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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Mild or warm climates

If you live in warmer regions of the country, you have a limited number of conifers to select for your garden. Many conifers like spruce and fir need the cold, winter temperatures to thrive.

'Snow Sprite'


  • A standout choice for the mild climate and a range of soils is cedar (Cedrus, USDA Zones 6 to 9). A variety of colors, forms and sizes provide lots of choices. One of my favorites for form and color is C. atlantica 'Glauca Pendula'. This Atlas cedar has brilliant silver-blue foliage and a weeping, cascading form which can be quite striking. It can be easily trained to various heights then allowed to weep into distinct forms.
Cedrus deodara 'Feelin' Blue'

  • For a soft, vertical form, you can't go wrong with C. deodara. The deodar cedar has a graceful and elegant look with blue gray foliage. 'Aurea' is a noteworthy bright yellow-gold selection. I also love the soft texture, blue color and prostrate form of 'Feelin Blue'. Only growing to 18 inches tall by four feet wide, this is a nice compact cedar. 'Snow Sprite' has the same form and size but has unique creamy-white foliage.
  • The Italian or Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens, USDA Zones 8 to 10) is another good choice for the temperate climate. The narrow, vertical, pencil-like form makes an imposing and dramatic accent in the gardens. 'Swane's Gold' has striking yellow foliage which holds its color well through the winter. It grows 10 feet tall by a foot wide.

  • Pinus mugo

    Sunny, moderately moist sites


    • Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) has become the workhorse of many mixed shrub gardens through some of its more compact cultivars. 'Mops' grows to three feet high and usually five or six feet wide. The subvariety mugo is often found in the nursery trade; its size is more massive--six to eight feet tall and twice as wide. Hardy to USDA Zones (2)3 to 7.
    • Often used in coastal plantings because of its tolerance to salt, the Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii) prefers moist soils but tolerate some dryness. It averages 20 to 40 feet tall and has a somewhat irregular but picturesque habit. 'Thunderhead' has dark green foliage and whitish candles. USDA Zones (5) 6 to 8.
    Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Bright Gold'

  • Sawara or Japanese falsecypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera) and its many cultivars make great accent plants, offering a variety of foliage forms and variegations. 'Filifera' has pendulous, stringlike foliage on a plant that can get quite large (10 to 50 feet). 'Filifera Nana' has the same foliage but is much smaller. USDA Zones 4 to 8.


  • --Sue Hamilton is an associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and director of the UT Gardens at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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