Conifer diversity

Since my last post, the rain slowed to a drizzle, became intermittent showers and finally stopped altogether. We then had nearly 48 hours of partially sunny, warmer and dry weather. As I write this, I can hear the wind pounding the pouring rain against the nearby window. As promised last time, I have a great list of conifers that will tolerate both very wet and very dry conditions.

I called one of my mid-west friends the other day and we had a long conversation on the topic. Then, much to my surprise, this morning I received the following email. My good friend has put such a great list together that I see no reason to change a thing. He has listed some excellent conifers for any garden and has grouped them by their tolerance for various levels of soil moisture. I think you’ll find this information extremely valuable.

“Although almost all conifers prefer the ‘perfect’ soil – moist well-drained loam – many will tolerate wet or dry soils.  Most Abies and Tsuga are not very tolerant of extremes in wet or dry soils.

“A few conifers can tolerate very wet, almost bog-like soils.  Probably the most tolerant of wet soils are Taxodium varieties such as ‘Cascade Falls’ and ‘Peve Yellow’.  Also, Thuja occidentalis varieties such as ‘Degroots Spire’, ‘Hetz Wintergreen’, ‘Holmstrup’, ‘Rushmore’, and ‘Smaragd’ will tolerate wet soils.  Thuja plicata varieties like ‘Canadian Gold’ and ‘Virescens’ are also tolerant of very wet soils.  Taxodium and Thuja are frequently found in boggy or swampy locations in their native habitats.  Although these conifers may actually prefer well-drained soils, they can survive in swampy areas where they can out compete other species.

Conifer Garden
No matter what your gardening challenge, there is very likely a conifer that will at least tolerate, if not thrive in, your gardening situation.

“Other conifers will tolerate moderately wet soils, such as those found in a swale that dries out, or in a low area through which rain runoff flows but does drain.  In other words, areas that can be wet, but that do eventually drain and don’t hold standing water or hold water just below the surface of the soil.  Some of the best conifers for this kind of situation are various spruces.  Some examples are Picea abies ‘Pendula Major’, Picea glauca ‘Pendula’, Picea mariana ‘Golden’, Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’, Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’, and Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’.  In nature, Picea glauca and Picea pungens are frequently found at the edge of streams or on lake shores.  Surprisingly, Picea glauca and Picea pungens will also tolerate fairly dry locations.  Most Larix species prefer ample moisture, and would also be a good choice for these moist, but not boggy situations.  Examples are Larix decidua ‘Horstmann’s Recurva’ and Larix sibirica ‘Conica’.  Larix laricina is frequently found in swampy locations, but most Larix species don’t like a swamp.

“To the other extreme, some conifers will perform well in very dry situations.  Again, most of these plants would prefer a moderately moist, but well-drained soil if given a choice, but will tolerate dryness.  Some Junipers are excellent choices for dry, sandy or rocky soils.  Examples are Juniperus communis ‘Effusa’ and ‘Green Carpet’, and ‘Kalebab’.  Juniperus horizontalis is also very tolerant of dry soils.  Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Pygmy’, and ‘Limeglow’™ are possible choices.  Many pines are also good choices for sandy, very well-drained, and dry soils, especially two and three needle pines.  Some good choices for dry soils are Pinus banksiana ‘Uncle Fogy’, Pinus leucodermis ‘Emerald Arrow’, and Pinus leucodermis ‘Mint Truffle’, Pinus mugo ‘Big Tuna’, ‘Slowmound’, and Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’ and ‘Sherwood Compact’, as well as Pinus nigra ‘Helga’ and Pinus sylvestris ‘Glauca Nana’.

“Keep in mind that most of these conifers that are tolerant of dry situations should be kept adequately moist until they are well established.  They should also be given supplemental water in times of extreme drought.  Many five needle pines such as Pinus strobus, although they prefer very well-drained and even sandy soils, actually are not as tolerant of extremely dry areas.  Most plants that are tolerant of very dry soils are also tolerant of alkaline soils.”

Until next time, I’ll be hoping for sunshine, in my garden and yours.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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5 thoughts on “Conifer diversity

  1. Great question!

    Like me, I suspect that you have seen this topic discussed over the years at gardenweb.com in the conifer group. I would not be surprised if they were the same, but they may very well be separate cultivars. Do we have information on where or when both cultivars originated?

    Ed-

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    1. Hi Coniferjoy, here is what I have learned about the source of Picea mariana ‘Golden’ at Iseli Nursery.

      In 1981, Iseli received scion from the late and highly respected, Ed Rezek. Humphrey Welch lists ‘Golden’ as an unacceptable name, but, the plant he describes is not the plant that Iseli sells. There is a very old clone listed as ‘Aurea’ and it seems possible that the Iseli clone could be that plant. It could also be an entirely different clone altogether. It is definitely believed to not be ‘Aureospicata’. Unfortunately, we do not know the source of Mr. Rezek’s clone.

      Characteristics I have observed are this: The new foliage pushes a very bright, almost yellow color. This color is very striking against the older foliage which is light green with a hint of frost to the upper side of exposed needles. As the foliage matures, the hint of yellow fades. Upon very close inspection, the mature needles are a light gray-green color and just their tips retain a buttery yellow color.

      Ed-

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  2. Ed, i very much enjoyed reading your artical. However, a questions remains. How dose the grafting of these various conifer species onto seedling rootstock effect their wet site tolerance. For example you state picea pungens and glauca maybe acceptable for wet soils, however many of these wonderful cultivate are grafted to picea abies rootstock. Will this change the wet site potential?

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    1. You are correct, most of the spruce cultivars available the local garden centers are grafted onto Picea abies. That fact does not seem to change the site potential of the cultivars listed. It may be important to note that although it was stated that these do have some wet site potential, it also states that these areas should drain well and not hold standing water.

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