Conifers Fill a Void
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
At this time of year many of our landscapes lack interest, especially when it comes to color. Conifers fill a great void in this area because they aren't restricted to just green. Several varieties of spruce, juniper, and arborvitae possess colored foliage. These conifers differ in their ability to tolerate extremes in growing conditions. Many are cold tolerant, but are unable to withstand extreme heat. Others are heat tolerant, but unable to take colder growing conditions. Make sure the conifer you select is appropriate for your site.
Most prefer well-drained soils with a neutral to slightly acid pH. While most conifers prefer full sun, many can tolerate partial shade. Exceptions to this are golden or light-colored conifers and blue-needled cultivars. Golden or light-colored conifers prefer a site with bright, filtered light. Too much sun can severely burn and damage the needles ruining the plant. Blue-needled conifers grow best in full sun.
In most cases, nature doesn't create bad color combinations, however in some instances, we do. An effective way to used colored conifers is to select a monochromatic or single color scheme, such as using all blue-toned plant material. Monochromatic plantings create a restful atmosphere.
More striking effects can be created by selecting contrasting colors. Conifers with gold or yellow foliage planted with purple foliaged or flowering plants is an attractive combination. Other attractive combinations include orange flowers with blue colored conifers, or red flowers with green foliage. Other color combinations are attractive as well. Instead of choosing bright green foliage for use with blue conifers, select green-gray foliage instead. This gives the blue area some life. However, if only a few blue conifers are being used, the blue color jumps out when placed against a green background.
A green background for yellow plants has the same effect, creating very attractive plantings. Yellow conifers also look good when combined with gray-green or blue-green foliage varieties. An attractive natural color combination is possible when purple and green foliage is combined. To brighten up an area, use green with white or silver-leaved plants. Bicolored conifers function best when used as accents, massed in large beds, or even woven as a band of color through other perennials or shrubs.
The size and form of colored conifers varies with the genus, species, and cultivar. They range from low ground covers to medium or large sized shrubs to trees. Several fall into the "dwarf"category, because their rate of growth is slow. The most common forms are rounded or upright and broad.
Bi-color plants to consider for our area include Juniperus communis 'Compressa', Juniperus communis 'Pencil Point', or Picea omorika 'Nana'. Blue varieties include Juniperus communis 'Berkshire', Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii', Juniperus procumbens 'Nana', Picea glauca 'Pendula', and Pinus strobus 'Macopin'. A good plum colored conifer is Juniperus horizontalis 'Glomerata'. A white selection is Tsuga canadensis 'Gentsch White'.
Colored conifers are assets to the landscape year-round. They are a permanent feature compared to flowers, so it is important to take the time necessary to select the proper variety for your location.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office