Go for the year-round visual feast

A few days ago, I took a call from a good friend, it went something like this:

“Thanks a lot, Ed!” His tone was more playfully sarcastic than truly thankful.

“You’re welcome…. What’d I do?”

“You made me want to reduce my lawn area and plant more conifers!”

“Ahhh…. well, Ok. That’s good news, right?

“You tell my back that, buddy!” he ended with a chuckle.

My friend decided it was time to greatly reduce the amount of time he spends mowing the lawn (or in his case, keep the little yellow flowers that inhabit much of the lawn space, from going to seed).

I’ve been doing the same thing for years – reducing high-maintenance lawn grass and expanding my conifer planting areas. Sure, it’s hard work at first, but ultimately the rewards are great. First there is the tilling under of the appropriate lawn space. I like to let it set for a few weeks to allow any weed seeds or surviving grass to emerge and then give it a good deep tilling again. This way I can work the nice organic mulch that has been accumulating over the years deep into the soil and breaking through years of soil compaction. This will improve drainage and reinvigorate the good soil bacteria. If I have enough compost, I’ll spread a nice thick layer on before the final tilling and quickly work it into the top few inches of soil. Once I’m satisfied with the shape of the new conifers beds, I’ll grab my trusty bow rake and begin raking the soil, pulling out any large clumps of grass or weeds and break up dirt clods. I’ll also shape, level and smooth the new beds to my satisfaction – adding additional soil if that is part of the plan.

The conifer garden
The conifer garden, mixed with premium companion trees, shrubs and flowers, will make a delicious year-round feast for your eyes.

Then the fun begins! I’ll gather the plants that I have collected for the new space and begin to set them out in their new locations. Sometimes I need to walk away and put my mind to some unrelated task and then return to my new conifer planting in a few hours to ensure I am satisfied with my layout. Once I’m happy with the layout, the planting process begins. I always take care removing my conifers from their containers – I’d like to cause as little damage to the roots (and foliage) as possible. On the other hand, I do like to work the root ball with my hands to loosen the roots a little since they can become quite dense in a small container. Then, I simply dig an appropriately sized hole – larger and wider than needed – and refill with loose soil after determining the proper height for the new plant. Once planted, I like to leave a rim of soil to hold water and I fill it up with water slowly. I’ve got well-drained soil in my location, so I’ll repeat the process a few times until I am satisfied that the root ball and surrounding soil are sufficiently soaked.

I’ll make sure to keep things fairly moist for at least the first year – I don’t want my new conifers to dry out and die. I will often top-dress the soil with mulch a couple inches thick to help the soil retain water and reduce the chance of seed germination in all that newly tilled soil. Of course, weed seeds will blow in and snuggle into the mulch, so the war against weeds will ever continue.

“I’ll bet you really called to invite us over for your wife’s delicious scones and tea so we can take a tour of your new planting.” I hinted.

“Sure!” he said, laughing, “I’ll get her right on that!”

My friend and I agreed the next day over a cup of tea that aching backs and assorted sore muscles were worth the long-term enjoyment of a low maintenance conifer garden. Neither one of us will miss the sound and smell of the lawnmower, yet we will certainly enjoy the year-round visual feast that the conifer garden provides.

Conifer Lover

5 thoughts on “Go for the year-round visual feast

  1. I really look forward to your postings and have spent a lot of time going through your archives. I’m in a somewhat different situation than your friend… I am trying to keep the lawn that remains on our two acres… what I have left takes about an hour and 1/2 to mow with my lawn tractor… it involves no trimming because of the way I designed it. I’m planting conifers because I want to get my gardens ready for my 70’s and up. I’m sixty-one now and this place takes almost all my time for seven months a year… I love it all, but I’m getting tired if you know what I mean! So right now I’m digging out all sorts of shrub roses and taking down flowering crabs… anything that is simply to much to maintain is subject to review. My biggest concern is finding enough conifer color variation in our zone 4-5… because we have been getting warmer, I’ve been planting a number of Japanese maples. At any rate… I just love your blog and am curious… are there other blogs that you’re aware of that spend time on confers? Take care, Larry


    1. Hi Larry – Thanks for your very kind words – glad you enjoy the blog. I’ve looked around quite a lot, but I’ve only found a few garden blogs that occasionally post articles about conifers. Often it is a blog tied to a larger home and garden magazine or newspaper garden section. I certainly relate to wanting to reduce the garden workload – that’s why conifers are so great – they are very low maintenance! Regarding additional color, you might start looking for Acer pseudosieboldianum cultivars. The folks at Iseli have been crossing them with cultivars of Acer palmatum with some tremendous new (and hardy) forms – full of spring and fall color – as a result. I hear that early testing in Zone 3-4 have been very successful.

      Thanks for stopping by to say hi!


  2. Hi Ed,
    I really enjoy your posts. Great pics and stories.
    I like the low-schrubs that has pink-blue coloration in the picture above. Would you kindly tell me what they are?


    1. Hi John, thank you for your comments! Are you referring to the small flowering plants? Unfortunately, those are not labeled in the Iseli gardens. The gardener there likes to experiment with different kinds of small perennials and ground covers to fill in around the conifers.


  3. You should see the new 1/3 of my yard. Like your friend, it was a lot of initial hard work, but now I have a great place for revigorating and regenerating. When I dig my pond and waterfall, I will construct more mounds and expand my garden area, further reducing my mowing area.


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