8 Conifers that Perform well in North Carolina
Planting conifers in your garden provides year-round interest of color, texture, and form. Unfortunately, there’s a myth going around that conifers won’t grow in our soil and climate. While this may be true for many conifers, there are a great number of conifers that perform well in North Carolina. See our favorite ten species for our area, and how to grow them, below:
1. Cedrus deodora (Deodor Cedar)
Deodar Cedar is the most tolerant of true cedars for the hot and humid summers of the South. A fast grower, it can reach 50-60 feet in height. This large, pyramidal tree has gray-green foliage and a graceful, weeping habit. Deodar Cedar makes a great specimen tree for large yards. Plant in moist but well-drained soil in full sun for best growth.
‘Gold Cone’ – golden yellow outer needles and blue-green inner needles. Narrower that many other cultivars, Gold Cone reaches 25’H x 15’W.
‘Feelin’ Blue’ – This blue-green cultivar has a unique spreading form, reaching only 4’H x 6’W.
‘Kashmir’ – The classic Deodar Cedar with blue-green foliage and arching, pendulous branches. 25’H x 15’W.
2. Chamaecyparis obtusa (Hinoki Cypress)
One of the most popular Chamaecyparis, there are more than 200 cultivars of this species. It’s spreading branches feature scale-like leaves with white markings, often drooping at the end. Dwarf cultivars make great specimens or accents in the home landscape, while larger selections can be used as foundation plants or screening. Grow well-drained but moist soil in full sun to part shade for best success.
‘Confucius’ – The feathery foliage displays a range of color from bright yellow to shades of gold and green. Form is upright. At maturity it reaches 12’H x 8’W
‘Iseli Green’ – This cultivar grows into a graceful, upright tree with characteristic scale-like leaves with white markings. 20’H x 15’W
‘Spiralis’ – Spiraling branches give this cultivar a dramatic effect in the garden. Its narrow habit and slow growth make it great in container gardens. 4’H x 3’W
‘Thoweil’ – This cultivar makes a great specimen due to its sculpted look. Dark green and upright, it reaches 6’Hx2’W at maturity.
3. Cephalotaxus harringtonia (Japanese Plum Yew)
True yews don’t perform well in our hot, humid climate, but fortunately the Japanese Plum Yew, similar in appearance, is much more heat tolerant. Native to the woodlands of Japan, it has excellent shade tolerance and is suitable in the naturalized shade garden or as a foundation plant on the north side of your home. Plum yews are drought-tolerant once established but prefer moist, well-drained soil for the best growth.
‘Prostrata’ – A dwarf, spreading cultivar, Prostrata makes a great foundation plant or in mass plantings. New foliage emerges yellow-green, developing to dark green as the season progresses. 3’H x 4’W.
‘Duke Gardens’ – This cultivar has a mounding habit, making it ideal for low hedges or foundations. Like Prostrata, new foliage emerges bright yellow-green. 4’-6’H x 4’-6’W
3. Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar)
This stately tree is the national tree of Japan, but highly adaptable to North Carolina’s climate. Cultivars range from dwarf to large tree. Their preference for acidic soil ensures they thrive in the Piedmont. Foliage may bronze somewhat during winter months, depending on the cultivar. Grow in moist, well-drained soil in full sun.
‘Globosa Nana’ – A dwarf cultivar with a unique globe-shaped habit and dense foliage. 4’-6’H x 5’-6’W.
‘Yoshino’ – This cultivar is commonly used as an alternative for Leyland Cypress. Reaching 30’-40’ feet tall, Yoshino makes a great screening tree.
4. Cupressus arizonica var. glabra (Arizona Cypress)
Although most cypress are not suitable for in our region, arizonica var. glabra is tolerant of both heat and dry clay, making it an excellent conifer for North Carolina. It is native to the southwestern US and Mexico. Foliage is a lovely blue-green, making it a good alternative to blue spruce, which is harder to grow here. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun.
‘Raywood’s Weeping’ – The weeping habit of this Arizona Cypress makes it an interesting addition to any garden. Its delicate blue-green foliage are scattered with white specks. 25’H x 15’W.
‘Blue Steel’ – An excellent landscape specimen for large spaces or screening. 30’H x 20’W
5. Juniperus chinensis (Chinese Juniper)
This Asian native can grow up to 50’ tall in its homeland, but in the South you’ll mostly find shorter and spreading specimens. Excepting the junipers native to our region, Chinese Juniper is the best for the Southern home landscape. They are tolerant of a variety of soil types, from heavy clay to dry soil, as well as tolerant of light shade (although they prefer full sun).
‘Trautman’ – The perfect substitution for Italian Cypress in our climate. With blue-green foliage and an upright form, Trautman makes a great screening plant or specimen. 15’H x 4’W
6. Picea abies (Norway Spruce)
Norway Spruce, popular as a Christmas Tree, is one of the most planted spruces in the world. By far you’ll find the most spruce cultivars available in the South to be of this species. They grow well in zones 6- 7b of the South, need well-drained soil and full sun.
‘Acrocona’ – This pyramidal conifer develops raspberry-red cones on the tips of branches in spring. 12’H x 8’W
‘Blaze’ – This dwarf flushes out with ruby-red tips in spring. Summer foliage deepens to red, then flushes out green again. 8’H x 6’W.
‘Pendula’ – Stake and grow as an upright, weeping specimen, or let grow as a groundcover.
‘Pusch’ – This cultivar produces red cones in spring. When young, habit is globose, but with age develops a broad, upright shape. 2’H x 3’W
‘The Limey’ – New foliage emerges lemon-lime in spring. In summer, the topsides of needles remain yellow while the undersides develop a lime-green color. 15’H x 12’W
7. Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine)
Native to Northeastern US, Eastern White Pine is a fast-growing conifer that grows pyramidal to oval shaped. In zone 7, it benefits from light shade. It thrives on the slightly acidic soil of North Carolina, but make sure you have good drainage.
‘Angel Falls’ – weeping habit, blue-green color. Works as a great focal point in the landscape. Height varies depending on culture. Stake to reach desired height.
‘Blue Shag’ – A dwarf cultivar with long, soft foliage and a rounded form. 4’H x 4’W
‘Mini Twists’ – small twisted and curvy needles. 6’H x 4’W
8. Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress)
A native to our region, bald cypress is one of the most majestic conifers you’ll find here. Naturally growing in swamps, it is adaptable to wet areas of the home landscape where other plants are difficult to establish, or rain gardens. At maturity, the trunk has a fluted base, creating a unique appearance. One of the few conifers that loses its leaves over winter, it turns a brilliant orange-bronze in fall. Grow in full sun.