Clips & Tips

Garden Tip

Designing with Dwarf Conifers: Great Things Do Come in Small Packages

by Mark Lyke, Former Horticulture Manager

Conifers are considered the backbone of a great landscape design. They provide shelter for animals and offer a nice variation of color, texture, and shapes. Conifers provide year-round structure and shade in the garden. Conifers require less daily maintenance than annuals or perennials throughout the year but take up a large amount of gardening space and create plenty of space for shade gardens.

Miniature conifer trees at one time were only owned by bonsai artists or those that could afford the final product of the artist. The combining of art and horticulture was used to produce a miniature of a perfect tree. Now the science of horticulture has developed miniature conifers that are produced in a fraction of the time and cost to the home gardener. For those of us who are “addict plant gardeners”, these dwarf conifers can provide year round interest. If you have a perennial garden, you can add vertical height in many different shapes including: pencil, globe, and cone, vase weeping and creeping. Or if you want to develop a rock garden, the variety of conifer options will help you to provide backbone in the new garden with a variety of shapes, texture and hues. The dwarf conifers can also be used as bonsai.

Dwarf Conifers are made from “witches broom” or what is known as an abnormality found in large growing or other dwarf conifers. The abnormal, congested or pendulous growth is a miniature of the parent stock that is grafted onto a rootstock. If the new plant is considered worthy, then they can be named and registered with the American Conifer Society.

The American Conifer Society has developed four categories related to growth to help you select the best plant for your garden.

Classification: Miniature Rate: 1"/yr Size in 10 years: 10-12"
Classification: Dwarf Rate: 1"-6"/yr Size in 10 years: 1'-6'
Classification: Semi-dwarf Rate: 6"-12"/yr Size in 10 years: 6'-15'
Classification: Large Rate: 12"/yr Size in 10 years: over 15'

Notice from the above chart, a dwarf conifer has a one to six inch growth rate per year and will range between one and six feet at the end of ten years of growth. Whereas a large conifer will grow roughly twelve inches in a year and at the end of ten years should be around fifteen feet tall.

When you are ready for a new garden, pots to plant or a renovation, consider bringing home a few dwarf conifers. Some of my favorites include: Cham. lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguro’, Cham. Thyoides ‘Red Star’, Ilex X Rock Garden and Ilex crenata ‘Dwarf Pagoda’. If you have always wanted to grow a Sequoia but didn’t have the room for one, we have three different varieties that will not grow larger then five feet tall. Stop by Lakewold’s Garden Shop and find a new dwarf conifer. They range in price from $12.95 - $19.95. Owning a Dwarf Conifer is almost like eating a handful of popcorn, you continually want just one more!