After the blooms, yellow and variegated foliage


The neighborhood deer were unusually active in the garden in early autumn. Leathery leaves of oakleaf hydrangeas and foliage of perennials that persisted late into the season were munched on, and deer resistant evergreens that require a protective spray only in early December were damaged. I haven’t a clue why.

In recent years I’ve become more fond of the gold spotted evergreen leaves of ‘Gold Dust’ aucuba (Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’, above), and though it is listed by references as “usually not damaged” by deer, I’ve found it quite susceptible to injury in the winter months. But, not in October and November.

I routinely spray a deer repellent at the start of every month from May through October, and then a double dose is sprayed in December to protect vulnerable evergreens. If I’m feeling particularly energetic I’ll spray the aucubas before December, but most months I pass them by, or give a quick misting over the top. In any case, the foliage of two aucubas was eaten nearly to the stems with only a few leaves remaining that were undamaged. Several larger plants were untouched, so I must suppose that they were sprayed. I’m pretty certain that the aucubas will fully flush new leaves in the spring, but it won’t surprise me if they’re a bit thin next year.

My color vision is woefully lacking so that red and purple leafed plants are appreciated only from close up, but yellow and gold leafed plants such as aucuba and yucca stand out in the drab winter garden. ‘Color Guard’ and ‘Golden Sword’ yuccas (Yucca filamentosa, above) are sturdy evergreens with dependably deer resistant yellow striped foliage and tall spikes of creamy white flowers in early summer. The variegation of several other yuccas does not stand out so much, but all are low care and drought tolerant.

I have planted a number of yellow needled evergreens in the garden. Golden arborvitaes and a few cypresses fade with shorter periods of sunlight, but the golden fernspray cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’, above) turns the color a few notches brighter for the winter. Golden fernspray is slow growing, and especially effective against the dark green background of taller hollies. In a hot, dry location I’ve seen the gold foliage burn a bit, but this is easily remedied by providing a more organic, moisture retentive soil or with some protection from the late afternoon summer sun.

Two other variegated leaf evergreens are marvelous additions to the winter garden, though perhaps not as showy as red and gold leafed plants. Elegantissima boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’, above) has small rounded leaves with green centers and creamy white edges. It is useful for hedging or as an individual accent, and it will tolerate full sun to partial shade. One that I’ve planted is slowly weakening in ever deepening shade, and it is too large to easily transplant, so next year I must thin the branches of neighboring ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maples, or risk losing it. Another variegated boxwood growing in nearly full sun grows much more vigorously.

The variegated English hollies (Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’, above) grow slowly in my garden, and without a pollinator they offer no berries through the winter. One is planted in full sun, and another in partial shade, but both would benefit from additional irrigation through the summer months. There is probably some benefit in keeping the hollies smaller for longer (in a spot where they were not allocated nearly enough space), but they would be ever so much more cheerful with bunches of red berries.

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