Conifers for shade

Recently at a holiday party a friend commented to me that one doesn’t hear much about evergreen gardens. I have thought about this and wondered why when there are so many great plants that offer evergreen foliage year around including varieties for sun and shade. Garden designer David McMullin put it well when he said that December is the time when conifers “emerge out of the dead brown stuff.” Yet, they are not usually the first choice for gardeners when it comes to selecting evergreens that appreciate shade. By integrating some of these conifers into your landscape and combining them with broad leaf evergreens as well as deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials you can create a landscape that offers beauty and interest throughout the year.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden boasts a good variety of conifers for both sun and shade . Jamie Blackburn, a curator of horticulture at the garden, shared some of his thoughts about conifers that are well suited for the shade. One that may be familiar to some is Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata,' the prostrate Japanese plum yew, an effective groundcover. (It is also reported to be deer resistant but experience tells us that results may vary depending on how hungry the deer are.) If you want a more upright plum yew, like a Christmas tree, look for seedlings that have a central leader, as these are more likely to form a pyramidal shape as they mature. The upright fastigiate cultivar of this species is typically much more narrow than it is tall.

Some shade tolerant conifers on display at ABG, although not widely available, are worth seeking out. These include Torreya grandis, Taxus chinensis, Chinese yew, and Tsuga chinensis, Chinese hemlock, which is resistant to the wooly adelgid, a devastating insect that attacks our eastern native hemlock Tsuga canadensis. There are cultivars of Tsuga canadensis that appear resistant to the adelgid like 'Gentsch White,' a rounded compact plant whose branches have silvery tips; it grows 4' tall and wide, perfect for smaller shade gardens or containers.

Below is a list of additional conifers that tolerate shade.

Podocarpus lawrencii- Mountian plum pine as it has been called grows only 12 to 18 inches tall.

Thuja koriensis 'Glauca Prostrata'- Korean arborvitae is low growing with silvery blue foliage.

Thujopsis dolobrata 'Nana'- Hiba dwarf arborvitae has a shrubby rounded habit and shiny foliage. It grows 3 to 4' tall and wide.

Torreya nucifera- Japanese Torreya grows 20 to 30' tall and 8 to 12' wide.

Tsuga yunnanensis-Yunnan hemlock grows 30 to 40' tall and 18 to 25'wide, forming a graceful pyramidal shape.



353 Boulevard SE

Atlanta, GA 30312


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5727 Cleveland Hwy.

Clermont, GA 30527


Scottsdale Farms

15639 Birmingham Hwy

(Hwy 372)

Alpharetta, GA 30004


Mail Order Sources

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1128 Colleton Ave. SE

Aiken, SC 29801-4728


Yucca Do Nursery

P.O. Box 1039

Giddings, TX 78942


Erica Glasener is a horticulturist and host of "A Gardener's Diary" which is currently on hiatus. Fridays on HGTV. For questions, visit Erica Glasener's Web site.

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