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Conifers in the landscape can serve so many functions: as accents, specimens, focal points, and backdrops. There's so much variety that there's practically a conifer for every garden. Check out our wide selection of conifers at our Bellevue nursery!


Conifer Basics

Conifers are trees that have cones. Some conifers (like yews) have unique, fleshy cones that look more like fruit. Other conifers, such as cypress and junipers, have cones that look more like berries. What all of these bodies have in common is that the actual seeds are not enclosed within fruits, like with flowering plants.



Sculpted Pine tree

Conifers with blue, silver, or dark-green foliage look and perform their best when planted in full sun. Most golden conifers look and perform best when they receive morning sun and some afternoon shade.

Conifers with white variegation don't tolerate direct sun. In deep shade, however, the variegation will often be suppressed. Bright light, but never direct sun is the “sweet spot” here.



Approximate Size in 10 Yrs

Less than 12 inches

Growth Rate per Year

Less than 1 inch


Approximate Size in 10 Yrs

1 to 5 feet

Growth Rate per Year

1-6 inches


Approximate Size in 10 Yrs

5-10 feet


Growth Rate per Year

6-12 inches


Approximate Size in 10 Yrs

10 feet or more

Growth Rate per Year

More than 12 inches

Conifer Selection



Think about the function you want conifers to serve in your landscape. Many gardeners think of conifers when they want a hedge, but conifers are able to offer so much more! Consider using them in planters, as accent plants (dwarf varieties are great for this), as well as foundational plantings and as specimens.


Know how much space you have. This will help you choose trees that will fit and eliminate the problem of overcrowding early on. Note when looking at plant tags, the sizes declared are often only the size of the plant at 10 years, not at maturity. It's important to know the mature size and growth rate before selecting your tree.


Understand the growing conditions in your garden. Many conifers need full sun, but there are some that will take full sun to shade. One key consideration is the amount of water that is retained in the soil: conifers do not like their roots to be drowned in water, therefore adequate drainage is essential wherever they are planted.


Determine what colors and shapes you like and consider how they will work within the style of your garden. Think about your desired color palette and use your conifer as a grounding color. What companion plants will complement the shade of green or blue or yellow you like? Will the texture of the foliage add to the desired effect? Equally, what shapes will create the structure you're looking for?


Be thoughtful about companion plants. The key is having companion plants that thrive in the same growing conditions as your conifer and do not compete for resources.

Planting Conifers
Golden Spreader Fir Tree

When planting conifers, it's important to plant them at the correct depth: don't plant them too deep. The root flare should always be visible.

Ensure the soil has good drainage. Although conifers like moist soil, they do not do well in waterlogged soil. Amend clay soil as needed and ensure any mulch that is used is not overly water-retentive (i.e., peat moss).



Dig a wide and shallow hole: a hole that is 2-3 times the width of the root ball and the same depth as the height of the root ball.You can either amend your soil or choose not to. In nature, woody plants live in soil that is not amended. Not amending your soil will allow your tree to adjust to native surroundings without additional help. However, if you choose to amend your soil with some compost or equivalent, your conifer will get a little boost (we recommend 10% compost and 90% original soil). If you amend your soil, don't put the amendment directly into the planting hole: wait until you back fill the soil after the tree has been placed in its hole.


For conifers that are in containers: lay the tree on its side and carefully slide it out. Remove any excess soil around the root flare, then gently loosen the roots if the tree is root-bound. Back fill with soil (amended or not), ensuring that the root crown is visible. The root crown, also called root flare, is the point where the first main roots attach to the trunk. Tamp the soil lightly with your foot, ensuring that the soil is not too compact. Continue to back fill the hole as necessary.

Balled and burlapped conifers: place the tree into the hole intact. Cut the burlap, string and wire away from the trunk and gently pull the material away from the root ball. Try to slide the burlap out from underneath the root ball. You can leave the conifer in burlap if the root ball is falling apart. If you plan to keep the burlap, remove as much as possible without disturbing the root ball. Removing the burlap will help the initial root growth for the successful establishment of your conifer. Back fill with soil (amended or not), ensuring that the root crown is visible. The root crown, also called root flare, is the point where the first main roots attach to the trunk. Back fill with soil (amended or not), ensuring that the root crown is visible. The root crown, also called root flare, is the point where the first main roots attach to the trunk. Tamp the soil lightly with your foot, ensuring that the soil is not too compact. Continue to back fill the hole as necessary.


Place 2-4 inches of mulch around the root flare. Ensure that you keep mulch away from the trunk, as this can cause stem rot. Mulching will help keep roots cool in summer, warm in winter, and help retain water and help stunt weed growth.


Thoroughly water your conifer after planting. Initially the root ball will need to be watered directly because roots have not yet spread into the surrounding soil. Consistent watering is particularly important for the first 6 months  (more on that below.)


Tip: newly planted conifers do not require fertilizer. Fertilizing newly planted trees can burn the roots, encourage excessive leaf growth at the expense of root growth, or encourage the growth of weeds that compete with root establishment and water uptake.

Conifer Care
Group of conifers
Caring for conifers isn't difficult. With the right growing conditions and consistent watering in their first 1-2 years, they will provide structure, beauty and interest in your landscape for many years to come.



Watering. A newly planted conifer will need regular, consistent watering for the first 6-12 months. This will ensure that roots have contact with the soil, allowing them to establish. Water when the top 1-2 inches of the soil is dry. Conifers will not tolerate waterlogged soil: be sure not to overwater.


Fertilizing is often not necessary, as conifers in the wild extract nutrients from the surrounding native soil. However, it wont' harm your trees if you choose to fertilize to give them a boost. If there is a nutrient or mineral deficiency in the soil that is prohibiting the tree to thrive, then fertilization will help. Fertilize at the start of March and again in late spring, if necessary. Choose a slightly acid fertilizer, such as those for rhododendrons. Apply inside the drip line, cover with mulch, and water thoroughly to avoid root burn. The drip line is the area right under the outer perimeter of the tree branches.


Mulching is important. Follow the placement guidelines in the "Planting" section above. We like to use composted bark.

We've compiled our information from our own experience and from The American Conifer Society, Clemson Cooperative Extension, Richard L. Bitner's Book Designing with Conifers (Timber Press) and the New York Botanical Garden.

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