Best conifers for container gardening

best conifers for container gardening

cedar grown in container

Conifers are valuable for their permanent appearance, for the year-round colour, foliage texture and unusual shapes. Beautiful pyramid piles of green, gold, blue-green or grey-green can be had and can look superb either on their own or when associated with plants of contrast­ing foliage. The colour range is tremendous.

The best way to choose a few conifers is to visit a good nursery and taking a little advice from the nurseryman, to come home with those that appeal most and those which are likely to best suit the position chosen for them. Perhaps a pair of Irish yews (Taxus baccata) are needed, one on either side of an entrance door, or some really small trees for a trough or sink garden, or maybe some evergreens that will not too soon outgrow a small paved area.

Generally speaking, an average soil suits conifers best. In such a mix they will most probably continue to grow true to type -neither too swiftly and lose their desirable shape or habit nor will they be so starved that they will hardly grow at all. The naturally very tiny trees (as opposed to the ones which arejust slow growing) should perhaps be encouraged to go ahead by being given a good soil mixture and a small amount of slow-acting fertilizer.

All newly planted trees require particularly careful attention during their first year in their new positions and it is essential with conifers. Firm planting is also a must. It is a mistake to surround a conifer with a few handsful of loose peat in the belief that you are doing it a favour; such light-weight material inhibits firm plant­ing and it is a really secure contact with the surrounding soil that is required.

The following conifers are merely a sample of what might be tried and for convenience

they have been divided into those that are dwarf, compact and bushy, followed by the pencil-slim types.

Cedrus libani ‘Nana’ is a very dwarf dark green cedar of Lebanon. Instead of being the large tree ofbiblical fame that can top 24m/80ft without difficulty, this type will not exceed 60cm/2ft in a container. C. brevifolia, the Cyprus Cedar, can in the open ground grow to 4.5m/15ft but usually in a container it will stay small.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Caespitosa’ is a slow-growing, light green, dense little bush and one of the smallest ever of the conifers. It is ideal for trough or sink gardens.

Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’ is a thoroughly miniature form (13cm/5in) of the Norway spruce. It has rather spreading branches but very even and dense growth. P. glauca ‘Albcr-tiana Conica’ is deservedly one of the most popular dwarf trees (25cm/10in) with its coni­cal shape and a flush of short bright green foliage in the spring.

Pinus mugo, the mountain pine, is itself too sprawling, but individually named dwarf forms, ‘Mops’ being one, are well worth seeking out.

Thuja orientalis ‘Aurea Nana’ is a miniature of the Western Red Cedar, seldom reaching more than 25cm/10in in 10 years, and dense with yellow-green needles.

The tall, slim look of some of the conifers can give height to containers and a new shape to mixed plantings. Naturally the very slow growing sorts are fairly expensive as they have taken a long time and a lot of effort to produce and until they get well established they will need special care to see that they do not dry out nor are swamped by some of the more vigorous growers.

Quite a mouthful but a splendid small tree is Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata Aureo-Marginata’, the golden Irish yew. Complaints are some­times made that it is unusually slow-growing but this is not necessarily so provided that it is given good soil and some attention while becoming established. It is completely upright growing and provides a column of fine gold-edged needle foliage.

Also columnar, very slow-growing and emi­nently suitable for window boxes, the blue-grey foliaged Juniper communis ‘Compressa’ is unlikely to grow more than about 30cm/1 ft in a dozen years. The slightly coarser but very easy Lawson’s cypress, the grey-green Chamae­cyparis lawsoniana ‘Ellwoodii’ is quite com­monly seen and is usually comparatively cheap.

There are much taller growing conifers, some with a pencil-like look, and a cultivar Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrocket’ of a blue-grey colour and reaching 3-3.6m/10-12ft high is one of the best. Such a tree would not be more than 4cm/l ^in diameter and would look spectacular.

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