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General Care of Conifers

Caring for Your Conifer

In this episode of the MrMaple Show, Matt and Tim talk about conifer trees and give general care advice as well as tips and tricks. 

About Conifers

Here at Mr. Maple, you know us for our Japanese Maples, but what you may not know is that we do a wide range of conifers as well. Just in the last 3 years, we have added close to over 300 different varieties of conifers, so it's something that we are passionate about as well. 

Conifers provide some really unique interest in the landscape, especially in the winter, and there are both deciduous and evergreen conifers. There are some different variations for each sort of species and each different cultivar. Since there is such a wide range of conifers, that means that there is a large range of settings, so we are going to give you some different general care information that we hope will give you confidence in your conifer gardening. 

Lighting for Conifers

Light is one of the most important things when it comes to conifers, and with that, there are different conifers for different light conditions. One thing you should keep in mind is that most pine trees and spruces are going to need more sunlight, and for example, if you were to put a Leland Cypress in the shade, it would be very sparse and often fall over once it gets bigger. 

Most conifers need approximately 4 hours of sunlight per day, depending on the type. Make sure to look at the specific cultivar of the plant you own and look at its light requirements for that species as well. Certain species, such as the Thujopsis Dolobrata Variegata and the Thujopsis Dolobrata Nana are more shade tolerant, but in general, conifers are going to want more sunlight. A lot of times, when people have issues with their conifers, it is due to lack of sun exposure. 

When you are going towards more sunlight for your conifers, keep in mind that your sunlight may be different from someone else's sunlight. If you're growing a conifer in full sun in the deep South of the United States, it can be very different from someone growing it in full sun in Oregon. The sunlight will be much harsher and you may have to give your conifer a little protection from the hot afternoon sun. 

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

Light requirements can be a factor in your area, so you will want to look at your individual area and factor that into the equation. We list many different zones for conifers, and plant zones are based on hot cold the region gets, not how hot it gets. We do some generalizations on the upper end of our zones because we are talking about how cold resistant those roots in the overall plant are to how cold a zone is, not how hot. Check your USDA hardiness zone (video linked here) for a great way to know what plants are going to acclimate to your winters. 

With these zones, you will want to keep in mind the heat and humidity. Even though you are rated for the cold tolerance of a conifer, you might be a little too hot and/or humid for the conifer to do well in your landscape and garden. 

Watering Your Conifer

Another factor to be conscious of when you are conifer gardening is the water amounts. This can vary depending on which climate you are in, so if you are in a hotter region, it may require more water than in a colder zone. One of the biggest mistakes we see made in conifer gardening is over-watering. This is a generalization, as we have deciduous conifers (such as the bald cypress) that can grow in water, but especially with pines and a lot of our popular evergreen conifers, the issue is that they are too wet. 

Good drainage is the key for a lot of evergreen conifers. If you over-water a lot of conifers, what will end up happening is you'll get some needle drop on those plants and eventually it can kill the plant, and by making sure that you're watering them just enough and letting them dry out, conifers will remain really happy. They can be a little tricky to understand sometimes on a conifer what went wrong and when, because a conifer will look very beautiful and then a month later will be dropping its needles, and it's hard to figure out and pinpoint exactly when and what occurred to cause that needle drop. 

Container Gardening

We always talk about container gardening, but it's one of the most popular ways to grow Japanese Maples and conifers, so be very conscious of the amount of water in your container and the drainage on that container. You definitely want to make sure you don't put that saucer around the bottom, that can prevent the water from coming out of there. You want to have drainage on the container and you do not want anything stopping it, and that oftentimes can be the reason why a plant didn't succeed. You will have to check the water a little bit more in a planter too, especially if it's a lot of sun.

Fertilizing Your Conifers

What should I fertilize my conifers with? This varies per conifer, just like it varies for Japanese Maples. Dwarf conifers prefer having a light fertilizer, much like many of the Japanese Maples, but a large pine tree will prefer to have a fertilizer with higher Nitrogen. 

Oftentimes, when fertilizing conifers, less is more. You want your Nitrogen number to be lower, especially with variegated and miniature conifers because you will have a greater success rate if they are grown at a more moderate page and not over-pushed. If you have a tree that has a smaller overall growth rate, it is going to be a more healthy and developed tree, especially in the winter months if it has not been forced to over-push new growth.