Conifers are everywhere at this time of year. From blue spruce (Picea pungens) and Norway spruce (Picea abies) to the classic Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana), the festive season wouldn’t be the same without them. But conifers aren’t just for Christmas. They’re easy to grow, add structure all year round, and come in so many shapes, sizes and colours that there’s one for every garden.
Conifers are best planted when young so that the roots are able to establish themselves. As with all tree planting, dig a square hole slightly larger than the size of your conifer’s rootball, and loosen the sidewalls of the hole with a garden fork to make it easier for the roots to penetrate. Remove your conifer from its pot and tease out the roots if they show signs of circling (growing round and round inside the pot).
When planting, make sure the tree is at the same level in the ground as it was in its pot. If it’s planted too deep, the trunk may rot where it is in contact with the soil. Don’t add compost to the soil when backfilling – if the soil around the roots is too rich, they will have no incentive to spread out to find nutrients. Newly planted conifers need regular watering for the first year after planting, but after that, they should be able to cope on their own.
When planting conifers in pots, choose a large pot with good drainage and fill with ericaceous compost (most conifers prefer acidic soils). Water regularly, especially in hot dry weather.
How to care for conifers
Most conifers don’t need regular pruning, and in fact, many won’t grow back if you cut into the old brown wood, so it’s best not to prune them hard (yew is an exception to this, growing back well even after hard pruning). Trim new foliage lightly any time from spring to late summer to keep your conifer looking neat. Feed with a general purpose fertiliser and mulch in late winter.
Conifers for pots and small gardens
If you don’t have a big garden, you can still grow conifers in pots. Here are our top three conifers for small spaces:
- Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Minima Aurea’ (Lawson’s cypress) – a dwarf conifer with golden yellow foliage, reaching 90cm (3ft) in height after 10 years. Likes a sunny spot and a humus-rich acidic or neutral soil.
- Picea pungens (Glauca Group) ‘Hoopsii’ (Colorado spruce) – a medium-sized conifer with a neat conical form and thick silver-blue needles. It grows to 3m tall in 10-20 years. Likes a sunny spot with a humus-rich acidic or neutral soil.
- Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’ (dwarf juniper) – a dwarf conifer with prickly dark green needles and a conical shape, growing to 90cm tall in 10 years. Grows in sun or part shade, in moist soils.
Winter’s a great time to plant conifers and other trees, so visit our centre today and pick the perfect tree for your garden.