How to use conifers in island beds

Punctuate a large expanse of lawn with an island bed to add a layer of spatial dimension to your landscape. Set out away from the yard's borders, a bed filled with shrubs, trees and other ornamental elements creates an oasis of colour and adds visual interest in the centre of a sea of green grass. Integrating conifers into an island bed opens up a whole new palette of textures, dimensions and evergreen tones for your landscape design. While a large pine or fir tree is best suited for a vast park-like setting, smaller varieties and dwarf conifers fit well in an island bed for residential landscapes.

Locate upright conifers in an island to add height to the horizontal aspect of a floating garden bed. Place a single 6- to 7-foot high arbor vitae or slow-growing Hinoki false cypress on one side of a small island to anchor the design. In larger beds, cluster two or three taller conifers to achieve height and maintain the balance of scale with the rest of the planting area.

Plant conifers in colours and shapes that complement garden sculptures and hardscape features commonly used in island beds. Set a low-growing variety of Colorado blue spruce next to a birdbath so the conifer's rounded form and blue-coloured needles highlight the ornamental fixture's upright style and circular bowl. Place golden threadleaf false cypress in the corner of an island with red or black volcanic stone borders for a bold landscaping statement.

Replace perennials with conifers in an existing bed if routine maintenance becomes too great a chore, or if the cost of running the water supply out to the island is limiting. Select conifers that thrive in your climate, whether damp or dry, hot or cold. Once established, conifers typically require deep watering only during exceptionally hot, dry conditions. Conifers' natural shapes and evergreen branches rarely need pruning and don't require the deadheading or division that many perennials do.

Establish year-round visual interest by placing evergreen conifers in an island bed. As the grass surrounding the island and flowers in the bed die back in winter, the conifers' lively shades of green foliage continue to enhance the landscape. Use conifers in the island to provide an oasis in the yard where wild birds find protection from inclement weather.


Spread a 3- or 4-inch layer of mulch around the base of conifers to maintain moisture around the roots and block weed growth.


Inspect the conifers routinely for mites, bagworms and fungal diseases. Contact your county extension agent or a local garden centre with staff knowledgeable about your region for the best treatments for pests and disease.

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About the Author

Denise Schoonhoven has worked in the fields of acoustics, biomedical products, electric cable heating and marketing communications. She studied at Newbold College and Middlesex Polytechnic in the UK, and Walla Walla University. A writer since 2008, Schoonhoven is a seasoned business traveler, solo tourist, gardener and home renovator.