Classy Conifers for Your Garden
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Published by TOP4 Team
- Shapely and evergreen, conifers are ideal for giving structure to a garden. They come in a variety of sizes, from prostrate ground covers to towering trees, and in wonderful shapes and foliage colours.
Conifers are especially valuable in winter, when many other species lose their leaves. Their needle- or scale-like foliage ranges in colour from green to gold, blue-grey to silver-grey. When crushed or bruised, the foliage of many species gives off a warm, woody aroma.
Using conifers in the garden
- Plant a dark green conifer hedge as a backdrop to a bed of flowering perennials or annuals. In areas with cold winters, plant golden-coloured conifers as highlights to add a touch of warmth.
- Use dwarf varieties by themselves to create a low maintenance feature garden. Prostrate junipers are great for softening the edge of retaining walls or as borders edging paths.
- If your garden is in an exposed position where it gets battered by winds, plant a whole row of conifers as a windbreak to shelter the rest of the garden. The hardy Leyland cypress is ideal here.
- In gardens that contain lots of deciduous trees, interplant with a number of conifer varieties to provide foliage in winter.
Soil - Conifers are remarkably tolerant of soil types, but a little improving at the planting stage will help them to get established. Dry sandy soils need organic matter such as compost and old manure, and generous watering. In heavy clay soils, improve drainage by sprinkling some gypsum in the bottom of the hole, or else use Yates liquid Clay-Breaker.
Feeding - To keep your plants growing well and foliage colours looking their best, feed them in early spring with a dressing of blood and bone. Follow this up later in the season with a dose of controlled-release fertiliser. Mulch with mushroom compost to retain moisture.
Pruning - Go easy when pruning conifers - some varieties don’t recover well from a heavy cut-back. In any case, their tight bushy growth generally only requires a light trim. This is best done at the end of winter. The new spring growth will quickly cover up the cuts.
Conifers from cuttings
Break off a piece about 10cm long with a ‘heel’ - a short strip of wood and bark from the main branch. Dip the raw end of the cutting into rooting liquid or gel and make a small hole in the potting mix with a pen. This prevents the rooting solution rubbing off when you’re planting. Place a plastic bag over the whole pot to keep the cuttings warm and moist in their own little greenhouse. The best time for stinking conifer cutting is summer. By autumn they’ll be ready to plant into the garden.
Interestingly, conifers often produce ‘sports’, which are mutated branches that are quite different from the parent plant. Propagating these can give you something completely different.
All tied up
Tall, narrow conifers can become a bit untidy over time if branches splay out. Here’s a great technique to keep them tight and shapely. Tie a length of thin galvanised tie-wire around a stake at the base of the tree and wrap in a gradual spiral around the whole tree. New shoots will cover the wire and the tree will retain a tight shape. Don’t tie the wire around the trunk, as this can lead to ringbarking.