Conifers pull their weight in the small and large garden like no other! This wonderful group of plants, defined by having cone bearing seeds, and mostly being evergreen, can provide you with sizes ranging from an enormous giant redwood to a tiny dwarf. In between are more modest sizes and shapes – from ground covers – to shrubs – to trees.
For practical purposes evergreen conifers popularly get used in mass to screen unwanted views, create privacy and add vertical greenery to a wall. (See below: Arborvitae and Yews.)
And, if you like, unique, get to know the quirky conifers.
These are unique specimens which tower, twist or weep. Or, the conifers that acts as ‘garden bones’ providing your garden with year round texture, form, and even striking color in shades of blue, yellow and green! So if you’re interested in learning more about conifers, this post is a great intro. Enjoy the many photos and ideas below!
Leaves are short and often sharp-pointed
Picea bicolor ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ – Howell’s Dwarf Spruce
Picea abies ‘Pendula’ – Weeping Norway Spruce (Tree Form)
Picea abies ‘Pendula’ – Weeping Norway Spruce – (Tree-form) This cultivar is an irregularly shaped evergreen whose form will vary considerably depending upon its early training. If staked, like above photos, this plant can be trained upright to be tree-like, reaching 10-15’ tall.
Picea abies ‘Pendula’ – Weeping Norway Spruce (Shrub Form)
Picea abies ‘Pendula’ – (Shrub-form). When not supported, this weeper will mostly spread, trailing branches to 10 feet wide. As you can see, this plant shows as a unique specimen in the landscape, particularly if located in a spot where its form can be best utilized. Here a combination of dwarf conifers creates a cozy seating area at SFBG’s Nobel Dwarf Conifer Garden.
Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ – Globe Blue Spruce
Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ – USDA Zone: 4-8. This is a wonderful dwarf blue spruce with a flat-topped, globular and dense habit. Striking in a mixed border!
Cedrus deodara – Deodar Cedar
Cedrus deodara – USDA Hardiness Zone: 7 – 11. Not sure what variety this is, but it may be a young Cedus deodara tree: as young trees have bluish leaves that become a deep green with age. Anyway, the Deodar cedars characteristically have drooping leaders (top of tree droops) and a bit of a droopy weepy look. Cedrus deodara, itself , grows to be a large graceful tree with a pyramidal habit, gray-green foliage and arching branches. Many varieties available to add interest to your garden, from dwarf- shrub and tree forms and colored foliage. ‘Feelin’ Blue,’ for example, is a compact dwarf shrub with blue-green foliage and spreading habit.
Cedrus atlanta ‘Glauca Pendula’ Serpentine – Serpentine Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar
Cedrus a. ‘Glauca Pendula’ Serpentine. USDA Zone: 6. Serpentine is trained with a single trunk that curves back and forth in a snake-like fashion. Silvery-blue-green needles are arranged in fascicles. Size: 15 – 25 feet high and wide.
Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’ – Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar
Cedrus a. ‘Glauca Pendula’ – USDA Zones: 6 – 9. This popular shrub has weeping branches with silvery-blue-green needles arranged in fascicles. The single trunk is trained to curve downward with a fish hook like shape. Slow growing. Size: 15 – 25 feet high and wide.
Cedrus libani ‘Pendula’ – Weeping Cedar of Lebanon
Cedrus libani ‘Pendula’ – USDA Zones: 5 to 8. Weeping cedar of Lebanon is slow growing. Its habit, with horizontal and weeping branches, display cones and dark gray-green needles arranged in fascicles. Size: 15 to 20 feet tall and wide. Exposure: full sun. Water: moderate.
The Cypresses… (Cupressus)
Leaves are often small and scale-like.
Cupressus sempervirens – Italian Cypress
Cupressus sempervirens. USDA Zones: 7 – 10. Italian Cypress is a medium sized conical tree with upright branches and dark green foliage. There are many varieties available. For the blue-green variety you want: ‘Glauca,’ and for the golden variety: ‘Swane’s Golden.’ For topiary, sheared spiral forms are available.
Leaves are often small and scale-like
Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’ – Emerald Green American Arborvitae
Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’ -USDA Zones: 3 – 8. Seen here used as a screening hedge for SF’s DeYoung Museum; this popularly used plant has a pyramidal growth habit with bright green, scale-like foliage arranged in flattened sprays. Size: 10 – 15’H x 3 – 4’W. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: moderate to regular. Also, sheared topiary form available.
The Yews… (Taxus)
So easy to rejuvenate an old Yew. Why? You can prune back into old wood!
Taxus media ‘H. M. Eddie’ – H. M. Eddie Yew
Taxus media ‘H.M. Eddie’. USDA Zones: 4 – 7. This evergreen shrub has a columnar growth habit with flat, dark green needles densely arranged along its branches. Size: 12′ high x 3 – 4′ wide. Exposure: full sun to shade. Water: moderate to regular. Read more about yews here.
Podocarpus elongatus ‘Monmal’ – Icee Blue Cape Yellowwood
Podocarpus elongatus Monmal – Icee Blue Cape Yellowwood. Zone: 9- 11. This gorgeous upright pyramidal tree is the first ever blue leaved Podocarpus cultivar – it comes from Monrovia. Size: 15 – 25′ h x 4.5′ w. Use as a specimen, grouping, screening, or plant in a large container. It’s a neat, tidy plant, so definitely a nice choice around patios and areas where the clean-factor is appreciated. Tree grows approximately 10- 12″ per year. Exposure: Full sun to part shade. Water: Regular.
Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’ – Sargent’s Weeping Hemlock
Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’ – USDA 4 – 8. This lovely specimen will develop into a low mound with overlapping, drooping branches. Excellent choice for a prominent position in a rock garden. Size: 5 feet tall x 8 – 10 feet wide. Exposure: full to part sun. Water: Moderate.
Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’ – Cole’s Prostrate Canadian Hemlock
Cole’s Prostrate Canadian Hemlock – Hardiness -30 to -20F. This prostrate growing ground cover is a wonderful choice for softening harsh edges, cascading over a wall or spreading flat on the ground. Size: 6″ h x 4′ w. It’s a very slow grower. Growing only 3 to 5 inches/year. Exposure: Sun to part shade.
Leaves are often short and sharp-pointed.
Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’ – Golden Spreader Caucasian Fir
Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’ – A mounding, spreading plant when young, will develop a pyramidal form with age. Considered a dwarf, growing only 3 to 6 inches/year. Exposure: Sun to part shade. Mature Size: 3’H x 6’W.
The False Cypresses…(Chamaecyparis)
Leaves are often small and scale-like.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Tempelhof’ – Tempelhof Cypress
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Tempelhof’. USDA Zones: 4 – 6. Lush evergreen foliage in broad overlapping whorls covers this carefree dwarf conifer. New foliage emerges yellow-green and matures to deep green and in cold winter a bronze coloration. You can use in many places: border, container, hedge, rock garden. Slowly reaches 8 ft. tall x 4 ft. wide. Exposure: Full sun. Water: Regular.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’- Fernspray Gold Hinoki False Cypress
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’ – USDA Zones: 4 – 8. A mid-sized evergreen conifer with an open growth habit. Flattened, arching sprays of scaly, green foliage turn bright gold when exposed to enough sun. Slow growing. Mature size: 12 ft. high x 8 ft.wide. Exposure: full sun to partial shade. Water: regular.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Main take away here is that conifers are an amazing group of plants for use in the garden. Whether you have limited space (containers), or a large garden, there are so many to consider for rich, vibrant garden design.