By Dr. Susan Hamilton
Do you often think of evergreen trees and shrubs as dull green pyramids? I once did, until I saw the steely blue foliage and graceful silhouette of a Blue Alaskan Cedar. Since then, I’ve discovered that evergreens, specifically conifers, come in an array of colors, shapes and textures – and can really liven up your winter garden.
Nearly two-dozen conifers form the backbone of my one-acre garden – providing a rainbow of beautiful colors – and have thus become my new favorite group of plants. With colors like plum, blue, copper and yellow, conifers are low maintenance and often bred to grow slowly. This moderate growth means the plants will mature at heights in proportion to the average house and surrounding plants – which also translates into less pruning for you. No matter how the size of your yard, you’ll find many beautiful evergreens to fit.
Look for these favorite cultivars:
Morgan Oriental Arborvitae has bright lime-yellow foliage. This cultivar is durable and can tolerate soil conditions ranging from extremely dry to boggy wet. The plant forms an upright column of soft, flat sprays, and the tips of the foliage turn a burnt-orange shade in the winter. It grows to 6 feet tall in 10 years.
‘Verdoni’ Hinoki Cypress is a loose, broadly conical form that features golden foliage for year-round interest. It is a slow-growing cultivar, typically reaching
3 to 5 feet tall in 10 years. The dwarf Chamaecyparis ‘Spirited’ changes from bright yellow to a beautiful bronzy-orange in the fall.
A dense, spreading cultivar, Cryptomeria ‘Elegans Nana’ turns a beautiful bronze in winter and only grows 12 inches tall by 3 feet wide.
Known for its striking bright golden yellow foliage and a vertical, slender form, Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’ grows to 3 to 4 feet tall by 12 inches wide in 10 years. This juniper also prefers the hot sun.
Other great yellow varieties are J. horizontalis ‘Mother Lode,’ J. Chinensis ‘Gold Lace,’ ‘Aurea’ Deodara Cedar and the Yellow Oriental Spruce – one of my all-time favorite plants for color and form.
‘Rubicon’ is an upright dense form with blue-green, star-like foliage that turns a beautiful soft plum in winter.
Juniperus ‘Berkshire’ is a true miniature. It grows to just 8 inches tall by 12 inches wide in 10 years. This juniper forms a dense, bun-shaped mound that is green
in the summer and turns plum and bronze in the winter.
For blue color, the Colorado Blue Spruce is hard to beat. An outstanding selection with a conical shape is Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’, which grows 10 to 15 feet tall by 7 to 10 feet wide in 10 years. I also like ‘Hoopsii’ which is a little shorter and more slender, growing to 8 feet tall by 3 feet wide in 10 years. ‘Globosa’ and ‘Thume’ are great round, dwarf forms that grow to 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall in 10 years.
‘Blue Ice’ Cypress is touted as being one of the bluest and largest conifers available. This striking vertical plant can reach 16 feet tall by 5 feet wide and is fast growing.
Tolerant of a range of soils, cedars come in a variety of colors, forms and sizes. One of my favorites for form and blue color is Cedrus atlantic ‘Glauca Pendula’. This Atlas cedar has brilliant silver-blue foliage and a weeping, cascading form that can be quite remarkable.
For a soft, vertical form, you can’t go wrong with C. deodara, which has a graceful, elegant look with blue gray foliage. I also love the soft texture and blue color of C. deodara ‘Feelin Blue.’
Juniperus ‘Blue Star’ is a bright blue during the summer and turns a soft gray-blue in the winter – adding a gorgeous splash of color to your landscape.