Dwarf conifers provide a beautiful and interesting way to introduce year-round texture to any landscape, regardless of its size. While they are appealing in gardens all year, dwarf conifers truly shine in wintertime.
Conifers are among the tallest, oldest, and largest plants on earth, but their dwarf counterparts are smaller and slower growing, maturing at heights from 3 feet to 15 feet. Their compact size and wide range of shapes, colors, and forms make them a versatile and welcome winter addition to any environment, from balcony gardens to urban landscapes to mature estates.
Many people who battle shade from Fir trees may be hesitant to introduce more conifers into their gardens, but the color and texture that comes from specimen conifers, especially during the quiet season, is unparalleled in the landscape.
Dwarf Conifers in the Landscape
When planted directly into the ground, dwarf conifers add structure and interest to a garden bed. Dwarf conifers are a constant in the landscape but have a fascinating changeability, with many varieties putting on an unexpected show when they push new growth.
The evergreen presence of dwarf conifers can offer bold texture or have a softening effect, depending on the variety. Needle color can range from rich greens to brilliant golds to glaucous blues and greys, with some varieties displaying unique variegation patterns.
- Specimen conifers are best placed at the corner of a bed, or where two beds meet, to provide height and give the eye a place to rest.
- Pair a tall upright conifer with a shorter conifer that has complimentary textures/colors, and most importantly, watering needs.
- Conifers don’t need to stand alone—when incorporated into fuller, existing borders, they add unexpected contrast to perennials and broad-leaf shrubs
Stylistically, dwarf conifers are an essential component of Japanese-inspired or classic Pacific Northwest landscapes, however, even looser, wilder plantings can benefit from the texture and consistency of dwarf conifers.
Dwarf Conifers in Pots
Pottery and dwarf conifers are an irresistible pairing. The right pot gives you the opportunity to highlight the unique shapes and colors of a conifer front and center on your patio or balcony. And the right conifer can provide the consistency needed season after season for stand-alone pots or those used within a larger arrangement.
- For a modern, architectural look, use a conifer on its own in the center of a pot.
- Columnar conifers provide the perfect backbone to highlight other plants that can be changed out with the seasons.
- Some varieties are perfect for miniatures enthusiasts who want to create a statement at eye level without all of the work needed to maintain a true bonsai plant.
After a few seasons in a pot, the conifer can be refreshed with new soil or graduated to a permanent home in your landscape. The slowest growing dwarf conifers can thrive in pots for multiple years. Faster growing, larger varieties can be planted in the landscape or potted into larger containers when they outgrow their first home.
Some varieties of dwarf conifers can even make unique living Christmas trees by bringing them indoors and adding decorations during the holidays before returning them to the outdoors.
How to Grow a Dwarf Conifer
As a general rule, conifers appreciate well-drained soil and consistent water during the dry season. Poor drainage will result in weepy branches and discoloration of the needles. Lack of water or intense sunlight will result in dry, crispy tips and tops, and bleached needles. Once established, some varieties will tolerate somewhat more challenging conditions:
- More drought-tolerant conifers: Juniperus (Juniper) and Pinus (Pine)
- Conifers more tolerant of wetter areas: Tsuga (Hemlock) and Abies (Fir)
Plant conifers in pots or planting beds slightly above the soil—the top inch of the root ball should be visible, allowing space for periodic compost or mulch, and ensuring that the trunk of the plant doesn’t get soggy.
How to Choose a Dwarf Conifer
Each autumn, our Garden Centers increase their supply of unique, high-quality dwarf conifers to make sure that your landscape and potted arrangements have something attractive as we enter the winter months. Here are a few of our favorite varieties this season:
Rare & Unique Dwarf Conifers
Abies koreana ‘Golden Glow’: An adorably round specimen, this Korean Fir looks particularly modern with its neat arrangement of symmetrical needles that turn up their intense chartreuse hue during the winter months; 6’H x 12’W; full sun to part shade
Cedrus atlantica ‘Sapphire Nymph’: A wiry, dense Atlas Cedar with powdery teal needles, this slow-growing stunner adds unexpected color to the landscape; 3’H x 4’W; full sun
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’: A miniature, irregular plant with character to spare, nothing beats the rich green texture of this dwarf Hinoki Cypress; 2’H x 1.5’W; full sun to part shade
Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’: A true blue Colorado Spruce with a wide, upright habit, we love how the new growth surprises us each spring with a burst of bright golden-white tips over the entire plant; 10’H x 8’W; full sun
Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’: A Dragon’s-Eye Pine that keeps a watchful eye over your garden, this irregular plant’s needles display a bull’s-eye pattern in green and yellow; 20’H x 15’W; full sun
Pinus strobus ‘Angel Falls’: A narrow, weeping specimen heavy with architectural interest, this Pine evokes imagery of Dr. Suess or zen-like calm, depending on your perspective; variable size; full sun
Tsuga canadensis ‘Moon Frost’: A soft and gracefully round shrub, this Canadian Hemlock glows with white new growth and in the winter blushes pink; 6’H x 6’W; sun to partial shade
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’
Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’
Pinus strobus ‘Angel Falls’
Cedrus atlantica ‘Sapphire Nymph’
Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’
Tsuga canadensis ‘Moon Frost’
Tried & True Classic Dwarf Conifers
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Van Pelt’s Blue’: This False Cypress makes a strong statement with its stunning powder-blue, feathery foliage and columnar habit; 15’H x 3’W; sun to partial shade
Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’: This Lemon Cypress remains a perennial landscape favorite; with bright yellow, feather-soft lemon-scented foliage, it makes a narrow, upright statement in pots or in the landscape; 8’H x 3’W; sun to partial shade
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon’: This Japanese Cedar has dark, stiff finger-like deep-green branches that form a rounded habit and is perfect as a focal point near the house; 10’H x 6’W; sun to partial shade
Tsuga canadensis ‘Golden Duchess’: This regal Canadian Hemlock has graceful arching branches and a low, mounding form and displays a brilliant show of bright golden new growth in the early spring, while fading to a softer golden green in the summer; 4’H x 4’W; partial sun
Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’ (Lemon Cypress)
Dwarf conifers come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and textures. Whether you prefer soft, romantic textures or sturdy, dramatic statement pieces, introducing a dwarf conifer to your garden this autumn will enhance your space and serve as a welcoming focal point during the colder, quieter winter months.