blue conifers

Nothing punctuates a rich garden like the lively hues of blue conifers. Photo courtesy of P. Farrell

It’s easy to create four seasons of interest using conifers as the “bones” of the garden. Color, texture, form, seasonal changes and cones provide diverse options among conifer cultivars. Whatever landscape situation exists, you’ll find a superlative conifer for that site. Blue conifers add spectacular focal points, and they harmonize beautifully with green or yellow foliage plants.

While there are numerous medium- to large-sized Colorado spruces that can add fabulous blue color to the garden, Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ is perfect for small spaces. This delightful miniature Colorado spruce is a flattened spreader, growing about an inch a year. With such a slow growth rate, it won’t outgrow its place in the garden. We often suggest this for rock gardens and other tight spaces, where it snuggles right into the spot. Its dense growth habit offers a foil for more airy and open plants. For a full sun location this is one of the best small blue conifers.

Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica ‘Glauca Compacta’ provides a visual feast for the eyes. This slow-growing form of Rocky Mountain fir forms a dense irregular pyramid with rich silver-blue needles. It develops a heavy trunk with attractive whitish bark. Homeowners are attracted to the flat needles and outstanding color.

We find that this fir works well on the east side of a building or other area where the hot afternoon sun is blocked out. It thrives in morning sun and will grow 3 feet every 10 years. The upright habit makes for a diminutive vertical accent.

Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica ‘Glauca’
Photo courtesy of E. Wiegand

Abies concolor ‘Glauca Compacta’
Photo courtesy of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery

Abies concolor ‘Blue Cloak’
Photo courtesy of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery

Abies koreana ‘Glauca’
Photo courtesy of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery

Abies concolor cultivars feature a fleshy needle that is a crowd pleaser! And if you break the needle in half, you’ll get a whiff of citrus scent. A newer blue variety that gardeners rave about is A. concolor ‘Blue Cloak’. This white fir is a dense, narrow specimen with downward-hanging branches on a strong upright leader. The mantle of powder puff blue foliage is striking. This tree is indeed a unique garden maker. It will grow 4 to 5 feet every 10 years, so give this beauty room to grow.

New spring foliage brings a hint of contrast to blue conifers. Like many firs, A. concolor ‘Glauca Compacta’ pushes out light green feathery needles. Enjoy this brief change of color before the new foliage takes on a bright blue flat shape. This irregular compact form of white fir grows about 3 feet every 10 years. Protect it from hot afternoon sun and you’ll have a delightful blue conifer.

Another flat-needled fir is Abies koreana ‘Glauca’. The botanical term ‘glauca’ refers to blue color, and this fir has stunning, steely blue needles. The upright purple cones in spring will take your breath away. This blue Korean fir is a must for any site that has morning sun only. It forms a pyramidal tree and grows 3 to 4 feet every 10 years. Korean firs are underused in the landscape, but they provide great texture, color and form in the correct application. We cannot stress enough that all A. koreana cultivars must be protected from the hot afternoon sun. Keep the roots cool and use coarse bark mulch.

Always a garden favorite, Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ grows tall and extremely narrow. This is a blue cultivar of the white spruce with a very unique look. Pendulous branches form hoop-skirt like layers along a straight trunk. The tree’s small footprint makes it perfect for tight spaces, as long as height is not an issue. This graceful spruce will grow 5 feet every 10 years, and will be a spectacular specimen in time. Use it as a focal point of the garden. All P. glauca cultivars like full sun and can tolerate the hot afternoon sun.

Don’t be afraid to use blue as a pleasing alternative to green conifers. There are many more sizes and shapes of conifers to suit a multitude of landscaping needs.

Picea glauca ‘Pendula’
Photo courtesy of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery