Conifers: Hardy Trees for Your Yard

As a group, conifers represent the largest, the tallest, and the oldest living plants:

  • The giant sequoia can reach 35 feet in diameter and 300 feet in height. The world’s largest living tree (by volume) is a sequoia 275 feet tall and 36 1/2 feet in diameter at the base, with an average crown spread of 106 1/2 feet!
  • The coast redwood, a type of sequoia, can grow to more than 300 feet tall, with the tallest living example measuring 367 1/2 feet.
  • Some bristlecone pines have been estimated to be more than 4,000 years old, and scientists have claimed the oldest to be at least 4,700 years old.

All of those record-holding trees are conifers growing in California, but there are many attractive and useful conifers that you can grow in your yard almost anywhere from chilly New England to the sunny Southwest. Evergreen conifers make wonderful privacy screens, windbreaks, or backdrops for flowering plants. And because they are ever-green, they keep color in your garden even when the ground is snow-covered or other plants turn brown. Some of the most popular and readily available are:

Colorado blue spruce – A pyramid-shaped evergreen with blue-tinted foliage. Slow-growing; probably the most drought-tolerant spruce.

Norway spruce – The fastest-growing spruce; can reach 100 feet tall or more. Deep green needles are short, but cones get up to 6 inches long.

White pine – Pyramidal shape and beautiful, flexible needles 3 to 5 inches long in groups of five. Can grow to 80 feet tall.

Loblolly pine – Also called Arkansas pine or North Carolina pine. Represents more than half the pine growth in the southern U.S. Grows quickly and can reach 50 to 90 feet.

Douglas fir – A native of the western U.S., very popular as a Christmas tree. Short needles with a medium green color.

Canadian hemlock – Fast-growing and especially popular for screening. Especially useful because it thrives in shade.

Incense cedar – Similar to arborvitae in appearance, but holds its color better in winter and is more heat-tolerant – making this Northwest native a popular choice as far south as Georgia. Stately columnar shape and dark-green, aromatic foliage.

Eastern red cedar – Hardy member of the juniper family; widely adaptable to growing conditions. Grows to a height of 30 to 50 feet. Dense foliage is blue-green to green in summer, taking on a reddish tint in winter.

Conifers have the benefit of requiring little maintenance once established. They do prefer well-drained soil, so use soil amendments when planting. Your local garden center or County Extension Service can tell you which conifers grow best in your area.