|Picea abies 'Pendula'|
The gardener will find a wide variety of conifers available for successful landscape use on the Oregon coast. Do yourself a favor and start your search with a leisurely stroll (or hike) in one of our many public parks or open spaces, for the purpose of observation. Many mistakes can be avoided, and great ideas discovered, when the gardener begins by observing successful plant communities. Which conifers prefer some shade? Which need shelter from wind? Which are especially resilient near the ocean, and which ones are snapped off in winter windstorms?
The primary coniferous trees on our stretch of the coast include Sitka Spruce, Shore Pine, Western Hemlock and Western Red Cedar. The spruces and pines are most tolerant of high wind, while the hemlock and cedar will thrive in shady and wetter conditions. All of these trees, in the right setting, are potentially very large (50' or more) specimens. The prudent gardener will plant and nurture them where they won't require extensive pruning to fit the space, and instead allow them to fulfill their potential.
Excellent examples of small landscape conifers can fill that next tier on the landscape hierarchy, the medium to tall shrub or small tree. Hollywood Junipers (Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa') have become a favorite in the Lincoln City area, with high wind tolerance and a naturally "wind-sculpted" look, featuring deep green, non-prickly foliage (rare for a juniper). These fine plants also provide for wildlife, with dense clusters of juniper berries throughout fall and winter.
|Picea abies 'Nidiformis' in foreground|
The coastal gardener should carefully site spruces that are adapted to inland conditions, like the Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens var. glauca). Between sandy soils, persistent north wind and sparse rainfall in late summer, these alpine trees can really struggle for moisture. They should be given some shelter from summer winds and provided regular water.
Conifers for groundcovers are a popular choice, with two of the most successful coming from the genus Juniperus. The Shore Juniper, Juniperus conferta, is native to Japan but thrives here. A popular variety in our local nurseries is 'Blue Pacific.' If you want quick cover on a large slope that's exposed to ocean winds, this blue-green beauty is the ticket. Be sure to provide good drainage-- sandy soils are ideal.
A more compact groundcover juniper is Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star.' This tidy, composed juniper sports grey-blue foliage and is slower growing than Shore Juniper. Blue Star juniper is an excellent specimen groundcover for landscapes with a bit more shelter from the ocean and very good drainage.
Conifers can also be utilized for color in the landscape during what is an admittedly bleak season. A fine example of this is Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans' or Japanese Plume Cedar. While the species tree in its native range is a towering timber tree much like our own cedars, 'Elegans' is a shrub to small tree, and on the coast it tends to grow more slowly, ranging from low shrub to 6-8' tall tree. The outstanding feature is the soft, ferny (hence the name Plume) foliage that in winter turns bronzy for nice contrast. New growth is a soft bright green, then darkens and turns with the onset of cold weather. A bonus: the needles never drop.
Another fine conifer for the role of small-colorful-shrub is Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea' or Golden Threadleaf Falsecypress. This soft-textured weeping shrub (to 3-4') holds its golden foliage year-round, providing highlights in the mostly dark winter landscape and nicely contrasting against blue conifers.
A fine reference book for northwest trees including many of these conifers, is Arthur Lee Jacobsen's classic North American Landscape Trees. For specific information on landscape conifers including great photography and design guidelines, see Adrian Bloom's Gardening with Conifers.