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Conifers to embellish your garden in winter

Japanese larch
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Robert Mineau)  
Larix kaempferi
Species or cultivar Fall and winter interest
Abies spp. Our balsam firs are not suited to urban life. Try Colorado fir (Abies concolor), with its long bluish upcurved needles instead. The 'Candicans' cultivar has particularly blue needles, as does the smaller Abies lasiocarpa var. compacta. Then there is also the lovely Korean fir (Abies koreana) and its 'Silberlocke' cultivar, with its upcurved blue and white needles, and the 'Aurea' cultivar with its yellow needles. This latter cultivar also produces cones at a very young age.
Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera' Interesting for its “threadlike” foliage and its gracious habit. Many cultivars with yellow foliage are available.
Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard' Interesting for its soft, bluish foliage.
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula' Lovely weeping conifer with a dramatic habit. The 'Green Arrow' and 'Strict Weeping' cultivars have long vertical sprays.
Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Heatherburn' Lovely soft green foliage with purple hues in winter. Tolerates poorly drained soil.
Juniperus spp. and cv Lots and lots of choice when it comes to shape (sprawling, vase-shaped or columnar) and colour (green, yellow or blue foliage). In addition, cultivars with blue foliage, especially the sprawling shapes, turn a brownish-purple hue in winter. Cultivars with yellow foliage also turn a more intense yellow in winter. Among the sprawling forms, recent cultivars of Juniperus horizontalis like 'Icee blue', certainly the most blue of this kind, and 'Mother Lode', with its exceptional yellow foliage, are good choices. In those with a vase shape, Juniperus chinensis 'Golden Glow' has interesting yellow foliage. The recently introduced Juniperus x media 'Angelica Blue' has unique intense blue foliage. Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', with its mounded habit, has unusual steel blue awl-shaped foliage.  In upright junipers, with its bluish foliage and narrow columnar habit, Juniperus virginiana 'Blue Arrow' is worth considering, as a substitute for the old 'Skyrocket' cultivar. You’re guaranteed a cosmic impact! In the same type, the Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) and its 'Wichita Blue' or 'Blue Heaven' cultivars, are among the bluest. More compact but perhaps more difficult to find, Juniperus communis 'Pencil Point' with its bluish needles forms a small and very narrow column, if that is what you are looking for, in a spot out of the wind. It’s like an exclamation point in your garden. For a habit similar to a weeping false cypress, but in blue, Juniperus scopulorum 'Tolleson's Blue Weeping' is worth trying, set off by itself.
Larix spp. A conifer that loses its needles, although they turn a lovely yellow colour before they drop. Many stem-grafted dwarf cultivars, with a variety of shapes, are now available.
Microbiota decussata A sprawling, fast-growing conifer, little known and very hardy (from Siberia, after all!). Its foliage turns bronze in the fall and winter.
Picea spp. Many species and cultivars with green or relatively bluish foliage. Many different heights. Weeping white spruce (Picea glauca 'Pendula'), with its columnar habit and pendulous branches, is very attractive in tight spaces. Many blue or green Colorado spruce (Picea pungens) cultivars are available on the market. And that is not to mention the countless Norway spruce (Picea abies) cultivars, in a wide variety of shapes.
Pinus spp. Many dwarf cultivars of mugo pine (Pinus mugo) and white pine (Pinus strobus) are also available. With its erect, columnar habit, Pinus mugo 'Tannenbaum' does well in tight spots. Pinus mugo 'Winter Gold' has a compact, bushy habit and needles. New shoots of Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst' are yellow only in late spring, however. The odd-looking Pinus densiflora 'Oculis Draconis', about 3 m high, has green-and-yellow striped needles.
Thuja occidentalis and cv A wide variety of cultivars available, with round or erect habits. Many cultivars with yellow foliage, as well.
Taxus spp. A conifer usually with a vase shape, dark needles, and shade tolerant. Small red fruits called arils. Can be pruned into different shapes.
Tsuga spp. Lovely shade conifer with a gracious habit. Many dwarf and weeping cultivars are available.


Based on an article by Robert Mineau in Quatre-Temps magazine, Vol. 26, no.4.

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