Choosing tough evergreens
By Tracey Payton Miller
OSU Horticulture Educator
One thing the heat and drought has shown us is which plants to weed out and which can roll with the punches. You must keep in mind though: Don't plant large specimens too close to your home.
When it comes to evergreen trees, we are at a loss in Oklahoma. There are honestly only three I can say are really resilient: Arborvitae, Arizona Cypress, and Live Oak. Arborvitae is a standby you may have noticed planted as a windbreak at old homesteads. There are Oriental and American forms of arborvitae, as well as tear-drop shaped and more architectural forms. These small trees/large shrubs are perfect for privacy and hedges or for a specimen plant if you like the look.
Arizona Cypress will get large and has blue-green foliage all the way to the ground. When this cypress gets really mature, it tends to limb itself up (think really old eastern redcedars). You'll want to keep this cypress watered and mowed around, to avoid it being a fire hazard.
Live Oaks, on the other hand, will have foliage located towards the top like most shade trees. These are the spooky, low slung, moss riddled trees in Louisiana and other parts of the south. Though they don't tend to look like that here, Live Oak is still a good evergreen choice.
One of the toughest plants, that I actually used to hate, is Silverberry (Elaeagnus pungens). In school, we used to lovingly call this plant "ugly agnus." This shrub will get large, has silver green foliage, and is Chuck Norris tough. This plant laughs at drought, which makes me appreciate it a little more than I used to.
Some hollies have suffered this year, especially if planted next to a cement or brick wall that never really cools down. However, in the right spot with enough water and air movement, these plants can anchor your landscape in the dull months. My picks are Burford, Nellie R. Stevens, and Yaupon hollies. The berries are also loved by birds in winter.
Another option may be Red Tipped Photinia. Now, every spring this plant is riddled with leaf spot. But that is usually because it is planted right next to a foundation, cement or brick walls, or stockade fence. Air movement is key for photinia health, so plant it away from structures. In addition, it can get very large, so give it plenty of room to spread and grow.
One last tough shrub is Pyracantha, or firethorn. This shrub is a great plant for right under your child's window. One look at the thorns will keep them in for the night. This is a really resilient shrub that also has berries attractive to wildlife. It will get large, but firethorn can literally take the heat.
Whatever you choose, make sure you pick the right plant for the right place. Just because a tree might outlive you is no reason to make it a burden for the next generation.