Conifers are a wonderful way of adding colour and shape to your garden - and because the vast majority are evergreen, the effect will last the whole year! But what many people don't realise is that there is an amazing choice of different shades, shapes and sizes ranging from tiny dwarfs to magnificent trees.

As long as you have chosen the right site, most conifers are easy to look after, requiring only a little pruning and watering. They are generally pretty disease resistant and just need a little loving care during really cold spells.

About us

The HTA British Conifer Group' membership is composed of a significant number of the UK's conifer producers. The members are involved with all aspects of the production of conifers. Propagation, finished plants to garden centres and in direct retailing to the general public.

Membership is open to all professional growers of conifers.

We aim to

  • Promote the benefits of confiers in the garden and the landscape.
  • Promote the benefits of the conifers to wildlife and the enviromnment.
  • To keep the public informed and to encourage garden centres and the gardening press to do likewise.
  • Promote new, garden worthy varieties.

Why Conifers?

Conifers come in a vast range of colours and many change shade during the year. Careful choice can give you a great splash of colour in autumn and winter when most other plants are dormant.

Shape and form

Because they are evergreen (i.e. do not loose their leaves) often with strong shapes, conifers are perfect for bringing shape, height and form to your garden. Use them to:

  • Act as a backdrop to perennials, bulbs and annuals.
  • Form a stand-alone feature in the garden.
  • Give height to borders.
  • Form wonderful frost or snow covered shapes in the winter garden.

The wide variety of shapes and sizes makes them hugely useful in all parts of the garden, but make sure you choose the right one for the job!

Ultimate heights and spreads should be taken into consideration as some conifers can grow very large so always seek and take advice from your local garden centre or nursery or see the 'Choosing the Right Conifer' section.

Choosing the right Conifer

Once you know where you want to add your conifer in the garden, you need to the choose the right type, whether it be for structure, style or as a focal point. Look at the headings below and get some useful information to get you started.

Columnar - tall and narrow, cylindrical

These are great used in a shrub border to give extra height, at the end of a vista or as a feature set in the lawn. Examples include:

  • Juniperus scopulorum ' Skyrocket'
  • Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aureomarginata'

Pyramidal - pyramid shape, narrow at the top, wide at the bottom

These can make a stunning feature in the middle of a large lawn, or they can be used to hide unsightly features. Examples include:

  • Picea albertiana 'Conica'
  • Thuja occidentalis 'Yellow Ribbon'
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Yvonne'

Globose - spherical, bun shaped

These conifers look amazing as punctuation points at the apex of a border, on either side of entrances, or giving strong shape in a border of daintier perennials. Examples include:

  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ' Minima Glauca'
  • Thuja occidentalis 'Danica'
  • Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Sungold'

Prostrates - low and sprawling  

These are perfect for softening the edges of borders or paths, cascading over low walls or at the edge of steps. Also use them to cover manholes, old tree stumps or even the edge of your pond liner. Good weed-suppressers. Examples include:

  • Juniperus squamata 'Blue Carpet'
  • Juniperus x media 'Carbery Gold'
  • Juniperus communis 'Green Carpet'
  • Juniperus conferta

Dwarfs - tiny conifers which reach a height of three feet at most

These are brilliant in containers and rockeries and provide year-round interest. Examples include:

  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Minima Aurea'
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Gnome'
  • Juniperus communis 'Compressa'
  • Picea abies 'Little Gem'

Interesting colour

Apart from the whole palette of different blues, greens, gold's, greys and bronzes which conifers include, there are some which change colour as the year goes on. Examples include:

  • Picea pungens 'Hoopsii'
  • Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold'
  • Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans'
  • Juniperus squamata 'Holger'
  • Pinus mugo 'Ophir'

10 things you didn't know about Conifers...

  1. Conifers come in all colours of the rainbow, not just green; they can be red, bronze, yellow or even blue.
  2. The colour of a Conifer can be influenced by the temperature of it’s habitat, for example, the Thuja ‘Rheingold’ is a yellowy-red in the summer and turns to bronze in the winter while the Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ is a greeny-red in the summer and turns to a bronzy-red in the winter.
  3. Conifers come in all different sizes, from the 30 centimetre Juniperus communis ‘Compacta’ which is small in comparison to the 125 metre Redwoods which give us the tallest and largest trees in the world. The Redwoods are to be found growing in California.
  4. Conifers can be many different shapes, for example, flat and hugging the ground (Juniperus horizontalis), arrow-shaped (Taxodium or the Swamp cypress), tiered (Cedar) and globe shaped (Thuja occidentalis ‘Globose’).
  5. Most Conifers are evergreen, but what many people don’t know is that there are five genus which are deciduous; they are the Larix, Pseudolarix, Metasequoia, Taxodium and the Glyptostrobus.
  6. Conifers have two different types of leaves, needles and scales, but the Juniperus can have both juvenile and adult foliage depending on its age (it can change from needles to scales over time).
  7. Conifers grow in either temperate or tropical climates; however the Araucaria genus (Monkey Puzzle Tree) can be found in both temperate and tropical climates.
  8. Conifers are usually found in either the Northern or the Southern hemisphere, for example, Pinus sylvestris grows in the Northern hemisphere and the Agathis australis grows in the Southern hemisphere.
  9. Conifers can be found growing at any height from sea level right up to alpine conditions for example the Pinus mugo grows on the mountains of Central Europe.
  10. The Pinus aristata (longeava) is found in the White and Rocky Mountain ranges in the USA and has been carbon ring-dated as the oldest living tree in the world.

Right Conifer, right place

Conifers come in all shapes and sizes from dwarf conifers for containers and pots to conifers that can be used for screening and structure as a well established hedge.

Container Growing

They may not seem the obvious choice but dwarf conifers live happily alongside other plants in containers, or by themselves as specimens. They are a particularly good idea for year round colour on patios and useful with winter and early spring flowerers, which can then be swapped for summer annuals. Try experimenting with shapes for example a prostrate conifer with some taller bulbs or a small pyramidal conifer with something more 'relaxed'. Examples include:

  • Picea glauca 'Alberta Globe'
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwood's Gold'
  • Juniperus communis 'Compressa'
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Springtime'
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Snow White'
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwood's Pillar'

Rockery and water features

Conifers are excellent planted by water features as the strong shapes of their foliage make wonderful reflections in the water and they don't lose their leaves into it! Use prostrate varieties to cover up the edges of your pond liner.

In the rockery dwarf and prostrate conifers both have a place, particularly as they provide good weed cover and have so many varieties of shape and colour.

Examples for ponds include:

  • Thuja orientalis 'Aurea Nana'
  • Juniperus x media pfitzeriana 'Aurea'

Examples for rockeries include:

  • Juniperus x media 'Gold Coast'
  • Thuja orientalis 'Aurea Nana'
  • Juniperus horizontalis 'Golden Carpet'
  • Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Pygmaea Argentea'

Screening and hedging

Conifers are a popular choice for hiding an ugly feature such as an oil tank or a garage, not least because they will do the job the whole year round. They also make good hedges and some types can even be clipped into topiary shapes given time. Examples include:

  • Thuja plicata
  • X Cupressocyparis 'Leylandii'
  • X Cupressocyparis 'Castlewellan'
  • Taxus baccata
  • Chamaecyparis 'Lawson Cypress'
  • Cupressus 'Cypress'

X Cupressocyparis 'Leylandii' may have received a bad press in the last few years, but they are extremely useful and if kept under control, will never get out of hand.

They offer very quick cover-up jobs and can easily reach 3 metres (10ft) high and 1.2 metres (4ft) wide in five years. They come in a variety of different colours ranging from Castlewellan (yellow) to Robinson's Gold (lemon yellow).

Preparation

Soil preparation for all types of conifers is important and a hole not less than 1m (3ft) across and 23cm (9in) deep should be dug when planting. Add suitable organic material such as garden compost, well-rotted farm manure or spent mushroom compost and mix in before filling around the plant’s roots.

Watering and Feeding

The danger time for establishment of all newly planted conifers is April, May and June it is important to keep a regular check on watering in dry weather watering both foliage and soil. Feeding annually each April with Dried Blood will increase the growth rate but more importantly enhance the colour of the foliage.

Keeping them under control

  • Cut them in an 'A' shape once a year and they will never get out of control.
  • Make sure you do this regular trim but don't cut back to the wood, as it will damage the plants.

List of most popular conifers and their uses

  • Thuja (Arbor Vitae) - ornamental and hedges
  • Juniperus (Juniper) - different types can be used in borders, rockeries and containers.
  • Taxus (Yew) - ornamental, hedges and topiary.
  • Picea (Spruce) - different types can be used in borders, rockeries and as specimen plants.
  • X Cupressocyparis 'Leylandii' (Leyland Cypress) - fast growing, great for hedging and hiding unsightly features.

What you'll need

Tools

  • Secateurs
  • Fork and spade
  • Stakes (if necessary)

Shopping list

  • Conifer(s) of your choice
  • Bonemeal /dried blood
  • Well-rotted farmyard manure or other planting material
  • Pots  and compost (if using drawf conifers)
  • Watering can
  • Mulch