Do you think of evergreen trees and shrubs as dull green pyramids? I did until I saw the steely blue foliage and graceful silhouette of a weeping blue Atlas cedar. Since then, I’ve discovered that evergreens, specifically conifers, come in a wide array of colors, shapes, and textures.
Best of all, many newer cultivars are bred to grow slowly or to mature at heights that stay in proportion to the average house and surrounding plants. And that means less pruning.
My two dozen conifers are the backbone of my 1-acre garden. No matter how big or small your yard is, you’ll find many beautiful, colorful evergreens to fit.
Conifers Trees Color, Texture, Form
Which colors can you choose from? How about golds, blues, oranges, yellows, whites, silvers, grays, and, yes, greens from olive to chartreusesome with variegated needles or scales. In spring, certain spruces and pines cast cones that are tinged pink, red, or purple.
Other species change color when temperatures fall. “Many juniper groundcovers and some false cypresses take on a plum color that’s triggered by cold,” says Susan F. Martin, curator of the Conifer, Dogwood, and Maple Collection of the U.S. National Arboretum, in Washington, D.C. And new growth contrasts brightly with mature foliage. The foliage texture of conifers varies widely, too.
You can choose ones that are curly (‘Curly Tops’ sawara cypress or ‘Spiraliter Falcata‘ Japanese cedar) or lacy (‘Linesville’ eastern arborvitae); or those with billowy puffs of foliage (‘Montgomery’ Colorado spruce), bold spikes (‘Thunderhead’ Japanese black pine), bristly balls (‘Witchs Brood’ Norway spruce), or lava-like dimples (‘Nana Gracilis‘ hinoki cypress). And you’ll find shapes sure to suit your style.
Conifers can be globe-like or rounded (‘Heatherbun’ white cedar), pendulous or weeping (‘Glauca Pendula‘ blue Atlas cedar), columnar or tapered (‘Compressa‘ common juniper). Some are broadly upright (‘Rheingold’ eastern arborvitae); some are prostrate (‘Cole’s Prostrate’ Canada hemlock), and some grow and spread horizontally (‘Blue Star’ single-seed juniper).
Conifers Measuring Up
When it comes to dwarf conifers, it’s all relative. A 20-foot-tall white pine is a dwarf compared to its 80-foot parent. These categories, defined by the American Conifer Society, will help you choose the right one for your needs.
- Miniature conifers grow less than 1 inch per year to a total height of 1 foot or less in 10 to 15 years.
- Dwarf types grow from 1 to 6 inches annually and range from 1 to 6 feet in 10 to 15 years.
- Intermediate conifers grow 6 to 12 inches a year, reaching 6 to 15 feet tall in 10 to 15 years.
Show Your Conifers Colors
Cedrus deodara ‘Snow Sprite’. Intermediate. Broad, compact form revealing new ivory-white spring growth aging to creamy-yellow. Grows upright. (Zone 7)
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Plumosa Compressa’. Dwarf. Compact, bushy habit with foliage emerging a creamy yellow-green that changes to medium green later in the year. (Zone 4)
Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’. Dwarf. Columnar form with bright golden-yellow foliage in spring and summer. Grows upright. (Zone 4)
Juniperus chinensis ‘Daub’s Frosted’. Dwarf. Variegated foliage frosted with light golden yellow spring growth against the interior bluish-green foliage. Spreads horizontally. (Zone 4)
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’. Intermediate. Rich golden yellow foliage changes to a yellow-bronze hue tinged with a plum in the winter landscape. Spreads horizontally. (Zone 3)
Picea glauca ‘Rainbow’s End. Dwarf. Narrowly cone-shaped, with new growth in light green, with bright, creamy yellow tips that glow against the forest green older foliage. Grows upright. (Zone 4)