Our Guide to Conifers
When it comes to conifers, the delight is in the details.
The versatile conifer has no rival for adding year-round interest to a garden. Since many species are naturally quite variable, an almost infinite selection of ornamental selections—in a broad range of sizes, forms, colors, and textures—assure that there’s a conifer to suit nearly every garden.
From left to right:
1: The whorled foliage of the Japanese umbrella-pine (Sciadopitys verticallata ‘Wintergreen’) remains dark green throughout the winter.
2: One of many dwarf forms of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Hino’), this cultivar has tiny needles and a dense form.
3: Gold-tinged creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’) is a slow-growing form of this hardy ground cover that tolerates hot, dry locations.
Deanna F. Curtis is an associate curator at the New York Botanical Garden.
Miniature or dwarf forms work well where space is limited, and these slow growers—they do continue to grow beyond dwarf size—often vary in form from the full-size varieties of the species, creating striking shapes.
Left: Snake branch spruce’s (Picea abies ‘Virgata’) draping branches have a dramatic appearance.
Right: Spiral plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonii ‘Fastigiata’), right, is shade-tolerant.
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Bright golds and silvery blues belie the name “evergreen,” as does variegated foliage with splashes and stripes of white or yellow. Skilled gardeners use seasonal color changes—such as contrasting new growth and winter bronzing—as well as the broad and varied assortment of textures to complement or contrast existing plants.
All three of these varieties tolerate partial shade.
Top left: Hiba arborvitae (Thujopsis dolabrata ‘Variegata’).
Bottom left and right: Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Verdon’ and ‘Tsatsumi Gold’).
Conifers are unusual plants and excel in unexpected uses. As traditional ground covers spilling over the side of container planting or as a hedge enlivened with a mixture of species or cultivars, conifers can create a four-season tapestry of texture and color.
Left: Variegated sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Argenteovariegata’) has feathery foliage.
Right: A contorted deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Twisted Growth’).
The long pendulous needles of the variegated Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’) are marked with yellow bands, giving this elegant species a unique striped look.
Left: The soft twisted needles of contorted white pine (Pinus stobus ‘Contorta’) offer a unique texture to this commonly planted species.
Center: The needles of the silver Korean fir (Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’) curl up around the branches, showing off the silvery undersides of this fir species.
Right: The popular dwarf blue Colorado spruce (Picea pungens ‘R.H. Montgomery’) is a compact pyramidal form named for Col. R.H. Montgomery, who donated his legendary conifer collection to the New York Botanical Garden, where the original plant still grows today.
All cuttings were taken from the Benenson Ornamental Conifers, a collection of cultivated conifers at the New York Botanical Garden.