Conifers, or needle-leaved evergreens, provide structure, colour, texture and winter interest to the garden. The slow growing, dwarf varieties ranging in size from 6 inches to 5 feet are used as foundation plants, accents in beds, walk edging and groundcover. Most conifers are low-maintenance plants preferring a sunny, slightly acidic site with good drainage. There are varieties to fit most garden environments.
Groundcover junipers, all less than 1 foot high, are an attractive addition to the garden. Use them to stabilise a slope, edge the front of a bed or drape over a garden wall. This group includes the shore junipers such as Blue Pacific, Emerald Sea and Silver Mist; the creeping junipers including Blue Harbor, Blue Rug and Plumosa; and Greenmound, one of the garden junipers. Dwarf evergreens in the 2- to 5-foot range are excellent choices for foundation plantings and massing in beds. Create a dark-green backdrop for flowering shrubs and perennials with Dark Green Spreader yew or Tauton's yew. There are numerous choices for bed plantings: Gold Mop false cypress, bird's nest spruce, mugo pine, Gold Coast juniper, Brepo Austrian pine, Angelica Blue juniper or Rheingold arbor vitae.
Going Past Green
Consider planting one or more dwarf conifers in various shades of blue or yellow. Several blue varieties are Icee Blue Juniper, globe blue spruce, Blue Star juniper and dwarf blue subalpine fir. Blue conifers accent red- and burgundy-leaved plants, such as Japanese maples and crimson barberries. Bright-yellow accents, including Gold Mop false cypress, Golden Globe arbor vitae, and Gold Coast juniper, brighten the dullest garden bed.
An accent plant should have an interesting appearance. It can be a single plant in a mixed bed, two plants on either side of front steps or a potted specimen. The accent's outstanding quality can be contrasting colour, unusual shape or texture, or a change in height from the rest of the planting. Montgomery spruce, hinoki cypress, dwarf Japanese white pine and dwarf blue Alberta spruce are all used as accents specimens.
Some garden conditions are not ideal for growing conifers, but there are varieties suitable for even these locations. For very shady areas, plant spreading English yew, which tolerates medium-to-heavy shade. For light shade, hinoki cypress, false cypress and Russian cypress are good choices. A number of dwarf conifers are suitable for arid habitats. For a splash of colour, plant Blue Star juniper, Montgomery spruce or Hillside Creeper Scotch pine. For massing in the garden, the small mounding green conifers, such as dwarf threadleaf cypress and Hedgehog juniper, add year-round interest. Seashore plants must tolerate salt and wind. Several dwarf conifer types for coastal areas are dwarf arbor vitae, dwarf pines, yews, false cypress and many juniper varieties.