Adding Winter Interest to your Garden with Conifers

January 25, 2017

The winter garden can be an unexpected place full of beauty and color. Though most of us want to stay inside during these cold winter months, now is a great time to get a hot cup of coffee or tea and take a walk through your garden or local nursery. You’ll appreciate the sometimes-overlooked winter interest plants that add a bit of liveliness and pop of color into the garden.

We chose the latter and took a trip to one of our favorite Snohomish nurseries, McCauliffe’s Valley Nursery, to seek out those coveted winter interest plants. Here’s a look at some of our favorite conifers that provide a variety of textures and colors to the winter landscape.

Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’ (Variegated Korean Fir)- This slow growing conifer features short, upwardly curled needles that have an icy blue underside providing a dramatic contrast to the dark green color on the tops of the needles. Cones are large and upright on the branches. This is a great option for a specimen plant. It does best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Abies koreana 'Silberlocke' (Variegated Korean Fir)

Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’ (Variegated Korean Fir)

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’ (Golden Threadleaf Falsecypress)- This semi-dwarf shrub works very well in rock gardens and as foundation plantings. The Golden Threadleaf Falsecypress has finely textured, thread-like foliage with a weeping habit that has a mop-like form. Foliage is golden yellow year-round on reddish brown branches. For the best color, plant in full sun and in moist, but well drained soils.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea' (Golden Threadleaf Falsecypress)

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’ (Golden Threadleaf Falsecypress)

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiralis’ (Granny’s Ringlets Japanese Cedar)- With its light green needles, this specimen tree adds great texture to the landscape all year around. The soft needles on this tree are twisted into spirals around the branches giving it a rope like appearance. Granny’s Ringlets Japanese Cedar prefers part shade to full sun and moist soils that are well-drained. It’s also best to protect it from cold winter winds.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis' (Granny's Ringlets Japanese Cedar)

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiralis’ (Granny’s Ringlets Japanese Cedar)

Abies koreana ‘Silberperle’ (Silver Pearl Korean Fir)- This little guy will make you do a double take when you first see it. In fall and winter, buds look like silver pearls and, like the Variegated Korean Fir, it has short needles that have icy white undersides giving it a silvery glow. Because it’s slow growing, the Silver Pearl Korean Fir is good in small areas or rock gardens. It prefers well-drained soil and partial sun to partial shade to protect it from intense sun.

Abies koreana 'Silberperle' (Silver Pearl Korean Fir)

Abies koreana ‘Silberperle’ (Silver Pearl Korean Fir)

Cedrus deodara ‘Girard’s Weeping’ (Girard’s Weeping Himalayan Cedar)- This weeping cedar has silvery green needles that grow in bunches on the pendulous, twisty branches. Girard’s Weeping Himalayan Cedar is also easily trainable to grow either horizontally or vertically. This slow growing evergreen works well as a specimen plant. It prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soils.

Cedrus deodara 'Girard's Weeping' (Girard's Weeping Himalayan Cedar)

Cedrus deodara ‘Girard’s Weeping’ (Girard’s Weeping Himalayan Cedar)

Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ (Golden Spanish Fir)- The Golden Spanish Fir has a dense, symmetrical growing habit with short, stiff needles. New growth comes out bright gold with bright red buds and over the top of deep green old growth. As the new growth matures, it turns to a paler yellow and may stay until the following spring. Cones are purplish red adding even more interest. As with most firs, it can be susceptible to burning so make sure to place it in a location with morning sun (for best coloring), but out of intense, afternoon sun and in well-drained soils.

Abies pinsapo 'Aurea' (Golden Spanish Fir)

Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ (Golden Spanish Fir)

Pinus cembra ‘Glauca Compacta’ (Blue Swiss Stone Pine)- The Blue Swiss Stone Pine has bluish green long needles that grow in tufts along the branches. At times the tips of needles will have a yellow hue to them. Cones are light greenish purple in color and fun fact; the seeds are edible! This dwarf variety has a pyramidal form making it good for small spaces or near doorways and adds textural interest to the landscape. Plant this in a full sun location in well-drained soils.

Pinus cembra 'Glauca Compacta' (Blue Swiss Stone Pine)

Pinus cembra ‘Glauca Compacta’ (Blue Swiss Stone Pine)

Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ (Rheingold Arborvitae)- In winter, the flat, foliage sprays turn to copper yellow and are golden yellow throughout the rest of the year. This dwarf shrub grows slowly into a cone or dome shape and works well in foundation plantings or rock gardens. It likes moist, well-drained soils and will color the best in full sun. Keep the Rheingold Arborvitae out of intense wind and hot afternoon sun in the summer.

Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold' (Rheingold Arborvitae)

Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ (Rheingold Arborvitae)

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Aurea’ (Golden Elegans Japanese Cedar)- The Golden Elegans Japanese Cedar adds a feathery, fluffy texture to the garden. The soft foliage is light green which turns golden green in winter and branches have a reddish brown color. This is a good choice for a specimen plant and will be much appreciated in winter time. It does best in full sun to part shade and will do best if it can be protected from wet snow in the winter. Do not allow it to dry out.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans Aurea' (Golden Elegans Japanese Cedar)

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Aurea’ (Golden Elegans Japanese Cedar)

Pinus contorta var. latifolia ‘Chief Joseph’ (Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine)- If you really want a pop of color in your winter garden, the Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine is perfect! In spring, its needles are dark green and as they mature turn to chartreuse in summer and in winter they are a bright, golden color. Its stunning color and graceful appearance make it a great option for a focal plant. Once established, the Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine is quite water wise. Plant this in full sun and well-drained soils.

Pinus contorta var. latifolia 'Chief Joseph' (Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine)

Pinus contorta var. latifolia ‘Chief Joseph’ (Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine)

Bonus: Check out January’s plant of the month (Witch Hazel) for a great mid to late winter blooming option for the winter garden.

What’s your favorite plant for winter interest and color? We’d love to hear from you!

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