Conifers are a whole category range of woody plants, so there are many, but the numbers are small in comparison with deciduous types. Usually evergreen, they have needle or scalelike leaves and bear cone seedfruits. There are the usual iconoclasts which blur the lines, like Larch trees which are both deciduous (lose their leaves seasonally) and classified as conifers with all the other characteristics. But basically a conifer will provide a different texture and usually an evergreen appearance in your yard.
It is their texture and green color reason the they provide interest. Providing contrast with deciduous plants, and harmonizing with each other, conifers bring character to a garden.
During winter especially, they stand out from the bare landscape of the Northern dormant season and supply some greenery and “life” to the scene. Aside from that they also provide shelter from blasting winds and freezing cold for bird friends.
Conifers are, thus, both decorative and practical in value. The same protection that birds seek out will guard the edges of a garden, provide windbreak for a home, and make a strong visual outline, called the “bones” or structure of the garden. That seems to add up to reason enough to plan for planting a number of them in your yard. Where to start? Make your plan and then find your sources for the plants you are looking for, then prepare the place you wish to plant with your evergreen. Bear in mind that almost all of them like lots of sun, and none do well in strong shade.
When to Plant?
When is a good time to plant? The same time that most living plants establish well will suit conifers.
- Early to mid spring and late summer to early fall,
- Not while in full growth, but with time to get the roots growing well
- To endure the more taxing conditions of summer or winter, be sure to water well.
- While it is possible to plant conifers as long as the ground is unfrozen, a good start for the roots results in better success.
The same procedure that works for deciduous woody plants, works for the conifers.
- Select, and plant a shrub or tree.
- Planting your Living Christmas tree after Christmas? Remember to dig a good hole, first.(Preferably in November)
Evergreens may need protection from transpiration (losing moisture through their foliage) when first transplanted. Especially during dry periods, like the heat of summer or during a drought, and when subject to winds in winter. There are protective sprays, and wrapping with burlap was an old time way to protect them during winter.
More than an Accent
A whole garden can be made of a combination of conifer plants, usually using the dwarf sizes. If you have the room, full size evergreen can be chosen, but remember these are often very large trees. Still, if you have a smaller garden with choices of dwarf conifers or filling a very large landscape with acreage to spare, conifers offer a number of color variations and shapes and textures which create a tapestry effect when grouped in proximity to one another.
It is good to note that most evergreen conifers are of a medium to deep green color and too many in the garden can give a “heavy” somber look, which may not be the effect desired. The consideration of that fact might influence a wider experimentation with some of the more unusual varieties, some with golden foliage, some with blue tints or even white variegation in the needles.
My Favorite Dwarf Evergreens
- Dwarf Hinoki Cypress
- Dwarf Alberta Spruce
- Bird’s Nest Spruce
- Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cyano-viridis’ AKA Boulevard cypress
- Juniper ‘Blue Rug’
If you read here very often you probably know how much I like the Hinoki Cypress, but the Mugo Pine is another conifer that is very useful in the landscape. One caveat is the fact that sizes might vastly differ according to whether you have the correctly named variety or not. This is especially true of the Mugos. I would be careful to situate it where it won’t present a problem if it gets larger than expected – and prune it, as a further precaution. Alberta Spruce is popular, with the drawback of spruce mites marring the foliage. One solution I found was to underplant with Nepeta Mussinii, Catmint, which seems to repel the mites.
Conifers may be used as
- foundation plantings
- specimen plantings
- full stop at the end of a garden border
- within conifer collections
- as a windbreak or to create a microclimate
I’ve often seen a selection of “micro” sized evergreen conifers sold in places like Lowes or nurseries. If you have (or make from Hypertufa) a stone sink for a rock garden collection remember that the roots may not be as hardy in an above ground container as in the ground, and some of the varieties of conifers sold may not be as hardy as those sold for general landscaping. give them the necessary protection from the heavy frosts of winter. but this is another way to include small evergreens for additional interest in your garden… on a patio or side garden.