MASTER GARDENER: Conifers add interest to Southern landscapes

The oriental arborvitae is an excellent choice for a foundation shrub. (Courtesy)

Before you decide that conifers are simply pine trees and eastern red cedars, you must realize there is a large family of trees and shrubs readily available that add interest, live long lives and live in our zone 7 climate.

There are many interesting silhouettes as well as large, medium and small-size shrubs and trees. Consider spruce, balsam fir, hemlock, larch, red cedar and bald cypress along with the related yews and junipers. All are considered members of the conifer family and it is quite likely that some of these already appear in your neighborhood.

Some conifers like the popular bald cypress are considered deciduous, while others like hemlock are considered evergreens. Some trees in this family actually have leaves that appear as flattened twigs or branches.

The cryptomeria in the Japanese cedar family is evergreen and produces a bright flower-like cone and is an excellent ornamental for any yard. This large tree is suitable for zones 6, 7 and 8.

The over-used Leyland cypress is also a conifer and will grow up to 50 feet tall. Use these as a windbreak or simply a stately tree. Be sure and allow plenty of room for them.

For an unusual weeping conifer, look no further than the blue Atlas cedar This majestic weeper does well in zones 6 through 9. This specimen is drought tolerant and doesn’t care about our humidity. It’s not overly tall, but does require a spread of 15 to 20 feet. Other low-growing blue-green shrubs planted nearby add further visual interest.

The oriental arborvitae is another excellent choice with its bright yellow or blue-green foliage. Suitable for zones 7 through 9, this shrub is a good choice for a foundation shrub or one that is used in a cluster of low-growing foliage. Allow for afternoon shade; this choice will tolerate dry conditions.

Visit your local garden centers to get excellent advice on choosing the proper conifer for your yard.

Reginald Rose, a Master Gardener, is a trained volunteer of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. For gardening questions, call the Help Center at (662) 620-8280 in Lee County or (866) 920-4678 outside Lee County and leave a message.

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