Georgia Gardener Newsletter Design Tip: November 16, 2006

Conifers for Georgia Gardens

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Conifers can be some of the most beautiful plants in any garden in any climate. However, the climate in which you live will determine the best choices for you. On February 18, 2006 the temperature at my property in Montana dropped to -32F. Conversely, the lowest temperature I recorded this past winter in Suwanee was +24F. This summer we also had several days with 100+ degree temperatures whereas parts of the Rocky Mountain West didn't even get close.

The most common mistake I see being made in Georgia is the planting of conifers that are accustomed to harsh winters yet are unable to handle the heat and humidity of a southern summer.

Go By the Numbers and Name

There are two tests that you can quickly apply to help determine whether a conifer may not be right for Georgia:

1. The plant has a cold hardy rating of -30F to -50F. This plant is from a cold climate and probably won't do well in the summer. You're safer picking a conifer that's only listed as being hardy to -10F or 0. Two exceptions to this are some of the junipers and arborvitaes.

2. The plant bears the name of a cold geographical region: Canadian Hemlock, Colorado, Alberta or Norwegian Spruce, Alaskan Cedar, Subalpine Fir, etc. Once again, this plant originates in an area with harsh winters.

Although there are always exceptions to these "tests," it's still a good place to start. I recommend when selecting a conifer to do some research on the plant's native range. If it's significantly further north or higher in altitude, you may want to choose an alternative.

Tall Conifers for Georgia

Bald CypressCryptomeria
Other Tall Conifers: Deodar Cedar, Eastern Red Cedar, Atlantic White Cedar, Green Giant Arborvitae, Arizona Cypress, Blue Atlas Cedar

Medium Conifers for Georgia

Hinoki False CypressEmerald Arborvitae
Other Medium Conifers: Sungold, Fernspray or Crippsii False Cypress, Skyrocket Juniper, Blue Point Juniper, Black Dragon Cryptomeria

Low Conifers for Georgia

Gold Mop False CypressGold Lace Juniper
Other Low Conifers: Gray Owl Juniper, Saybrook Gold Juniper, Globe Arborvitae

Groundcover Conifers for Georgia

Prostrate Yew (Cephalotaxus)Spreading Yew (Taxus)
Other Groundcover Conifers: Blue Rug Juniper, Shore Juniper

Almost Sure to Fail

Colorado Blue SpruceCanadian Hemlock (with Adelgid*)

Other conifers that can have trouble in Georgia: Fir (Abies spp.) and Spruce (Picea spp.).

*Although Canadian Hemlocks are native to the North Georgia mountains, they are under severe attack from a non-native insect (Hemlock Woolly Adelgid) which has been wiping them out from the Canadian border into Georgia. Although the insect has not been confirmed in metro Atlanta, Canadian Hemlocks usually succumb to heat-related stress in this area.


American Conifer Society
Iseli Nursery (pictures)

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