plant for songbirds in the home landscape. No bird habitat should be without a nice grouping of evergreens, or at least one specimen. I have an arborvitae close to my bird feeder station, and it is the first place the birds fly to for cover when they get spooked. When I pull my car up to the evergreen by the driveway, a small flock of birds always fly from it, up into the maple tree. The shrubby dense evergreens like Juniper and Arborvitae are particularly good evergreens for birds to take shelter in during the cold winter nights. Of course these are also prime nest building sites as well, because they provide shade, warmth and protection (a strong nest high in a dense arborvitae can be a safe haven from the neighbor’s cat!)
Food – Many evergreens provide food for wildlife. Junipers, Pines, Holly, and Hemlock all have edible seeds and fruit for birds. Having fruit that is attractive to birds invites fruit eating birds, many of which don’t frequent birdseed feeders. It is always a pleasure to spot a cedar waxwing in the yard!
Benefits to People:
Energy Conservation – placing large evergreens on the North and Northwest side of your home will deflect the coldest prevailing winds in the winter, saving energy. Grouping large evergreen trees such as blue spruce, red pine and Norway spruce trees will give you a dense windbreak. This type of windbreak works well when a large group of trees are planted well away from the home, but even a single tree at the corner of the house will provide some energy saving benefit.
Privacy – Evergreens are one of the best choices when it comes to creating privacy and screening in the home landscape. One mistake I frequently see people make is choosing an evergreen tree that is ultimately going to be too large for the spot they are chosen for. Those trees look nice when they are young, and only 3 feet wide, but when it is mature, and is now 40 feet wide, it very well might be too large. I usually prefer some of the small tree type evergreens, or large shrub type evergreens for screening neighbors. You usually only need to screen up about 15 feet at the most, so it is best to choose evergreens that don’t become 80’ tall giants (the taller trees usually aren’t dense at the lowest levels anyway when they get mature, and they there goes your screening at eye level) My favorite screening evergreens for full sun are Keteleeri upright juniper mixed with a few Hicksii Yew. For shade I favor Foster Holly, American Holly and even boxwood and yew for some variety (the boxwood and yew take much longer to fill in, so I like to use a layered strategy for very dense and private screens.
Holiday Decorating – Every year, when the holidays arrive, I see expensive holiday greens being sold around town. These greens are usually farm raised, and have traveled far to get to your location. A more sustainable idea is to just go to your own backyard, and harvest fresh evergreens for your door and decorations. They are obviously very fresh, local, and are organic (if you follow natural landscaping practices) I have a couple boxwood, some holly, and juniper that I can forage from for my front door display each year!
Aesthetics – Evergreens are a very important visual component of landscape design. Winter interest is an obvious asset, but I also find that the dark green of evergreens are an essential element of the fall landscape as well. The deep green gives the necessary contrast to the fiery fall colors, and, contrary to what you first might think, the visual effect of the fall colors is greatly lessened without them. Of course Evergreens provide all the general benefits of deciduous trees as well…shade, habitat, oxygen, soil building, etc. Evergreens are often overlooked and considered ‘background’ plants, but there are many benefits to using them in your home landscape to both you and your outdoor animal friends!