PUBLISHED BY MU EXTENSION, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-COLUMBIA muextension.missouri.edu/xplor
Selecting Landscape Plants:
Christopher J. Starbuck
Department of Horticulture
Needled evergreens, often known as narrow-leaved
evergreens or conifers, are planted primarily because of
their evergreen foliage. But the many sizes, shapes and
colors available also contribute to their popularity (see
Conifers range in size from prostrate plants growing
only a few inches tall to large trees. Shapes include flat,
groundcover types, horizontal spreaders, upright pyra-
midal forms, and even weeping and contorted shapes.
Foliage color ranges from a gold and cream variegation
to all shades of green, gray-green and blue-green.
Poorly drained soil, planting too deeply and winter
drying are the most common causes of damage or death
of needled evergreens. Most are killed easily by water
standing at their roots. They must be planted in well- Figure 1. Needled evergreens come in many shapes and sizes.
drained soil. A raised bed may be the solution for
planting on excessively wet sites. See MU publication Metal or plastic containers must be removed before
G 6955, Improving Lawn and Landscape Soils, for more planting.
details. Fertilizing at planting time may injure new roots. Do
Plant an evergreen with the ball of soil an inch or not fertilize evergreens until they have had at least one
two higher than it grew in the nursery. Dig the planting growing season to become established. Plants that have
hole at least 1 foot wider in diameter than the soil ball. good color and are making satisfactory growth probably
After the plant has been put in position, backfill around don’t need fertilizer. Plants weakened by insects, dis-
it with good topsoil. If good topsoil is not available, eases, poor drainage or infertile soil may respond to fer-
mix 25 percent peatmoss, compost or similar organic tilizer. If fertilizer is necessary, it should be applied
material with the existing soil to provide a suitable between mid-October and mid-March.
substitute. The conifers commonly grown in Missouri can be
Winter drying is a problem of all evergreens. The divided into the nine groups described in the following
evergreen foliage may lose moisture in the winter when sections.
cold or frozen soils make it difficult for roots to replace
moisture as fast as it is lost. If the summer or fall has Pine
been dry, thoroughly soak the area around the plants in The pines can be easily
late November so the plants go into winter with an ade- distinguished from other
quate moisture supply to help prevent the problem. Less evergreens because their
winter-hardy evergreens should be planted in areas pro- needle-like leaves are pro-
tected from winter sun and wind to prevent winter duced in bundles of two to
damage and ensure their survival. five needles. Pines are used
Evergreens are sold either balled-and-burlapped or for screens, windbreaks and
in containers. The burlap may be left on the ball for mass plantings or are
planting. Loosen the burlap from around the trunk and planted as specimen trees.
tuck it under the sides of the ball. Be especially careful They need full sunlight to
to remove any string or wire wrapped around the stem. develop properly.
$.75 G 6815 Printed on recycled paper
Figure 4. Mugo pine
Figure 2. Austrian pine. Figure 3. Scotch pine.
Many species of pine can be grown in Missouri. called pine wilt. It is also commonly affected by pine
However, the five species described in the following sec- needle scale and needle blights.
tion are the ones most commonly grown as ornamentals. Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergi). Japanese
Four of these species grow to be large trees. The other black pine produces its stiff, dark green, 3- to 5-inch-long
(mugo pine) is a shrub. needles in bundles of two. Its large, grayish white ter-
White pine (Pinus strobus). The delicate, soft, light minal buds help distinguish it from most other pines.
bluish-green foliage of the white pine makes an attrac- The popularity of Japanese black pine has increased
tive evergreen tree. It is easily recognized because it is during the past few years, primarily because of its
the only commonly grown five-needled pine. White informal growth habit. This irregular growth habit
pine is easily transplanted and fast growing. Since it will makes it a good accent or specimen plant for use in
become a large tree, it needs adequate room to develop informal landscapes but does not make it well suited for
properly. mass plantings. In Japan, forests of this pine species have
On favorable sites, white pine sometimes grows too been susceptible to pine wilt disease.
fast to retain its dense foliage. This can be avoided by Mugo pine (Pinus mugo). Mugo pine is a shrub with
pruning the tree to increase its density. However, in a dense, rounded growth habit (Figure 4). It is an excel-
pruning white pine, note that needles are not produced lent small evergreen shrub. Plants of Mugo pine show
evenly along the stem but are clustered near the tip. a wide variation in shape and vigor. The compact types
When the tip is cut back, some needles must be left on with many stems are the most desirable. Because of its
the remaining portion or the twig will die back to last variability, it is more desirable when grown as a single
year’s growth. For further information on pruning, see plant rather than in masses. Pruning may be necessary
MU publication G 6870, Pruning Ornamental Shrubs. to maintain its desirable growth habit. Mugo pine is sus-
White pine is sensitive to air pollution. Therefore it ceptible to pine needle scale.
is not a good choice for planting in city conditions.
Austrian pine (Pinus nigra). The long, stiff needles Spruce
of Austrian pine are produced in bundles of two. They The needle-like foliage of the spruces is four-angled
are a deep, dark green color that makes the plant excel- in cross section, not flat as with most conifers that pro-
lent to use as a background for small trees with colorful duce their needles singly.
flowers or ornamental fruit. Austrian pine develops into Spruces can be recognized
a large tree and needs adequate room for growth (Figure by the persistent leaf bases
2). It is relatively resistant to air pollutants and will grow that remain on the twigs
on a wide range of soil types. However, it is susceptible after the needles have fallen.
to a serious fungal tip blight disease. Spruces are native to
Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris). Scotch pines can be cool climates and therefore
recognized by their short, twisted needles that are pro- are poorly adapted for
duced in bundles of two. They are commonly grown for growing in most of
Christmas trees (Figure 3). Young trees have a symmet- Missouri. They should be
rical pyramidal shape, but they develop an open pic- planted only on well-
turesque growth habit as they mature. Mature speci- drained soils. Young trees
mens develop a reddish orange flaking bark on upper are attractive with their
branches. Scotch pines are susceptible to a fatal disease dense foliage and symmet-
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Figure 5. Colorado blue Figure 6. Hemlock. Figure 7. Upright yew. Figure 8. Arborvitae.
rical growth habit. The four spruces described in the fol- commonly grown in Missouri.
lowing section are the ones most commonly available in Concolor or white fir (Abies concolor). The concolor
the nursery trade. fir is similar to blue spruce in foliage color and general
Norway spruce (Picea abies). Norway spruce is one form of the tree. It is adapted to the northern one-third
of the fastest growing of all the spruces. As the tree of the state. Because of its greater insect and disease
grows older, the side branches become horizontal with resistance, it may be preferable to blue spruce. We do not
a slight upturn at the tip. Secondary branches hang generally recommend it for
downward from the main branches, giving the tree a other regions of the state.
graceful appearance. The large cones (4 to 6 inches long), Douglas fir (Pseudo-
largest of any of the spruces, are an added attraction in tsuga Menziesi). Douglas fir
years when they are produced. is not a true fir. It belongs to
Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca densata). Black Hills an entirely different genus.
spruce, a slow-growing, compact cultivar, is one of the A Douglas fir can be most
hardiest of the spruces. Its dense green to bluish green easily recognized by its long
foliage is its most ornamental character. pointed buds and its unique
Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’). The cones that have a forked,
dwarf Alberta spruce is a miniature conical shaped tree. papery bract sticking out
It grows very slowly and seldom needs pruning. The from between the scales.
bright green, dense foliage makes it attractive. Its max- The flat needles are grooved
imum size under Missouri conditions seldom exceeds 4 on the upper surface with a
to 5 feet. Alberta spruce is primarily a novelty specimen white band on either side of
plant and seldom is used in basic landscaping. The plant a prominent midrib
is commonly affected by mites, especially when planted beneath. Douglas fir is not
under eaves, where they are sheltered from rainfall. adapted to Missouri condi-
Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens). The blue tions except in deep, well-
spruce is one of the strongest accent plants we have drained soils.
(Figure 5). Because of its stiff growth habit and unusual
color, it stands out wherever it is planted. Placing this tree Hemlock
in a landscape is difficult because it is so dominant. It is Hemlock can be recog-
best used as a single specimen for accent. A blue spruce nized by its short, flat nee-
grows slower than green types and usually commands dles with narrow white
a higher price. It is one of the most difficult conifers to stripes on the underside. Its
grow in our soils and climate. It is susceptible to several small cones are only about
fungal diseaes. one-half inch long. Only one
species of hemlock is com-
Fir monly grown in Missouri
The flat needles of firs leave a round, flat scar when (Figure 6).
they fall from the twig. The cones of firs are borne in an Canada hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Hemlock is one
erect position, while those of most other conifers hang of the most graceful and beautiful of the needled ever-
downward. Concolor fir, described below, is the only fir green trees, but it needs moist, well-drained soil to
G 6815 Page 3
develop properly. It prefers partial shade and should be
Table 1. Approximate mature height of some commonly grown
protected from the wind. It is easy to transplant but
cultivars of yew.
requires a good soil. Hemlock will withstand close
shearing and is one of the better needled evergreens for
growing as a hedge.
Capitata . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 to 8 feet
Hicks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 to 10 feet
Globe-shaped or rounded cultivars
Browni . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 to 6 feet
Chamaecyparis, false cypress
Chamaecyparis, or false cypresses, are variable
Halloran . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 to 5 feet
evergreens. Both tree and shrub forms are available in
a wide variety of foliage colors. They are native to moist
Densiformis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 to 4 feet
climates and therefore are not well adapted to Missouri
Wardi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 to 6 feet
conditions. Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) is the hardiest. Most
Chamaecyparis should be planted in protected loca- ornamental cultivars grown in Missouri are forms of the
tions and in limited quantities on a trial basis rather than intermediate yew (Taxus x media), also known as
as extensive permanent plantings. We do not recom- Anglojap yew, which is a hybrid of the two species men-
mend them for general landscape use. tioned above.
The many cultivars of yew can be divided into three
Cedrus — the true cedars groups: upright, globe-shaped and spreading. Upright
Cedrus, or true cedars, make outstanding landscape yews are usually less than half as wide as they are tall.
plants where they are hardy. In Missouri, they should Globe-shaped or rounded ones are about the same
be planted only in protected locations, except in the width as height. Spreading yews are two to three times
southern third of the state. The needle-like evergreen as wide as they are tall. Some of the most commonly
foliage of true cedars usually is produced in bunches grown cultivars are listed in Table 1.
near the terminals of branches. Cones of true cedars are
borne upright on the upper side of branches. Arborvitae
Because the hardier forms of cedrus are relatively Arborvitae has flat-
slow growing and somewhat difficult to transplant, they tened, scale-like needles
are not commonly available in nurseries. with rounded edges (Figure
8). Its seed is produced in
Yew small cones. It is an easily
Yews are the most popular evergreens being planted propagated, fast-growing
in Missouri (Figure 7). Their plant that is commonly sold
flattened, needle-like leaves in the spring of the year at
are the darkest green and discount prices. Arborvitae
the most ornamental of all can be injured seriously by
the needled evergreen late spring frosts and by
shrubs. Their fleshy red winter drying. It tends to be
fruit, ability to grow in a relatively short-lived
shade and lack of serious plant.
insect or disease pests also
contribute to their popu- Juniper
larity. Seeds and foliage are Junipers have sharp,
toxic to humans and live- pointed, scale-like foliage.
stock. Their fruit is a fleshy blue
The sexes are separate in yews. Male flowers are berry. The sexes are sepa-
produced on one plant and the female flowers on rate, and only female plants
another. Only female plants produce the attractive produce berries.
berries, but both sexes need to be present to ensure fruit Junipers are among the
production. One male plant is generally sufficient to pol- best adapted and hence the
linate six to eight female plants. most commonly grown
Yews will withstand almost any exposure and will evergreens in Missouri.
grow in any reasonably good garden soil that has good They withstand hot, dry,
drainage. They prefer a shaded or partially shaded poor soils better than other
planting site with a moist, well-drained soil. Direct sun- evergreens. Junipers need
light and strong winds may injure the foliage in winter. full sun for best develop-
Among the yews grown as ornamentals, the English ment. None of the junipers
yew (Taxus baccata) is the most ornamental, but the will grow on wet, poorly
G 6815 Page 4
Figure 9. Creeping juniper. Figure 10. Pfitzer juniper.
drained soil or in heavy shade. approximate sizes of some of the most commonly grown
There are hundreds of cultivars of juniper from cultivars of spreading juniper are shown in Table 3. Most
which to choose; they come in all sizes and shapes. The
color varies from yellow-green to green, blue-green, Table 3. The approximate sizes and foliage colors of some
gray-green or silver. Because so many cultivars of
spreading cultivars of junipers.
juniper have been grown, many of the names have Height Spread Foliage color
become confused. For landscape purposes we can
Cultivar (feet) (feet)
divided them into three major groups: prostrate, Compact Pfitzer 3 6 green
spreading, and upright. The cultivars described here are
Blue Pfitzer 3 6 blue
the ones most commonly available.
Armstrong 4 6 blue-green
The prostrate, or creeping junipers (Figure 9), are
Hetz 8 8 light blue
low-growing plants used primarily as ground covers.
Arcadia 2 5 green
Old Gold 3 5 yellow-green
They seldom grow over 18 inches high and will spread
over a large area. The foliage of many prostrate junipers spreading junipers retain the same foliage color year-
changes color during winter. The summer and winter round.
Most upright junipers are actually grown as shrubs.
Table 2. The approximate sizes and foliage colors of some Unless they are heavily sheared, they will quickly out-
grow their intended use. To develop their natural
common prostrate junipers.
beauty, they need to be planted where they have plenty
of room to grow. The foliage color of most upright
Height Spread Summer Winter
Cultivar (inches) (feet) color color
Andorra 18 5 to 8 light green plum
Bar Harbor 10 6 to 8 gray green slate Table 4. Foliage colors of some common cultivars of upright
Blue Chip 8 5 to 8 blue blue junipers.
Blue Rug 6 6 to 8 blue blue
Cultivar Foliage color
Procumbens 10 6 to 8 blue-green blue-green
San Jose 10 6 to 7 gray-green gray-green Blue Heaven . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .powder blue
Sargent (green) 10 6 to 7 green green Burki . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .blue
Sargent (blue) 18 6 to 7 blue blue Canaertii . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .blue-green
Turquoise spreader 6 6 to 8 green green Keteleeri . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .green
Wichita Blue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .light blue
foliage colors and sizes of some common prostrate
Skyrocket . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .green
juniper cultivars are given in Table 2. junipers does not change with the seasons. Colors of
Spreading junipers (see Figure 10) can be divided some of the most common cultivars are given in Table 4.
into two groups. The first group has a horizontal growth Many cultivars of juniper are available in nurseries,
habit that gives the plant a flat-topped appearance. and new ones are always being developed. The lists in
Branches on the second type have an arching pattern of Tables 2, 3 and 4 are just a few of the more commonly
growth that makes a more vase-shaped plant. The available cultivars. You will find many others; some may
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I Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department
OUTREACH & EXTENSION of Agriculture. Ronald J. Turner, Director, Cooperative Extension, University of Missouri and Lincoln University, Columbia, MO 65211. I University
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI Outreach and Extension does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability or status as a Vietnam
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Page 6 G 6815 Reviewed and reprinted 4/03/7M