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7 Ways to Use Conifers in the Garden

By: James A. Baggett James A. Baggett
Fall is a great time to plant trees. And you’ll thank yourself this winter if your garden has a few conifers. Learn one expert’s secrets to designing with these evergreens.

designing-with-conifers-pv2:A variety of conifer species and cultivars of different sizes, textures and colors combine for a front-yard display with year-round interest.

Add conifers to your garden

Conifers — plants with seed-bearing cones — are versatile and attractive additions to the landscape. Many popular selections are cold-hardy to USDA zone 4, providing evergreen color and structure long after seasonal flowers fade and deciduous plants lose their leaves.

Most conifers need minimal maintenance. An occasional trim to shape the plant and remove dead or storm-damaged branches, done with hand pruners or a bypass lopper, will be all that is necessary. Conifers can have sharp needles, so wear leather gloves, even the kind with gauntlets to protect your forearms, when you work with these kinds of plants. Sticky sap can accumulate on tools and your skin when you cut conifers. Use alcohol, baby wipes, or a special hand cleaner to remove it easily.

Meet a conifer collector

Harrison Tuttle started collecting conifers when he moved into his home on a half-acre property in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2005. Today he has a collection of more than 500 conifers (from 16 genuses), including cedars, cypresses, firs, junipers, larches, hemlock, pines, redwoods, spruces and yews.

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Designing with conifers

You may not be ready to take the plunge with conifers, but you'll be amazed at how just a few scattered throughout your garden can boost its year-round appeal. Take a private tour of Harrison’s conifer garden in North Carolina, and discover 7 great ways to use conifers in any garden.

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Create privacy with conifers

Evergreen trees and shrubs make great outdoor privacy screens all year round. Use them to block the sights and sounds of a busy street. This front-yard planting includes Japanese maple (Acer japonicum), golden black spruce (Picea mariana ‘Golden’), Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) and Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Pruhoniceana’).


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Visual excitement with foliage color

For a dynamic look, contrast different shapes and colors. This street-side planting includes weeping white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’), tiger tail spruce (Picea polita), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Princess’), weeping Nootka cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Glauca Pendula’) and silver ray Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis ‘Silver Ray’).


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Get multiseason interest with conifers

Conifers provide visually interesting textures, colors and even movement, in all seasons. Use conifers to make winter a season of natural beauty. This border planting includes dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Ogon’), Mexican orange (Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Emperor 1’), blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Horstmann’), oriental spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) and Colorado spruce (Picea pungens ‘Shilo Weeping’).


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Create emphasis

Use upright forms of conifers like this silvery blue variegated Korean pine as an impressive landscape backdrop, in this case for the dahlia blossoms. This vignette includes dwarf golden mugo pine (Pinus mugo ‘Zundert’), Coreopsis tinctoria, Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Pruhoniciana’), Korean pine (Pinus koreana ‘Silver Ray’), Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Green Cascade’) and the dahlias.


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Turn up the curb appeal with conifers

Evergreens can provide curb appeal that doesn't come and go with the seasons in mixed plantings like this impressive streetside display that includes Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Pruhoniciana’), weeping white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’), Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Frohburg’), Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’).


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Combine foliage colors for effect

When choosing plants to combine with conifers, remember to think about the colors and how they will play off each other. Green conifers like this Eastern hemlock complement light-colored flowers and plants like this eye-catching variegated dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’), combined with Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’, Heuchera ‘Paris’ and the Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).


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Build architectural interest with conifers

Conifers are ideal for adding an architectural element to beds and borders by combining those with distinctly different habits, like this weeping white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’), standing proud in front of a dwarf flowering plum (Prunus cerasifera ‘Purple Pony’) and a pair of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum ‘Beni-Shichihenge’ and A. palmatum ‘Orange Dream’).

Published: Nov. 30, 2018
Updated: Dec. 20, 2022
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