Top 10 reasons to grow Conifers

Conifers are surely a victim of their own success. Their ability to survive with little maintenance has created a nationwide epidemic of neglected Leylandii. But take a closer look at this unfashionable group and you will find elegance, refinement and plenty of year round interest.

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Conifers are surely a victim of their own success. Their ability to survive with little maintenance has created a nationwide epidemic of neglected Leylandii. But take a closer look at this unfashionable group and you will find elegance, refinement and plenty of year round interest.

Top 10 reasons to grow Conifers

Coniferous trees and shrubs are one of the most maligned and misunderstood groups of the plant world. Still suffering a hangover from the 70's, having been widely planted in rockeries on front lawns throughout suburbia. In later decades the word 'Conifer' has become tarred with images of antisocial, light-blocking hedges towering over residential boundaries, and creating neighbourly disputes. An equally unappealing reputation!

With today's busy lifestyles it is only a matter of time before the spotlight falls once more upon these low maintenance, evergreens. Such a diverse group offers something for almost every situation, providing colour, texture structure.

The secret is to choose the right conifer for the right setting - and to maintain it like you would any other plant in your garden. Read on to learn the Top 10 reasons to grow Conifers and discover just how exciting this group is. Why not browse our extensive range of conifers, and buy yours online today.

1. Structure

Evergreens are the backbone of any garden and Conifers are the masters of evergreen! These stately trees and shrubs create structure and architecture throughout the year. Upright conifers are ideal for punctuating the landscape with an air of formality. Columnar Juniperus scopulorum 'Skyrocket ' is an ultra-slim variety, forming a tall, evergreen exclamation mark.

You can achieve a similar effect in a small garden using Juniperus scopulorum 'Blue Arrow' which is a much shorter cultivar and makes a great choice either side of an entranceway.

2. Evergreen Colour

Don't be fooled into thinking that all conifers are green. With careful planning you can create a rich tapestry of silver, blue, cream, gold and yellow foliage. Thuja occidentalis 'Golden Globe' brings a bright splash of green-gold foliage to the garden, while Picea glauca var. albertiana 'J.W. Daisy's White' has a lovely pale cream tint in spring.

Some will provide a colour change throughout the seasons. The new growth of Juniperus horizontalis 'Icee Blue' is silvery-blue, turning to plummy-bronze during the coldest winter months.

It's worth pointing out that not all Conifers are evergreen. The majestic Metasequoia glyptostroboides is a deciduous conifer, but no less colourful. In autumn this tall tree turns to bright orange and gold, contrasting beautifully with its furrowed, peeling russet-brown bark.

3. Large Specimen Trees

Coniferous trees make fine specimens for large gardens, park lands and estates. Take a look at any stately home in the UK and you are certain to find more than few. Giants such as the Sierra redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum, reach eye watering heights in their native homelands of the USA where conditions are much drier. In the UK, they rarely reach the same proportions but will certainly make an imposing feature in the landscape.

The mighty Swamp Cypress, Taxodium distichum, makes a good choice on wet, boggy soils. Its striking red-brown bark and deciduous foliage make a colourful feature in autumn. In smaller gardens the dwarf variety, Taxodium distichum 'Pévé Minaret ' is a better option, reaching just 2m (6ft) tall.

For a graceful, weeping appearance try Cedrus deodara, the Himalayan Cedar. This handsome Cedar creates an elegant drooping silhouette, with blue-grey needles that soften its appearance.

4. Dwarf Conifers

At the other end of the scale are numerous dwarf conifers which make superb low maintenance plants for smaller gardens. They come in all shapes and sizes from the mound-forming Chamaecyparis pisifera 'White Pygmy ' and Pinus mugo 'Mops', to the conical, upright Picea glauca 'Conica ' or the golden Platycladus orientalis 'Aurea Nana '.

Many of the Junipers are slow growing and compact, making excellent rockery plants. For a more contemporary look, try growing them in large containers, or raised beds. For an Oriental planting scheme try Pinus nigra 'Pierrick Bregéon '.

5. Evergreen Ground cover

There are plenty of low growing conifers that make superb, evergreen ground cover - perfect for smothering weeds once established. Microbiota decussata is a low, carpeting variety with feathery foliage that turns to bronze-purple in winter.

Many of the Junipers have a low, spreading habit, such as Juniperus sabina 'Rockery Gem ', Juniperus horizontalis 'Golden Carpet ' and Juniperus horizontalis 'Pancake ' . Planted together they will form a vibrant tapestry of colours and textures, providing excellent low maintenance ground cover for banks and borders.

6. Cones

Some conifers will produce striking cones with maturity, which make a superb ornamental feature. The Korean Fir, Abies koreana is one of the most captivating, with violet-blue cones that develop from summer and remain on the branches well into winter.

Picea abies 'Acrocona ' bears its bright pink-red cones on gently drooping branches in a graceful display. The Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, produces a multitude of small cones among its Yew-like foliage.

7. Texture

Conifers create fabulous texture in the garden! From the soft appearance of Pinus x schwerinii 'Wiethorst ' with its long, dangling needles, to the spiky appearance of Picea abies 'Little Gem ' - and every variation in between.

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord ' has a curious braided appearance, while Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd ' is more feathery in texture. When planted together, the textural effect of coniferous foliage is captivating! If you only have room for a few, then plant them where they can offer a good contrast to the showy flowers of summer perennials. for up to a week.

8. Topiary

One of the best known conifers is our native Yew, Taxus baccata. Famed for its dark foliage, it positively thrives on being closely clipped. Indeed, Yew has become the backbone of almost every stately home in the country, forming hedges, mazes, balls, spirals, peacocks and every other shape conceivable.

You may be surprised to learn that Yew is a wide and varied genus, with many different types available. How about adding some colour with golden-needled Taxus baccata 'Summergold '? If it height that you are looking for then the tall columnar shape of Irish Yew, Taxus baccata Fastigiata Aurea Group, makes a fine choice .

For an unusual alternative to yew, Podocarpus 'Guardsman ' provides a slower growing option that will respond well to shaping and pruning.

9. Fragrance

You don't need showy flowers to enjoy fragrance in your garden! Many Junipers have aromatic foliage that releases a pungent smell when crushed or brushed past. Some Thujas are equally fragrant when the foliage is crushed.

Pines and Cedars also produce powerful terpenes that fragrance their sap with a strong, astringent perfume. However you probably won't get the chance to appreciate this until you prune the plants!

10. Hedges and privacy screens

Conifers are most widely used in the garden as hedges or screens. Taxus baccata is the monarch of hedges, forming a stately, dark hedge which can be closely clipped and offers maximum privacy. For a less formal appearance, the dense, evergreen foliage of Lawson Cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Pearly Swirls' makes an excellent , more compact alternative to the traditional Leyland Cypress (which has fallen from favour in recent years). Conifer hedges needn't tower over you like an impenetrable fortress! For a lower growing hedge of just 1m (39") tall try Thuja occidentalis 'Tiny Tim'. This short but bushy variety has attractive green foliage and a compact, uniform growth habit that won't get out of hand.

With so many Coniferous trees and shrubs to choose from it's easy to create a modern, evergreen, low maintenance display that will look fabulous even in the depths of winter. Choose bold planting schemes with contrasting colours and textures. Be sure to give each plant plenty of space to grow - this will improve air circulation and plant health, but also allows their unique silhouettes to be fully appreciated.

For more evergreen shrubs & plants growing advice, visit our dedicated evergreen plants hub page And for expert conifer growing advice, pruning tips & variety recommedations, visit our dedicated conifers hub page.

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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