subscribe
YouTube
Pinterest
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Search

Small Evergreen Conifers for Winter Gardening

By: Mike Darcy

 

Kohout’s Ice Breaker Korean fir has beautiful silvery and blue-green foliage that stands out in winter gardens.

I grow “miniature” or “dwarf” plants with caution*. Living and gardening in the Pacific Northwest, I have found that plants seem to grow larger than many of the plant tags indicate. I have had many experiences where plants get larger than the literature states and many gardening friends tell me that they have had the same experience. Perhaps it is our generally mild weather, rich soils, and regular rain that make for some nearly ideal growing conditions. (Sometimes, I tell myself that the plant does not know what the tag says!) So, growing guidelines can be helpful, and lists of truly tiny plants, in this case, evergreen conifers, useful.

Miniature and Dwarf Conifers Defined

Fortunately, the American Conifer Society has established size categories for conifers that attempt to address the continuous growth of supposed miniatures. While it is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction. The four categories are based on approximate growth per year and include:

  1. Miniature conifers: less than 1 inch
  2. Dwarf conifers: 1-6 inches
  3. Intermediate conifers: 6-12 inches
  4. Large conifers: more than 12 inches.

Of course, the region, climate, and culture will also play a factor in growth. Sometimes home gardeners have the opinion that a dwarf conifer will grow to ten-year dimensions and then stop growing. This is NOT always the case. Woody plants, including dwarf conifers, will continue to grow for the life of the plant–some more than others.

The Best Miniature and Dwarf Evergreens

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Hage’ is a truly tiny specimen plant that grows well in containers or rock gardens.

Recently, I visited the gardens of several different friends that grow small evergreens, and here are some truly slow growers that are recommended by the experts. (In my garden, I do not have many dwarf or miniature evergreens. Some that I have had, grew more than I had expected, and I gave them away.)

Miniature Korean fir (Abies koreanaKohout’s Ice Breaker’, Zones 5-8) offers brilliant silver and blue-green foliage throughout the year. This grows in a globose or rounded habit. The foliage has curled needles that show off the silvery-white undersides. Growth is 1-3 inches per year which makes this ideal for small gardens or rockeries. It was awarded the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, and in 2014 it was the American Conifer Society’s Conifer of the Year.

Dwarf Columnar Common Juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’, Zones 4-9) is a narrow, upright, evergreen shrub with foliage that is tightly packed with blue-green needles that are prickly to the touch. The foliage tends to turn to a copper-bronze shade in the winter. It can reach 1-5 feet after ten years and is another Award of Garden Merit winner.

Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’ has a neat, upright habit.

Miniature Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Hage’, Zones 5-9) is a compact pyramidal selection of Hinoki cypress. This foliage also turns bronze-ish in the winter in cold climates. After ten years, it might be about 16 inches tall.

Dwarf Black Spruce (Picea mariana ‘Nana’, Zones 2-8) has needles that are silver-blue-gray and very small that grow from thin branches that stay distinctive throughout their growth. As it grows, it develops a dense round habit, and in ten years it might reach 18 inches tall.

Dwarf Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo ‘Jakobsen’, Zones 2-8) is a clump-forming mugo pine with somewhat irregular branching. Specimens can look almost like bonsai. The needles are very dark green and held tightly together. It can reach 1-4.5 feet after ten years.

Dwarf Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani ‘Hedgehog’, Zones 6-9) has very dark green foliage and forms a dense mound. The needles are prickly and can give the impression of a hedgehog. Expect it to reach 1-4.5 feet after ten years.

Whipcord is a stylish evergreen for small spaces.

Dwarf Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’, Zones 5-8) is one that I have in my garden, and I love it. I actually have two plants, and both are in matching urn-shaped containers. A description I once read about it said that it, “looks like a firework of stringy foliage”. That is a good description because the green branchlets radiate in all directions. It is low and mounding. After ten years it can reach 1-5 feet.

The selection of small growing evergreens is vast, so it is easy to begin to start collecting them. For those with small-space gardens or a deck, patio, or balcony, many of these make ideal potted plants that look good all year long.

*Writer’s Note: For the past few years, I have been fascinated with the genus Ginkgo. My garden property could certainly not contain a standard Ginkgo which could reach 50 feet or more. Several years ago, I bought Ginkgo biloba ‘Marieken’ as I had been told that it was a dwarf form. It is a beautiful plant with soft green leaves that have ruffled edges and turn brilliant golden yellow in the fall. After about five years, it has a width span of about 6 feet and that is not what I would call ‘dwarf’.

About Mike Darcy


Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

Content Disclaimer:

This site may contain content (including images and articles) as well as advice, opinions and statements presented by third parties. Sun Gro does not review these materials for accuracy or reliability and does not endorse the advice, opinions, or statements that may be contained in them. Sun Gro also does not review the materials to determine if they infringe the copyright or other rights of others. These materials are available only for informational purposes and are presented “as is” without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including without limitation warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. Reliance upon any such opinion, advice, statement or other information is at your own risk. In no event shall Sun Gro Horticulture Distribution, Inc. or any of its affiliates be liable to you for any inaccuracy, error, omission, fact, infringement and the like, resulting from your use of these materials, regardless of cause, or for any damages resulting there from.

While we have made every effort to ensure the information on this website is reliable, Sun Gro Horticulture is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided “as is”, with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.

Use of this site is subject to express terms of use. By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use

View Our Privacy Policy