At this time of year many of our landscapes lack interest, especially when it comes to color. Conifers fill a great void in this area because they aren't restricted to just green. Several varieties of spruce, juniper, pine, and arborvitae possess colored foliage. These conifers differ in their ability to tolerate extremes in growing conditions. Many are cold tolerant, but are unable to withstand extreme heat. Others are heat tolerant, but unable to take colder growing conditions. Make sure the conifer you select isappropriate for your site. Most prefer well-drained soils with aneutral to slightly acid pH. While most conifers prefer full sun,many can tolerate partial shade. Exceptions to this are golden orlight-colored conifers and blue-needled cultivars. Golden orlight-colored conifers prefer a site with bright, filtered light.Too much sun can severely burn and damage the needles ruining theplant. Blue-needled conifers grow best in full sun.
In most cases, nature doesn't create bad color combinations;however in some instances, we do. An effective way to used coloredconifers is to select a monochromatic or single color scheme, suchas using all blue-toned plant material. Monochromatic plantingscreate a restful atmosphere. More striking effects can be createdby selecting contrasting colors. Conifers with gold or yellowfoliage planted with purple foliaged or flowering plants is anattractive combination. Other attractive combinations includeorange flowers with blue colored conifers, or red flowers withgreen foliage. Other color combinations are attractive as well.Instead of choosing bright green foliage for use with blueconifers, select green-gray foliage instead. This gives the bluearea some life. However, if only a few blue conifers are beingused, the blue color jumps out when placed against a greenbackground. A green background for yellow plants has the sameeffect, creating very attractive plantings. Yellow conifers alsolook good when combined with gray-green or blue-green foliagevarieties. An attractive natural color combination is possiblewhen purple and green foliage is combined. To brighten up an area,use green with white or silver-leaved plants. Bicolored conifersfunction best when used as accents, massed in large beds, or evenwoven as a band of color through other perennials or shrubs.
The size and form of colored conifers varies with the genus,species, and cultivar. They range from low ground covers to mediumor large sized shrubs to trees. Several fall into the "dwarf"category, because their rate of growth is slow. The most commonforms are rounded or upright and broad. Bi-color plants toconsider for our area include Juniperus communis 'Compressa',Juniperus communis 'Pencil Point', or Picea omorika 'Nana'. Bluevarieties include Juniperus communis 'Berkshire', Juniperushorizontalis 'Wiltonii', Juniperus procumbens 'Nana', Picea glauca'Pendula', and Pinus strobus 'Macopin'. A good plum coloredconifer is Juniperus horizontalis 'Glomerata'. A white selectionis Tsuga canadensis 'Gentsch White'.
Colored conifers are assets to the landscape year-round. Theyare a permanent feature compared to flowers, so it is important totake the time necessary to select the proper variety for yourlocation. The Bickelhaupt Arboretum in Clinton, Iowa has anexcellent selection of conifers if you are in the eastern part ofthe state. It's also worth a special drive if you're thinking ofusing some of the newer, more unusual conifer varieties.
This article originally appeared in the November 10, 1993 issue, pp. 10, 1993 issue, pp. 160-161.