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Bring On The Cool, New Conifers!

Bring On The Cool, New Conifers!

By Natalie Carmolli for Proven Winners® ColorChoice®

Conifers are pretty neatly defined by the fact that they bear cones. Most people think of the classic Christmas tree or a pinecone when they hear the term “conifer;” however, while the pine family is the largest of all conifers, there are many other genera that aren’t pines within the realm. Firs, spruces, arborvitae, false cypress, junipers, yews, and hemlocks are also conifers.

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"Tsuga canadensis (Canadian Hemlock)" by Plant Image Library license under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re wondering just how varied conifers can be, you only need to look at ginkgo*, dawn redwood, larch, and bald cypress trees. Unlike the previously mentioned genera, these species are all deciduous, meaning they drop their leaves – and oh, what unique deciduous foliage each one has!

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Larch Tree - Larix europaea - color line license CC BY 2.0

One thing all conifers have in common is they are all gymnosperms, meaning they bear cones that carry a naked seed (i.e., one that is not enclosed within a fruit). Those cones can look like the classic pinecone or something very different. For instance, though they are commonly called berries, the dusty blue juniper berry and the center of the soft red berry on a yew are technically cones!

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Japanese Yew - "Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)" by Tatters  license CC BY-NC 2.0

Now that we’ve learned the basics, let’s take a look at some of the new varieties that you’ll soon be able to add to your conifer collection:

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Photograph courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®.

Pinpoint Gold® is the newest member of the Pinpoint® series of false cypress or Chamaecyparis. It has an upright, pyramidal habit with soft, feathery foliage that’s a cheerful golden-green color. Its brightly colored foliage adds another dimension to your conifer mix. It’s a space saver too, growing to a height of 15-20’ but just 3-5’ wide. Ideally suited to use as an eye-catching specimen or hedge plant, it needs little to no pruning to maintain its appealing shape. Hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-7.

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Photograph courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®.

Another false cypress, but one that is very different from the Pinpoint® series, is Haywire™. This unusual form of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana brings attractive thread-leaf textured foliage to a stunning pyramidal habit, creating an irresistible specimen in the landscape. Haywire™ false cypress will reach heights of 12-18’ and widths of 8-12’ and is hardy in zones 5b-7.

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Photograph courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®.

Named for its stunning aqua-blue color, Aquavita™ is a graceful juniper with a soft, natural, narrow habit that will reach heights of 12-15’ and 3-4’ wide. Elegant and easy to grow, this native juniper provides stunning color and upright interest to gardens and landscapes. Super versatile, it is hardy to zone 4 and heat tolerant to zone 9.

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Photograph courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®.

If you are looking for an arborvitae with a truly unique shape, Cheer Drops™ brings an appealing, Weeble-like, teardrop habit to the landscape. Its 10-18’ tall, 5-7’ wide habit is perfect for creating shorter, wider hedges and windbreaks, or it can serve as a fun specimen plant. It needs no pruning to keep its handsome form and grows well in sun or part shade in zones 3-7.

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Photograph courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®

Finally, you’ll remember that not all conifers are evergreen! If you can wait until 2023, you’ll start to find Skinny FitGinkgo biloba for sale at retail. Ginkgo traditionally has a somewhat narrow, upright habit, but Skinny Fit™ takes this to the max with its narrow, columnar form. Growing 10’ tall and just 15” wide, this easy-care conifer is now sized to fit in most gardens and in almost any zone (USDA 3-10). Flabellate (fan-shaped) leaves turn brilliant gold in the autumn. If you’re looking for the cone on this conifer, it will look like a short catkin that develops on the branch spurs.

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"Ginkgo Pollen Cones" by Steven Severinghaus license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We have entered the season where conifers are showing us what they’re made of, and these new varieties are made of some pretty special stuff. As with any new plant that tickles your fancy, be sure to ask the folks at your local nursery or garden center if they will bring them in. This is the best way to ensure these cool conifers enjoy a proper introduction to gardens across North America. 

*Some hold that gingko is not a conifer, but since both are gymnosperms and closely related, we’re including it here


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