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my top conifers for year-round garden beauty

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CONIFER, the “beautiful one” to your eye? I could only narrow my list down to 10, plant-mad person that I am, but with hints of the winter landscape in the cooler air, I’m thinking of just how important evergreens are. And not just to me. Coniferous trees and shrubs also provide important winter shelter for birds, and many small mammals depend on their seed, as do various bird species. Conifers’ value as nesting spots is another reason to plant more.

But you needn’t settle for some old generic spruce, or your basic white pine (both valuable in the right spot, especially in a larger landscape, but not quite choice enough to be my top choices for right here in my own backyard). When I make space for a conifer, I want something extra: maximum visual interest, not just its ecological assets. I want eye-catching color, from near-aqua to gold and every shade of green, and a diversity of textures and habits. I want conifers like these (links take you to full profiles of each plant):

my 10 great conifers for the home garden

Favorite Coniferous Trees

  • Golden hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’ (lacey, gold, and gorgeous)
  • Japanese umbrella pine, Sciadopitys verticillata (the most asked-about plant in my garden, and very choice; bottom photo)
  • Concolor fir, Abies concolor (the bluest of all blues, nearly turquoise; above photo)
  • Weeping Alaska cedar, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ (maybe the most graceful of all)
  • Korean fir, Abies koreana (purple cones, no less!)
  • Lacebark pine, Pinus bungeana (mottled, camouflage-pattern bark on a long-needled pine)

Favorite Coniferous Shrubs

  • Russian arborvitae, Microbiota decussata (lacey texture and a groundcover habit in semi-shade)
  • Golden spreading yew, Taxus baccata ‘Repandens Aurea’ (gleaming gold spring through fall, and a sideways habit)
  • Dwarf white pine, Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ (white pines that don’t grow into trees, but rather a mounded, bonsai-like shape), or one of many newer cultivars with a dwarf habit
  • Prostrate Japanese plum yew, Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Prostrata’ (great for groundcover in semi-shade, with yew-like texture)

plus:

As Andre Jordan reminds us in his doodle up top, conifers are not just for Christmas, right? (Andre Jordan’s doodle is just one of a rich stash in the archive on A Way to Garden. Root around in all the Andre doodles.)

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  1. Linda Turner says:

    I love the hemlocks in my yard…my mother planted them in the 60’s when they built this house-dug them out of the woods as little seedlings. Alas, we are banned from selling them here now because of wooly adelgid, but I always loved Tsuga ‘Gentsch White’…it looks like it’s frosted with new snow!

  2. Great post and many of these conifers are my favorites! I also am an admirer of these beautiful trees/shrubs and enjoy ‘Skylands’ Oriental Spruce, Weeping Norway Spruce, Blue Atlas Cedar and the Globe Spruces (Picea pungens ‘Globusa’ and Cryptomeria japonica ‘Globosa Nana) as well as the dwarf white pine that is on your list…all fabulous!

  3. Mike Brown says:

    Atlas, somebody who is like me. I love “specialty” trees and shrubs nobody else has. My problem I like planting two or three together and plant flowers in drifts of thirty or more. The community loves my yard and garden and with three acre I still have some room to grow but it feels up fast. The other places I have live the current owners have pulled up or cut down a good portion of what I planted. Such idiots!

  4. Kate says:

    Dwarf Deodar Cedar – zone 7, deer resistant, hardy, fluffy, and look amazing against darker evergreens like Nelly Stevens.

    1. Sylvia Green says:

      In mid Atlantic my favorite conifer by far is the amazingly heat tolerant Nordmann Fir. It requires a large garden space But is disease free in my garden At 20years mine are 20 to 30’ tall by15 ‘ wide and never need pruning!

  5. raymond says:

    my 35 year of dwarf white pine has now exceeded its boundaries near my deck. so a great pity to take a chainsaw to it. a local nursery here in Fairfield ct didn’t have interest in transplanting such a large specimen ( 6 ft high, 8 ft wide) if it hadn’t been regularly root pruned.

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, how sad, Raymond. I do love my two big old guys and thank goodness they are sort of where they can’t interrupt anything (well, except the walkway, so you have to turn sideways to get past).

  6. Bill Plummer says:

    I saw a Serbian spruce, Picea omorika, years ago, loved its drooping branches and so different from the blue Colorado spruces that are planted so widely. In my naivety in those early years I planted it under the power lines on our street. The electric company’s hired crew came through this year and topped it ruining it. I had them cut it off at the base ending fifty years plus of enjoyment.

    White pine, white and red oak and shagbarks are the dominant trees on our lot some pines six to nine feet in circumference. Pines, like women, develop character as they age and become more handsome in old age.

    Dwarf hemlocks are my favorite. Unfortunately I lost to many of the local deer herd including a Cole’s prostrate.

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