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Conifers Can Help Winter Landscapes
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
If your landscape looks a little desolate, barren or Siberia- like, it probably needs some evergreens. Of all landscape plants in the South, conifers are some of our most beautiful.
Conifers are important to our timber industry, but their usefulness doesn't stop there. A conifer is a cone-bearing tree or shrub. Familiar ones are the loblolly, slash pine, long and shortleaf pine, and others.
With a few notable exceptions such as the bald cypress, conifers like our Eastern Red Cedar or Juniper -- Juniperus virginiana -- have the advantage of being evergreen.
Junipers as a group tolerate cold, heat and drought and are among our most versatile plants. They are grown as stately, upright trees and are much overlooked and underused as ground covers. Junipers even make great bonsai plants. There are probably 20 to 30 varieties to choose from in our area.
There is nothing prettier than a ground cover juniper planted in front of a group of red barberries with taller junipers planted behind them.
The Leyland Cypress is perhaps the most popular landscape conifer and is great as a specimen or used in a grouping. It also happens to be the one I most often see used incorrectly. This cute little Christmas tree-shaped evergreen looks perfect on either side of the front entry way or snuggled against the house like a yaupon holly.
This gorgeous, fast-growing evergreen has a mature height of 60 to 70 feet and has been known to reach 100 feet. The width can be at least 20 percent of the height. If you're not careful, you may need a chainsaw to reach the front door.
The Chamaecyparis group of evergreens is really starting to catch on in the South. My favorite is the breathtakingly beautiful Chamaecyparis obtusa crippsii. Shaped like a pyramid, it can reach 50 feet in height, although I have yet to see one over 20 feet.
The Crippsii's frond-like branches are golden yellow changing to green within the plant. The yellow ends give it a golden frock look.
The Chamaecyparis pisifera, known as golden mop or golden thread, really stands out in a bed when combined with small evergreen hollies. These compact evergreens, or in this case evergolds, are gorgeous as a group.
In Texas, I grew up appreciating the deodar cedar with its graceful, pyramidal habit. It was uncommon to see a 40 foot tall specimen. I have seen some of these gorgeous trees in Mississippi and feel they could be used more.
Conifers like the Eastern Hemlock can serve as a specimen or background screen in much of the South. The best ones I have seen are grown either as understory trees or on the eastern side of large buildings or homes.
Pines have an important place in the landscape as they give protection to colorful understory plants like the dogwood, redbud and azalea. I have to admit a partiality to the spruce pine or Pinus glabra. It is native from Louisiana to Florida and up to the Carolinas.
Now is a very good time to survey your landscape and see if it is effective in the winter. I continually struggle with this myself as I lean heavily toward tropicals and herbaceous plants. We all need evergreens, and conifers are among our best choices.