Shrubs Trees

Great Medium-Sized Conifers For The Garden


Conifers provide important structure and texture in the landscape. I use conifers as specimens or in combination with other plants because they make the garden more interesting. Their varied foliage and striking colors bring lots of excitement to any planting. There is a range of great medium-sized selections for you to consider in your garden.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Sunspray’ continues to be the best compact gold Hinoki cypress in my garden. The yellow fan shaped sprays that are dappled with green look great in sun to part sun throughout the year. This bright accent reaches three foot tall in six years. If you do not have a spot in the garden, ‘Sunspray’ is a great choice for containers.


I consider Cryptomeria japonica ‘Gyokurya’ one of the best and most under used Japanese cedars. Growing 10-12 foot tall in ten years, this pyramidal conifer offers a majestic deep green accent in the garden. ‘Gyokurya’ can be planted at the corner of your house or as a specimen in the mixed border. An added benefit, it can be decorated during the holidays.

Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ is a compact cultivar of our native white pine. The striking blue needles form a soft cushion that reaches three foot tall and wide in eight years. With age narrow cones adorn this very handsome plant. In our area ‘Nana’ is best planted in morning or filtered sun.

Another interesting conifer with blue needles is Cedrus atlantica ‘Horstmann’. This smaller selection of the Atlantic cedar is native to Morocco but quite at home in our area. ‘Horstmann’ grows into a dense yet irregular shape reaching five foot tall and wide in ten years. The bonsai like form and icy blue needles create a true sculpture in the garden.

‘Cody’s Feathers’

I have always loved the native Taxodium distichum ‘Cody’s Feathers’ because it is a compact tree form bald cypress that is ideal for smaller landscapes. This graceful upright deciduous conifer reaches eight foot tall in ten years. The soft fine green foliage (that turns copper-orange in fall) is decorated with beautiful round cones that persist through winter after the needles have dropped. ‘Cody’s Feathers’ is ideal for any wet area though it also thrives in dry soils.

One of the most versatile and useful conifers for our area is Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Drupacea’. This Japanese plum yew with dark green soft needles performs well in dry shade, one of the most challenging spots in many gardens. ‘Drupacea’ can be used as a specimen, along the foundation, or in massing. The dense deer proof foliage contrasts well with most broadleaf and deciduous plants.



Continuing in the shade, Tsuga canadensis ‘Stranger’ is a beautiful diminutive hemlock with a great name. This native shrub forms a gently cascading mound reaching three foot tall in ten years. ‘Stranger is covered with fine deep green needles that have a twist. My plant has thrived in a raised bed where it gets morning and filtered light.

Featured image – ‘Sunspray’. Photos courtesy of The Unique Plant.

Joann Currier gardens near Chapel Hill and is the owner of The Unique Plant, a specialty nursery. You can reach her at

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