Gardening Basics

Double-Duty Conifers

Needled evergreens come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Check out the conifers that are suitable for your site.

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Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Verdonii'

Conifers, especially those with needle-like or scale-like leaves, are one of the best groups of plants to use in the landscape. Their varied shapes, sizes, colors and year-round interest make them ideal plants for every garden. They also are some of the most durable and tolerant plants you can use in the landscape, even in difficult sites. Pick a difficult landscape situation and see which conifers can do double-duty — tolerate the site and provide beauty.

Thuja koriensis 'Glauca Prostrata'

Damp, wet site

For a poorly drained or constantly moist soil, you can't go wrong using arborvitae (Thuja, hardy to USDA Zones 2-8). One of the most durable and tolerant conifers to use in the landscape, it can tolerate a range of soil conditions from extremely dry to boggy wet. An assortment of shapes, sizes and colors are available to suit any landscape situation.

Thuja orientalis 'Morgan'


  • One of my favorites for bright yellow foliage color is T. orientalis 'Morgan'. It grows to six feet tall in 10 years, forming an upright column of golden sprays that turn orange in winter.

  • For a tall, fast-growing upright form, with a tightly pyramidal growth habit, I recommend the hybrid 'Green Giant'. Its foliage is rich glossy green. With a mature height of 60 feet tall by eight feet wide, it's a great alternative to the overused Leyland cypress and much more cold-hardy.
Thuja occidentalis 'DeGroot's Spire'

  • T. occidentalis 'DeGroot's Spire' is another favorite upright selection, growing to just eight feet tall x two feet wide at maturity. The foliage grows as twisted and spiraling fans, a unique feature.

  • For a dwarf globe form, try T. occidentalis 'Hetz Midget' or 'Tiny Tim'. Both top out at one foot tall and 16 inches wide. The foliage on these finely branched shrubs is a light green that bronzes in the winter.

  • For a quite unusual arborvitae, try T. plicata 'Whipcord'. This dwarf selection has thread-like branches and an arching habit. It grows to only two feet tall by three feet wide in 10 years.
  • Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Rubicon'

  • The white false cypress (Chamaecyparis thyoides, hardy to USDA Zones 5 to 9), is a conifer that prefers a damp, boggy site.

  • 'Rubicon' is an upright dense form with star-like foliage turning purple in winter, six feet tall and two feet wide.

  • 'Heatherbun' is a compact, globe-shaped form with plum winter color; six to eight feet tall.

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