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Tips on buying and planting conifers

Yellow Cedar conifers

Creative, colourful and convenient – not necessarily the first three words that would spring to mind if asked to describe a conifer. Yet the modern day British conifer is great to enjoy all year round.

Conifers come in a vast range of colours and many change shade during the year. Careful choice can give you a great splash of colour in autumn and winter when most other plants are dormant. Because they are evergreen (i.e. do not loose their leaves) often with strong shapes, conifers are perfect for bringing shape, height and form to your garden.

Find out below how best to choose the right conifer and how best to plant them.

Ten things you probably didn't know about conifers

Use conifers to:

  • Act as a backdrop to perennials, bulbs and annuals.
  • Form a stand-alone feature in the garden.
  • Give height to borders.
  • Form wonderful frost or snow covered shapes in the winter garden.

Selecting the right conifer

Once you know where you want to add your conifer in the garden, you need to the choose the right type, whether it be for structure, style or as a focal point. Look at the headings below and get some useful information to get you started.

Columnar - tall and narrow, cylindrical

These are great used in a shrub border to give extra height, at the end of a vista or as a feature set in the lawn. Examples include: Juniperus scopulorum ' Skyrocket' and Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aureomarginata.'

Pyramidal - narrow at the top, wide at the bottom

These can make a stunning feature in the middle of a large lawn, or they can be used to hide unsightly features. Examples include: Picea albertiana 'Conica,' Thuja occidentalis 'Yellow Ribbon' and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Yvonne.'

Globose - spherical, bun shaped

These conifers look amazing as punctuation points at the apex of a border, on either side of entrances, or giving strong shape in a border of daintier perennials. Examples include: Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ' Minima Glauca,' Thuja occidentalis 'Danica,' abnd Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Sungold.'

Dwarfs - tiny conifers which reach a height of three feet

These are brilliant in containers and rockeries and provide year-round interest. Examples include: Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Minima Aurea,' Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Gnome,' Juniperus communis 'Compressa' and Picea abies 'Little Gem.'

Right conifer, right place

Conifers come in all shapes and sizes from dwarf conifers for containers and pots to conifers that can be used for screening and structure as a well established hedge.

Container growing

Container Growing

They may not seem the obvious choice but dwarf conifers live happily alongside other plants in containers, or by themselves as specimens.

They are a particularly good idea for year round colour on patios and useful with winter and early spring flowerers, which can then be swapped for summer annuals.

Try experimenting with shapes for example a prostrate conifer with some taller bulbs or a small pyramidal conifer with something more 'relaxed'.

Rockery and water features

Rockery and water features

Conifers are excellent planted by water features as the strong shapes of their foliage make wonderful reflections in the water and they don't lose their leaves into it! Use prostrate varieties to cover up the edges of your pond liner.

In the rockery dwarf and prostrate conifers both have a place, particularly as they provide good weed cover and have so many varieties of shape and colour.


Soil preparation for all types of conifers is important and a hole not less than 1m (3ft) across and 23cm (9in) deep should be dug when planting. Add suitable organic material such as garden compost, well-rotted farm manure or spent mushroom compost and mix in before filling around the plant’s roots.

Watering and feeding

The danger time for establishment of all newly planted conifers is April, May and June it is important to keep a regular check on watering in dry weather watering both foliage and soil. Feeding annually each April with Dried Blood will increase the growth rate but more importantly enhance the colour of the foliage.

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