beloved conifers: recap of coziest woody plants

weeping-alaska-cdear-detailWITH THE FIRST SNOW FORECAST, and juncos and other winter birds showing up in fast-increasing numbers, my thoughts (and theirs) these colder, windy days are turning to the importance of conifers. There are no better woody plants to tuck into if you’re a bird, and no more beautiful ones to look out at when you’re tucked inside if you’re a gardener. Doesn’t that branch of the weeping Alaska cedar (above, last winter) look like a drapey shawl? Another look at some of my favorites, after a quick tip about browning needles:

browning conifer foliage
As I mentioned in October’s garden chores, it’s disconcerting when suddenly all your evergreens looks like they’re turning brown from the inside out (like the golden hinoki cypress, above). As long as what’s dead is on the inner portion of the branches or twigs, it’s simply the normal shedding of the oldest foliage, which lasts several years then fades in fall. If it’s unsightly, I rub the dead bits off with a gentle pass of my hand, or just wait until nature does the job.

Favorite Coniferous Trees

(click any green type to link to the profile of that plant)

Golden hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’

Japanese umbrella pine, Sciadopitys verticillata

Concolor fir, Abies concolor

Weeping Alaska cedar, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’

Korean fir, Abies koreana

Lacebark pine, Pinus bungeana

Favorite Coniferous Shrubs

Russian arborvitae, Microbiota decussata

Golden spreading yew, Taxus baccata ‘Repandens Aurea’

Dwarf white pine, Pinus strobus ‘Nana’

Conifer Slideshow

If you missed it earlier this year, tour the above favorites and more in my slideshow of favorites conifers.

  1. Liisa says:

    I don’t think I could garden without my beloved conifers. The Weeping Alaskan cedar is one of my absolute favorites, and I enjoy mixing the Dwarf golden hinoki false cypress among my perennials. I just love your dwarf white pines – over the summer I found a local nursery that has them, so I will be adding them next year. Cady’s Falls Nursery in Vermont has a pretty extensive conifer collection.

  2. Linda says:

    Here’s a lovely poem, author unknown:
    “Something told the wild geese, it was time to go.
    Though the fields lay golden, something whispered,
    Leaves were green and stirring, berries luster-glossed,
    But beneath warm feathers, something whispered,
    All the sagging orchards steamed with ember spice,
    But each wild breast stiffened at remembered ice.
    Something told the wild geese it was time to fly,
    summer sun was in their wings,
    Winter in their cry.”

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Linda. That is really beautiful, thank you. And exactly what is going on: winter is in their cry. I hope to see you again here soon.

  3. MiSchelle says:

    I realize I need some of these beauties in my garden as it looks so bare in winter, but conifers scare me just a little bit. I have little space, so selection is important – what if I choose the wrong one? (Or two or three, but no more.) Where would they provide the most impact? What am I willing to give up for them? Such a quandry.

  4. Dabney says:


    Could you please recommend what you would consider to be one of the best basic books of garden design that covers fundamental concepts? My husband and I love to dig and plant, but we never manage to have the “big picture” in mind before we start. It’s more like we move from place to place planting and tending things, but never successfully designing the spaces. Though we enjoy the process, afterward we often stand back, survey the result and feel vaguely disappointed.

    We have questions about how often and how sparingly to plant dramatically colored shrubs (my husband is eyeing those burning bushes just now turning scarlet) and how to create paths and sitting areas and where to put cutting gardens, (among many others).

    We live outside of Philadelphia…


    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Dabney. A harder question than one would think; I have not ever really used a book so much as read many books and most of all looked at pictures. I always scanned the books by the late Penelope Hobhouse (English) and by Ken Druse (American, contemporary) and I love the work of Glenn Withey and Charles Price of Seattle (contemporary garden designers) but for them you have to look online for articles by/about them, no books yet. I wish I had an easy answer to that one.

  5. Elayne LePage says:

    My suggestion is to call a landscape architect and find out how much a consultation would cost. My daughter in law who is a fabulous architect by trade (Fivecatstudio.com) is a beginner gardner. She hired a landscape architect to come to her home with a giant hillside and give her some ideas. She followed him around with a clip board last spring and her garden is now on the way to being outstanding.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Elayne. Yes, I agree, a consult is a good idea; I have various times has friends with vast expertise come help think me out of a mental logjam here; always good to have another set of eye with greater expertise. Thanks, and see you soon again I hope.

  6. Regina Neal says:

    The National Garden Clubs offers a Landscape Design Study Program that is open to the public. It consists of 1 Hour lectures delivered by Landscape Architects and other professionals. It is designed to cover various aspects of the topic. Additional information about the program can be obtained by going to their site at National Garden Clubs Inc and checking out Landscape Design Schools.

  7. catjane says:

    For Linda, and others who, like me, enjoyed the poem she posted – “Something Told the Wild Geese” is by American poet Rachel Field (1894-1942). She was also a novelist and Newberry Award winning children’s writer.

    The lines Linda posted are the entire poem. Oh, and it was set to music at one point.

    Thought you might be interested.

  8. Candace says:


    I fell in love with redwoods while living in Northern California and would love to plant one at our new home — except it is in Eastern Ontario (zone 5a). Do you know of any redwoods that could survive in zone 5a, or any conifers that are similar to redwoods?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Candace. The closest thing I can think of is the deciduous conifer called Metasequoia, which you can read about here among other places. Fast to grow with a beautiful trunk and shape and great fall color…but not evergreen. I love this tree and have some growing here (Zone 5 hardy).

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