One of the noticeable traits of the subtropics is that greenery abounds even in winter. Broadleaf evergreen plants and trees are the best way to accomplish this same atmosphere in Memphis. Smaller ornamental shrubs like Azaleas and Camellias are great for adding color and rows of greenery to any Southern garden.
There are, however, plenty of evergreen shrubs that are less common and underused in the Memphis area. Here are just a few. One you may not have heard of is the Florida anise, Illicium floridanum. It is native to a relatively small area on the Gulf Coast from eastern Louisiana across southern Mississippi and Alabama to the Florida panhandle. The plant has a light green color and does well with part shade where it really stands out. It handles zone 7 quite well. Here is a picture of my own Florida anise, planted around 2003.
If you need a privacy screen between you and a neighbor or a busy street, here are a couple of suggestions. Rather than planting an invasive shrub like privet, try Cleyera, Ternstroemia gymnanthera. Also hardy to zone 7, Cleyera is a much more elegant plant and provides an exceptional screen. When the shrub blooms, they attract bees which diligently work over the tiny flowers, causing the shrub or shrubs to hum quite substantially.
From time to time I see another shrub called Photinia. Below is a picture of a red tip Photinia, Photinia fraseri. I do recommend Cleyera over this shrub as Photinia often succombs to a leaf spot fungus. Nevertheless, when healthy, this is a colorful large shrub that looks attractive in Memphis.
I took a trip to East Tennessee back in 2006 and was astounded at the size and beauty of the Rhododendrons in the Appalachians. I will also never forget just how stifling the heat and humidity of the lower Appalachian chain can be. It felt like a jungle, which bodes well for these plants on the other side of the state in Memphis as we have both in abundance. While Azaleas are technically also in the Rhododendron genus, they don’t always do the justice that planting the larger forms such as Rhododendron arborescens can do. They need a good amount of room but will really impress visitors to your garden with proper siting. The usual bloom time is early to mid summer and multiple plants will give quite the show for a short time. There are literally over a thousand forms of Rhododendron native all over the world, so it’s a buyers market. I do recommend native species for best results though. Native forms are generally hardy to zone 6, so basically everywhere in Tennessee.
I would like to suggest one last shrub for this post. They are zone 8a hardy and can be tender in the occasional single digit winter event we get in Memphis. So a good sunny siting protected from the wind, such as on the south side of a home are best. When placed in a good microclimate, Indian Hawthorn can do well and be a rewarding addition to a Memphis garden. They bloom in spring and summer in bright pink bunches.
These are just a few options for broadleaf evergreen shrubs for the Memphis climate. Azaleas accent walk ways. The anise can add to a shade garden. Cleyera and Photinia provide privacy all year round. Rhododendrons make a bold evergreen statement with a summer splash of color. And for the zone pusher, Indian Hawthorns are a good subtropical addition.