Name: conifers include cypress, larch, redwood, pencil pine, fir, juniper, cedar, spruce, yew, thuja.
Height: from 30cm groundcovers to 100m plus giant redwoods; most are slow growing.
Foliage: needle-like to flat fan-shaped phyllodes (leaf stems); grey-green to gold and bronze.
Climate: cold to warm temperate; conifers dislike heat and humidity.
Soil: well-drained loam, slightly acidic.
Position: full sun.
Flowering: conifers do not have flowers as such.
Feeding: use a long-term controlled release fertiliser as directed on the label.
Watering: water well until established, then only during dry periods.
Conifers do not have true leaves as we know them. Foliage may be needle-like, as seen on the common pine tree (Pinus radiata) or blue spruce (Picea pungens), or more flattened and fan-shaped like arborvitae or thuja (Thuja spp). The variety of forms is almost endless.
Colour too is varied – from blue-grey through deep and mid-greens to gold and then there are the variegated varieties. Some plants may also have tinges of bronze over the cooler months. The deciduous conifers often colour brilliantly in autumn.
Conifers range in height, from spreading groundcovers of 30cm, through compact shrubs around a metre or so, to forest giants of 120 metres or more. Apart from the groundcovers, most form a fairly symmetrical pyramid shape. Medium height shrubs are ideal for topiary and hedging.
Many of the larger conifers like cypress and pines may make great garden plants while they are young but they should be avoided if you live in an urban area. They can reach 20 or 30m high and almost as wide and are very expensive to remove when they have outgrown their surroundings!
Columnar shaped conifers like pencil pines are a better choice but even they can become too big for the average suburban garden.
Most are evergreen but there are some that are deciduous, including larches (Larix spp) and the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).
Most conifers occur naturally in the colder regions of the northern hemisphere. However, there are some notable exceptions found south of the equator, such as the Wollemi pine (Wollemi nobilis).
The name conifer has been given to these trees because they produce cones (or cone-like fruits) although there are some that break the rule and have berries. The seed-bearing (female) cones are often quite large and woody – the traditional pinecone is perhaps the best example.
Be careful where you plant larger conifers in relation to paths, driveways and underground services, as the roots can cause damage.
It's easy to get swept up in your enthusiasm for these lovely trees, but please read labels carefully and do your research before choosing conifers.
Conifers are mostly grown from cuttings. Because they are very slow growing and can take years to grow to a reasonable size, the better option is to buy young plants in 180 or 200mm pots.
Conifers do not like root disturbance. When planting out or repotting, take great care to keep the root ball intact. If a little soil falls off, don't panic but do try to retain as much soil around the roots as possible to reduce transplant shock.
Conifers make excellent pot plants. Careful trimming can control height and shape so they can be kept in pots for many years, with repotting every two or three years to replenish the potting mix.
Make sure your conifer is watered regularly for the first six weeks or so after planting, until it has settled into its new surroundings. When established, water only during prolonged dry periods.
Potted conifers do not like wet feet – water only when the top 5–10cm of soil is dry to the touch and make sure excess water drains away freely.
Apply a six-month controlled-release fertiliser suitable for trees and shrubs at the start of spring and autumn.
Unlike most trees and shrubs, conifers do not regrow from old wood. If you cut back hard, exposing the branches behind the foliage, you will be left with bare patches. Not a good look!
There are a few nasty diseases that can devastate conifers, among them cypress canker. For most, there is no treatment. Trees will turn brown from the tips of branches and, within a fairly short time, entire branches will be dead. Diseased trees should be removed as quickly as possible to minimise the risk of spread.
Cinnamon fungus (Phytophthora cinnamomi) and other fungi can be troublesome in heavy soils that don't drain well.
Some conifers may be attacked by bark-boring beetles that eventually weaken trees. Look for sawdust deposits on or around trees and use a suitable insecticide if required.
Crepe myrtle: summer flowering deciduous tree with attractive bark.
Magnolia: a deciduous tall shrub flowering in spring.
Japanese maple: a deciduous small tree that colours magnificently in autumn.
Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!
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