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ConifersThe nice thing about conifers is that they add color to otherwise drab falls and winters. Many people also like them for their fragrant sap. Whatever your reason, they can be a nice addition to most landscaping plans.

The difference between conifers and evergreens

Let’s point out the difference between conifers and evergreens. Conifers are trees that bear cones that protect their seeds. Most of these trees are considered evergreens because they are non-deciduous (they keep their foliage through the winter), but some are in fact deciduous, so they are not considered evergreens. The Larch tree, for example, looses all its needles every fall and grows new ones every spring.

Evergreens include most conifers as well a large variety of other plants that keep their leaves through the winter.

Conifer shapesConifers can have very different shapes. Think of the tall and slender Cypresses we sometimes see in Southern European or Californian landscapes. Compare them with the broad, triangular shape of the Norway Spruce we see in Northern Europe. If you live in a region that gets a lot of snow in winter, imagine what that can do to tall and slender trees. I’m sure you can see that the shape of the Spruce is better adapted to such conditions. Consider the various conifer shapes listed below when working on your landscaping plan, but also take into consideration the fact that some shapes may be better adapted to your climate than others.

  1. Broad cone: The classic North Country tree. The Norway Spruce is a good example. These typically grow tall and broad, so consider their mature size in your landscaping plan. They usually look better by themselves far from structures such as houses or fences.
  2. Narrow cone: These trees can be well adapted to snowy climates, although some may require help so their tapered heads don’t split and hang down, heavy with snow. This is the case with many varieties of Junipers and Cedars. These may be planted in groups closer to houses and fences.
  3. Columnar: Their branches shoot straight up. They include Junipers, like the Skyrocket Juniper, and Cypresses, like the Mediterranean Cypress. These are also referred to as fastigiate trees.
  4. Round: They are typically as broad as they are high, but they also include varieties such as the Mugo Pine, which can become quite tall. They usually don’t require any pruning to keep their roundish shape.
  5. Shrubby: Like the round varieties, they are typically as broad as they are high and they also include varieties that can become quite tall. But unlike the round conifers, they have irregular shapes. Some have branches that shoot mostly upward, while others have horizontal branches.
  6. Creeping: They remain close to the ground. Some species and varieties can spread out and become impressively broad.

Additional pages on conifers

We have special pages dedicated to conifers adapted to specific conditions.

Small sun conifers
Medium sun conifers
Large sun conifers
Wet sun conifers
Smaller shade conifers
Larger shade conifers
Wet shade conifers

We also have page dedicated to landscaping trees and evergreens.

Lists of lists

To make it simpler for you to find the conifers that will fit your landscaping plan, we have created lists of conifers based on various characteristics.

Note that, in each list, trees from different climate zones with different growing conditions may be mixed together. Before making a final choice on any given tree, always check all its characteristics to ensure it is the right tree for the right place.

Non-deciduous trees

Most conifers are trees that become very large, if not altogether huge, but there are varieties that remain rather small, some even remain almost at ground level. Many non-deciduous conifers may be considered in energy efficient landscaping plans because they are good at slowing down cold winter winds.

The following list includes only the best known conifer species and varieties. Bear in mind that most conifers are sun loving trees and although many may grow in partial shade, they will not grow as fast and become as beautiful.

Arborvitaes are often referred to as cedars, although they are quite different from real cedars, which are found mostly around the Mediterranean. Because most varieties grow fast and can be used in hedges, Arborvitaes are very popular landscaping trees. The Douglas Arborvitae has a narrow cone shape, while the Berckman’s Golden Oriental Arborvitae has a round shape, and the Giant Arborvitae a broad cone shape.
Firs may be too big for most house landscapes. Most varieties are dense with branches and may grow as high as three story houses. They are recommended only for large yards and should be planted in locations where they will have all the space they need to grow well and have a beautiful, regular shape.
Pine trees are typical snow country trees. Most have a broad conical shape and have upward pointing branches and long, soft needles. Like firs, they can become very large, but there are varieties that have a shrubby shape, like the Mugo Pine, as well as dwarf varieties.
Spruces have the typical broad cone shape and are typically quite large, although some varieties, like the Alberta Spruce, remain small in size. The Glauca varieties are popular because of their striking blue gray colors. Norway Spruces attract attention every spring with their well noticeable red shoots. Spruces usually have a very dense foliage.
Junipers vary largely in size. Creeping varieties can make a great carefree ground cover, dwarf varieties can be great in rock gardens, while some varieties, like the Chinese Junipers, have a narrow cone shape and can become quite tall. Junipers can be golden, bluish, grayish or deep green. Taller varieties can make good wind barriers, although too much cold and wind may burn them.
Yews come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are extremely versatile trees that can adapt to most locations. Their needles, ranging from dark to pale green, are short, thick and soft. Most yews are slow growers so they are often expensive (the trees you buy at the nursery may be five or ten years old), but they are often beautiful trees that will remain beautiful for years and years. If you want your yews to have berries, you should know that you must have both male and females trees.
Hemlocks are beautiful, graceful trees. Most have a broad conical shape. Their needles are short and soft. Hemlocks can be pruned easily, so they can be used in hedges. Hemlocks do best in cool, moist, acid soils. The Canada Hemlock has a broad conical shape. It starts off yellow in the spring and turns green during the summer. The pendula variety remains shorter and gets a rounder shape as it grows old. Expect slow growth for most Hemlocks.
Araucarias are popular in warm and temperate climates. They have a conical shape but their branches are slender and widely spaced. They do best in sunny locations under warm, humid climates and enjoy a rich, moist soil.

Deciduous conifers

There are very few deciduous conifers and only one, the Larch, can be commonly seen in landscapes.

Larches and Golden Larches have a softer look than most conifers and don’t have a very dense foliage. They have a narrow conical shape that broadens with age. Most grow rather slowly.
Bald Cypresses are probably the only conifers that can do well in wet, if not swampy, locations. It can grow very tall in the forest, but will only grow as high as a four story house in a yard.
Dawn Redwoods have a broad conical shape. They reach about the same size as the Bald Cypresses.

Our favorite conifers

Here are a few conifers we particularly like.

False Cypresses have interesting shapes and foliage.
Hemlocks are beautiful and elegant trees that grow well in many conditions.
Pines come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. A single Swiss Stone Pine on the top of a hill can look quite majestic.
Most varieties of Yews are good looking trees that do well almost anywhere. They can be trimmed but most have nice natural shapes. Female trees can have attractive berries.

Tall trees

Most conifers are tall growing trees. This list includes only trees that grow over 25 feet in height.

Scientific name Common name Shape Color
Abies concolor White Fir Narrow cone Blue-green
Araucaria heterophylla Norfolk Island Pine Narrow cone Dark green
Cedrus atlantica glauca Blue Atlas Cedar Broad cone Blue-green
Cedrus deodara Deodar Cedar Broad cone Blue-green
Cryptomeria japonica Japanese Cedar Narrow cone Green
Cupressus arizonica gareei Garee Arizona Cypress Narrow cone Blue-green
Cupressus sempervirens stricta Italian Cypress Columnar Dark green
Larix leptolepis Japanese Larch Narrow cone broadening with age Green turning gold in fall
Libocedrus decurens California Incense Cedar narrow cone Dark green
Metasequoia glyptostroboides Dawn Redwood Broad cone Green
Picea glauca conica Serbian Spruce Narrow cone Green
Picei pungens moerheimii Moerheim Colorado Spruce Broad cone Blue-green
Pinus Halepensis Aleppo Pine Narrow cone Dark green
Pinus resinosa Red Pine Broad cone Dark green
Pseudolaryx amabilis Golden Larch Broad cone Dark green turning gold in fall
Tsuga canadensis Canada Hemlock Broad cone Dark green
Tsuga caroliniana Carolina Hemlock Broad cone Green

Medium trees

This list includes only trees that grow between 10 and 25 feet in height.

Scientific name Common name Shape Color
Cunninghamia lanceolata China Fir Broad cone Green
Juniperus chinensis columnaris Blue column juniper Narrow cone Blue-green
Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’ Hollywood juniper Broad cone Green
Juniperus virginiana canaertii Canaert Red Cedar Narrow cone Dark green
Pinus cembra Swiss Stone Pine Narrow cone Dark green
Pinus densiflora umbraculifera Tanyosho Pine Shrubby Yellow-green
Sciadopitys verticillata Umbrella Pine Broad cone Dark green
Taxus baccata stricta Spreading English Yew Narrow cone Dark green
Taxus cuspidata capitata Japanese Yew Broad cone Dark green
Thuja occidentalis douglasii pyramidalis Douglas Arborvitae Narrow cone Dark green

Small trees

This list includes only trees that grow between 3 and 10 feet in height.

Scientific name Common name Shape Color
Cephalotaxus harringtonia Japanese Plum Yew Shrubby Dark green
Chamaecyparys pisifera filifera Thread sawara false cypress Narrow cone Green
Picea glauca conica Dwarf Alberta spruce Broad cone Green
Orientalis aurea nana Berckman’s Golden Arborvitae Shrubby Green to yellow-green
Taxus baccata repandens Spreading English Yew Creeping Dark green
Tsuga canadensis pendula Sargent’s Weeping Hemlock Shrubby Dark green

Slender trees

This list includes only columnar trees.

Scientific name Common name Color
Chamaecyparys obtusa gracilis Slender Hinoki False Cypress Dark green
Cupressus sempervirens stricta Italian Cypress Dark green
Podocarpus macrophyllus Yew Podocarpus Dark green
Taxus media hicksii Hicks Yew Dark green

Dwarf trees

This list includes only trees that remain between 1 and 3 feet in height.

Scientific name Common name Shape Color
Juniperus chinensis (various varieties) Chinese Juniper (various varieties) Depends on variety Wide shrub
Juniperus sabina tamariscifolia Tamarix Juniper Shrubby Blue-green
Pinus mugo mugo Mugo Pine Shrubby Dark green

Creeping trees

This list includes only trees remain under 1 foot in height

Scientific name Common name Color
Juniperus horizontalis (various varieties) Carpet Juniper (various varieties) Depends on variety
Juniperus procumbens (various varieties) Carpet Juniper (various varieties) Depends on variety
Juniperus sabina (various varieties) Savin Juniper (various varieties) Depends on variety
Juniperus squamata ‘Prostrata’ Prostrate Singleseed Juniper Green and bluish
Microbiota decussata Russian Arborvitae Green

Fast growing trees

This list includes only trees that are known to grow faster than most other conifers.

Scientific name Common name Shape Color
Cupressocyparis leylandii Leyland Cypress Narrow cone Blue-green
Picea abies Norway Spruce Broad cone Dark green
Thuja ‘Green Giant’ ‘Green Giant’ Arborvitae Narrow cone Green

Conifers for hedges

This list includes only trees that are known to be good choices for hedges.

Scientific name Common name Shape Color
Cephalotaxus harringtonia Japanese Plum Yew Shrubby Dark green
Cupressocyparis leylandii Leyland Cypress Narrow cone Blue-green
Picea glauca White spruce Narrow cone Medium green
Picea omorika Serbian spruce Narrow cone Dark green
Pinus strobus Eastern White Pine Broad cone Green
Podocarpus macrophyllus Yew Podocarpus Columnar Dark green
Taxus baccata English Yew Depends on variety Depends on variety
Taxus canadensis Canadian Yew Shrubby Dark green
Taxus cuspidata Japanese Yew Depends on variety Depends on variety
Thuja plicata Giant Arborvitae Broad cone Dark green
Tsuga caroliniana Carolina Hemlock Broad cone Green

Have you considered all the options available to you? If not, then have a look at our Landscaping plants page.

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