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Conifers provide a wide range of colours, shapes, sizes and textures and can make your garden visually attractive all year round. With such a wide selection to choose from you are sure to find the perfect type for your garden.

The word 'conifer' is Latin for 'cone bearing'. Conifers are woody plants and many are trees. They can be used in flower arrangements, in borders, rock gardens and on slopes. Use them as ground cover or hedges, or simply on their own for a wonderful display.

In our eco system conifers are of extreme importance as they are a good source of timber. A lot of timber that we use will have come from conifers. The wood from conifers is also used for paper and fibres. There are ongoing invasions of conifer sites and this is causing us to look at more sustainable and viable options for our everyday uses of the wood. Our beloved Christmas tree is a conifer and there are many other species being used for food and medication.

The size of a conifer can be between 1 metre to over 100 metres. The tallest is a Coast Redwood, and the largest is the Giant Sequoia. The oldest conifer recorded is a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine at 4,7000 years old.

The leaves of conifers differs between species with some being thin and long while others are flat and of different shapes. The seeds of conifers develop in a protective outer shell. This protective cone varies in size and the time it takes to reach maturity. In some conifers the seeds are released when the cone opens, in other species the cone disintegrates. Birds help out seeds from some conifers and others need fire to be released.

Dwarf conifers

Dwarf conifers are widely used in small gardens grown in pots, containers and small beds and they are extremely easy to care for. Dwarf conifers may be mound forming or erect, they may have spikes, be pyramid like or look feathery. When buying dwarf conifers it is absolutely paramount that you pick up the correct species. They should be clearly labelled dwarf, if you do not see a label or it does not say dwarf on it it may be a slow growing variety. If you attempt to plant this in a small space it will one day get very big and will swamp the area it is in, so it is always best to ask for advice. Use dwarf conifers in your garden around existing plants, or as ground cover. They can be planted in groups or singly. Use in containers or in your rock gardens for a truly magnificent display. Plant them appropriately so that their colours reflect the seasons, choose silvery-blues for winter and red-oranges for summer.

Conifer trees

Trees are planted for their great stature and longevity. When planting a tree bear in mind it will probably be there for decades and therefore deserves the very best conditions in which to grow. When planting take into account the type of soil, climate and how much light and shelter is available. Select a tree suitable for the rainfall level, average temperature and humidity in which it will be surrounded. Protect infant trees that are not hardy from frost until they are established. Ensure levels of both shade and sunlight so try not to plant next to a wall or building as this will give permanent shade on one side. Conifer trees can be bought root-balled or container grown in all degrees of maturity. Ensure whatever you but has strong top growth and roots and is healthy with no sign of disease and pests. Container grown trees should have an established root ball in order to have better chances of transplanting into your garden. Do not buy if the roots are protruding from the bottom of the pot or if the compost does not cling to the root ball as this means that the roots have not established properly. Root-balled plants are taken from the ground in which they started and have their roots wrapped in netting. Buy and plant in autumn as they will be dormant, following the same buying tips as when purchasing conifers for containers


Hedges are generally used to set boundaries whether its between two gardens or simply to section of areas in your own garden. Using plants instead of wooden fencing is ideal for framing planting that you wish to have sectioned off. There are all manner of styles of hedging from formal to informal, from solid to clipped and to provide shade but there is no reason why these practical uses can not be done with style and elegance. Maintained correctly, once established, these hedges will give long lasting colour and texture.  Choose which sort of hedge you are hoping to achieve and choose plants accordingly. Pay attention to the height they will reach, the spread if any and how quickly they will grow. Hedges may take a couple of years to grow to the size that you would like. If you are aiming for a uniformed height you must choose plants that have dense growth and you must prune regularly to promote even growth. For informal hedges choose plants that only need pruning annually. Plant accordingly too, for informal hedges plant in single rows with spaces of 1-2ft apart. For formal hedges plant 3ft apart in double staggered rows.

Conifer care

During winter infant conifers need protection from the elements. Evergreen plants, trees and shrubs lose their water continuously which they replenish through their roots. Water throughout any dry spells and protect them from the wind using a windbreak. Conifers are prone to wind scorch which is damaging to them.  An open sunny position is usually suitable for most conifers, however do check when you buy in case they require certain positioning. Fungal diseases should be kept at bay by having good ventilation. When growing in pots ensure good drainage and frequent watering to avoid them from dying back. Soil depends on the species but generally they prefer slightly acid soils. Fertiliser is usually not needed, simply use a controlled release one. Pruning relies entirely on the species and the purpose you are growing them for.

Planting with annuals

Planting annuals next to or in between conifers is extremely effective. The annuals can be changed as the seasons pass and colours can be chosen to complement the existing conifers. Match up the heights you would like a try to create a sweeping effect with the plants. Any gaps that appear because of plant failure can be easily filled. Use climbing annuals as a backdrop to show off your conifers, ensure to use colours that will not draw attention away from them but rather accentuate them. Plant conifers in containers to create centrepieces that can be surrounded by annuals for added splashes of colour. Use tall conifers in pots as replacements for statues in gardens. Choose attractive varieties that still have an effect when their flowers have gone. Many varieties have lovely foliage with degrees of colourings and shapes. Planting certain conifers in pots may be beneficial to those that may not thrive in the soil in your garden.

Planting with alpines

Conifers can be effective when planted with alpines in rock gardens, troughs and containers. Use small conifers and dwarf trees to frame existing plants. Add miniature shrubs to display altering heights and colours that last all year. Plant striking conifers in the centre of pots and containers and surround with alpines to brighten up any patio or paved area.


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