Great Cold Weather Plants

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Stephanie Hudak

Stephanie Hudak

By Stephanie Hudak, Columnist

Good Grief Charlie Brown, when will this cold, rain, and snow end. My poor pansies in the city containers are struggling to stay in bloom. Let’s hear it for the kale and the parsley though. More on who were the winners and losers in another column.

Today I write about conifers – they are happy in cold weather. Let’s be true though that there are some that don’t like our hot, humid weather. Please, please don’t bring an Alberta Spruce here – you can just count the days until it is history. But on to the good guys… You can count on conifers to give you a pleasing level of color, contrast and texture through the four seasons.

They have so many different colors – from bright yellows to lovely blues. The sizes go from “dwarf” to “giant”. Now here is where you need to pay attention when you are buying these guys, especially if you are going to plant one near the foundation of your house.

Miniatures grow less than one inch per year and after 10 years are less than 12 inches. Dwarf conifers grow one to six inches per year and reach one to six feet after 10 years. See, even the word “dwarf” is misleading.

The key indicator is “10 years”. On to intermediates which produce six to 12 inches of growth per year and can get up to 15 feet. After that folks, you get “large”…like Leyland Cypress large.

So that was the basics of sizing. Now let’s get to the fun part of conifers – the color and texture. They are amazingly different. One of the best types for our area is cryptomeria and one of my favorites is ‘Yellow Twig’ (Cryptomeria japonica).

It only grows to five feet tall and wide but has beautiful apple-green foliage. From the blue family of conifers, I really like Juniperus virginana ‘Grey Owl’. It is a wide, spreading shrub that makes a great ground cover. Give it lots of room though – I said “wide”. If you can find it, Thuja orientalis ‘Morgan” is a wonderful little conifer that has chartreuse-yellow foliage in the summer but turns a beautiful coppery orange in winter.

It is an upright plant that only gets about three feet in height. I heard someone describe this next plant as “expensive looking” – check out Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’.

A slow growing plant that only gets better with age. It will get to about 10 feet tall but has a wonderful dense pyramidal shape. Another good conifer for our area is ‘Miss Grace’, a cultivar of the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) – that was not only a mouthful, it was hard to type – but anyway, it has a lovely look, with great fall color and a slim silhouette. One last suggestion is Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’.

It is a low growing deodar cedar that would work well as a low ground cover and can be easily pruned. So where do you get these beauties? Some may have to be sourced on line, but we have two great places locally that can help you with finding the right conifer for your yard.

Check out Specialty Ornamentals Nursery in Watkinsville or Piccadilly Farms in Bishop. Besides selling plants, both places have display gardens for you to see how the plants look. If you want to go beyond that you can visit the Atlanta Botanical Gardens or the State Botanical Gardens and see what mature conifers can become.

And if you are looking for a road trip, check into Woodlanders Nursery in Aiken, SC. For the true enthusiasts, consider joining the American Conifer Society ( For those book lovers here is my recommendation of the day.

Well, actually, I couldn’t decide which one was the best so here are the ones in my library. Each one gives me great information: ‘Conifers, The Illustrated Encyclopedia’ by D. M va Gelderen and J.R.P. van Hoey Smith (yeap that is their real names); ‘Conifers For Your Garden’ by Adrian Bloom; ‘Gardening With Conifers’ by Adrian Bloom; and ‘Conifers for Gardens’ by Richard Bitner.

If you don’t have a cool conifer in your yard – get at least one. It will be fun and another one of those conversation pieces when friends come over and ask you “what is that”. Oh, and don’t forget – give them a hug. Not sure who said this but I liked it: “one part soil, two parts water, and three parts prayer”. Go God!!

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