Many of us who love conifers call ourselves and our conifer-loving friends "Coneheads". February is prime conifer viewing time – Coneheads rejoice!
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While spring makes us smile with the erupting beauty of bulbs and leaves, summer energizes us with its full color palette of flowers and shrubs, and fall enchants us with swaying grasses and drifting leaves, winter offers a more serene and tranquil beauty. In winter, conifers take center stage. These trees and shrubs, which often play a supporting role during the growing season, come into focus, and bring shades of green, blue, and gold, as well as interesting textures and quiet beauty to the landscape. Conifers, which we differentiate from other evergreen plants by the presence of needles and cones, come in many forms. The long needles of pines offer texture and movement. Spruce branches, with their stiff, sharp needles and whorled form, are plants of presence and substance. Junipers run the gamut from groundcovers to shrubs to stately trees. We tend to think of junipers as common plants, not worthy of undue attention, but when planted in a spot with proper drainage and light, they contribute to the elegance and beauty of garden beds and borders.
Years of overuse and poor variety or cultivar selection have led us to dismiss the yew and shear it into balls or hedges. When left to its own devices this deep green beauty earns its spot in a winter display. Arborvitae, which are so helpful in creating backyard privacy, have tiny, scale-like needles that are compressed into fan-like branchlets. They’re workhorses in our shrub borders, but a beauty to behold in the winter landscape.
Run your hand along the branches of a fir, with its soft needles, and enjoy the citrus-like aroma. Firs are distinguished by their upward facing cones, and choosing one suited to our Midwest soils and climate will reward us with a conifer second to none. Hemlocks, with their short, soft needles and small, papery cones, add grace to the conifer mix with their delicate branches and drooping tips.
Each of these conifer families is beautiful on its own, but when they play together, the mix is captivating. Beautiful bark, a variety of textures and foliage colors, and an array of shapes and sizes keep us ever interested as we take a winter walk to check out the conifers. Look around.