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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Shade to partial shade

There are several conifers that are great for a shady location.

  • Hemlocks (Tsuga, hardy to USDA Zones 3-8), come in a variety of forms and colors providing lots of choices. Many do well in sun with moist soils but most tolerate shade extremely well. One of my favorites is 'Jeddeloh', a dwarf and prostrate types growing three feet tall by five feet wide with a subtle depression like a bird's nest in the center. The irregular, upright form of 'Jervis' make it a distinctive selection that, after 30 years, may only be 2-1/2 feet tall. New growth tips are often twisted and grow at odd angles, giving the plant an unusual texture.
Chamecyparis obtusa 'Nana'

  • Many selections of Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa, hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 8) thrive in the sun but adapt readily to partial shade. Distinctive are its swirling fans of deep green foliage and distinctive silver undersides.

  • 'Verdonii' is a loose, broadly conical form that features golden foliage for great year-round interest. It is slow-growing, typically reaching three to five tall in 10 years.

  • 'Nana' has dark green foliage in a tight miniature bun that becomes irregular in shape with age. It grows less than a foot in 10 years.

  • 'Elf' is a dense, round form with dark green foliage. A slight point at the top distinguishes this cultivar. It grows to only 12 to 18 inches tall after 10 years.

  • 'Mariesii' is a variegated selection that has creamy-white foliage tips. Grows a foot tall and wide in 10 years.
  • Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon'

  • Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica, hardy to USDA Zones 6 to 9), also likes the sun but can do well in the shade too.

  • 'Black Dragon', a dwarf compact form that makes a dark pyramid, is a great contrast for brighter colors. The new foliage begins as a light green but then darkens to a black-green as it ages.

  • 'Elegans Nana' is a dense, spreading cultivar that forms an asymmetrical mound, turns a beautiful plum in winter. It grows only one foot tall by three feet wide.

  • 'Pygmaea' has bright green leaves which turn bronze in winter. The form can be a round ball or cone. Grows to three feet in height and wide in 10 years.

  • J. communis 'Gold Cone'

    Sunny, hot, dry site

    For sun and heat, you can't go wrong using juniper (Juniperus, hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 9), spruce (Picea, hardy to USDA Zones 2 to 7) and cypress (Cupressus, hardy to USDA Zones 7 to 10). All offer selections with varied growth habits and foliage colors. They will thrive in a moist but well-drained soil but are quite adaptable to dry sites.

    • A great vertical and slender juniper for the hot sun is J. communis 'Gold Cone'. It has striking bright-golden-yellow foliage in spring and summer and grows to just three to four feet tall by 12 inches wide in 10 years. 'Compressa' is also a wonderful dwarf selection (18 inches tall by six inches wide) with light green foliage. 'Berkshire' is a true miniature, growing to just eight inches tall by a foot wide. It forms a dense, bun-shaped mound growing green in the summer and turning bronze in the winter.
    • J. procumbens 'Nana' is an outstanding groundcover type juniper growing 8 inches tall by five feet wide. It forms a spreading mat of bright, apple green foliage which turns slightly purple in the winter.
    J. horizontalis 'Mother Lode'

  • J. horizontalis 'Mother Lode' also has a prostrate, creeping habit but is vibrant in the landscape with its bright gold foliage. It grows four inches high by four feet wide in 10 years.
  • J. x pfitzeriana 'Gold Coast' is among the best of the semi-prostrate selections. It has bright gold foliage and grows three feet tall by five feet wide.
  • Picea pungens 'Globosa'

  • For outstanding blue color, the Colorado blue spruce is hard to beat. An outstanding selection with a conical shape is P. pungens 'Fat Albert', which grows 10 to 15 feet tall by seven to 10 feet wide in 10 years. 'Hoopsii' is a little shorter and more slender growing to eight feet tall and three feet wide. 'Globosa' is a great round, dwarf form growing three feet square.
  • The Norway spruce offers great selections in form. You can't beat the striking form of P. abies 'Pendula'. It becomes a living sculpture with its weeping and contorted growth reaching 10 to 15 feet tall. 'Nidiformis', or bird's nest spruce, is a great dwarf, prostrate selection growing to just three feet tall and wide in 10 years.
  • 'Blue Ice' cypress is touted as being one of the most blue conifers available. It can take the heat but isn't very cold-tolerant. This striking vertical plant can quickly reach 16 feet tall by five feet wide.
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