If you’re looking for that elusive low maintenance yet still attractive plant let us introduce you to dwarf conifers.
No groaning ‘Oh not those petrol station plants’ at the back, please. Dwarf conifers are so much more than problem ground fillers. There are beautiful varieties available and they are tough, so tough even the most inexperienced non-committed gardener can create a flourishing garden. Here’s all about dwarf conifers and how you can use them to transform your garden into an attractive, low maintenance space.
What Is A Dwarf Conifer?
They are small versions of conifer trees with scaly leaves or needle-like foliage. Dwarf conifers produce seed-bearing cones and are usually evergreen. Pines, spruces, junipers all come in dwarf, low-growing sizes and many dwarf conifers have won the RHS AGM – that’s how good they are.
History Lesson Alert!
Conifers are possibly the oldest plants. The fossil record indicates conifers originated in Europe and North America over 300 million years ago. This was the time when seed cones were the main means of reproduction until the dinosaurs and many species of conifer were wiped out giving flowering plants time to establish.
Dwarf conifers became popular in the Victorian period when plant hunters collected specimens from all over the world. The Victorians loved little conifers in their ornamental beds and trendy rock gardens.
At this point we started cultivating them, breeding new styles and sizes to suit our gardens. And we have lots! The dinosaurs would be impressed.
- Why You Need Dwarf Conifers
One of the most obvious reasons is that they take up less space than full-size shrubs. A great example is Thuja Occidentalis Tiny Tim which takes 50 years to reach a metre. Tim is especially useful in compact townhouse gardens where every centimetre counts.
Most outdoor spaces can find room for a few dwarf conifers to brighten their day. Here are some more reasons why you should consider them.
- They’re Evergreen
Dwarf conifers are evergreen. Evergreen plants are valuable because they provide a backbone of year-round colour, really coming into their own as autumn turns into winter.
When planting up a flower bed or a rock garden always start with evergreens and put summer flowers around them. Dwarf conifers make an excellent backdrop for flowering perennials and annuals including around the base of roses which is always a tricky spot.
- Coats of Many Colours
Evergreen yes, but dwarf conifers also come in shades. Thuja Occidentalis Little Champion is a bright green lacy foliaged beauty. Juniperus Squamata Holger Flaky Juniper is blue-green with yellow new growth and how lovely is its cousin the silver blue Juniperus Squamata Blue Star? Both the junipers are AGM winners.
- They Have Interesting Textures
Dwarf conifer foliage is scaly, rough, textured, and needle-like. Mix and match different textures to grab attention and you won’t miss flowers at all! A cluster of varying textures creates an unusual 12-month focal point. Chamaecyparis Obtusa Nana Gracilis Hinoki Cypress is deep green and grows in waves like the ocean. Thuja Occidentalis Golden Tuffet is a ruffled mound-forming golden orange shade – and another AGM winner.
- All The Shapes
Dwarf conifers come in different shapes too. For example, Thuja White Cedar is a rounded, pale green ball with the AGM, Picea Abies Nidiformus Norway Spruce is low-growing with a flat surface, and Pinus Mugo Green Dwarf brings some vertical interest.
How And Where To Use Dwarf Conifers
Lots of areas can be improved with dwarf conifers because they are hardy, unfussy plants with no special soil or pandering requirements.
- Create Structure
The best gardens have year-round interest. In the winter months, this is achieved with well-placed evergreens. Use dwarf conifers as structure for your flower border and upgrade the boring patio with dwarf conifers in containers. They provide an anchor for your plant fads and fancies over the years.
- Front Gardens
Dwarf conifers are made for low maintenance front gardens. Whether you plant them directly into the soil or in containers they look smart and increase your kerb appeal. If you’re selling up, dwarf conifers in pots give that smart cared for look buyers can’t resist. We’d recommend some but honestly, all our range suits a front garden.
Got a slope headache? Solve it with low-growing spreading conifers such as Juniperus Horizontalis Limeglow or the AGM winning Golden Carpet Creeping Juniper a ground hugger that protects the soil. Creeping dwarf conifers colonise a slope and enjoy its well-drained conditions.
- Problem soil
Dwarf conifers are not fussy plants. They’ve evolved and been specifically bred to get on with it! They’ll grow in the majority of soils including clay and chalk. The only soil they won’t take to is waterlogged.
- Kid’s Gardens
Encouraging kids to ditch the Switch or PlayStation is hard work. If you want to encourage children to play outside and enjoy plants, dwarf conifers create a Jurassic Park-worthy backdrop for a toy dinosaur garden.
Do Dwarf Conifers Flower?
Some do, but their flowers are very small and almost insignificant. Conifers are usually bought for their evergreen foliage and cute pine cones.
Caring For Dwarf Conifers
Once established small conifers need barely any care. There’s no pruning, no deadheading, little watering, and hardly any pests to contend with.
Water them well until they’re established but after that, they can be left to brighten your garden. They’ll appreciate a thick layer of mulch each spring, but that’s all the involvement needed.
Small Size With Huge Character
We think dwarf conifers are underused, underappreciated and unfairly overlooked evergreens. They form attractive shapes, have colourful foliage, and when grouped instantly look good next to one another. You don’t need an art degree to create a beautiful garden with dwarf conifers.
They really do transform a summer garden into a year-round landscape leaving you to enjoy the view without a petrol station in sight. See also Landscaping with Dwarf Conifers.