dwarf evergreens for attic-level deck in zone 6a

wispfox(6a)April 3, 2011

Hello all!

We recently purchased a new house, and are hoping to put some potted evergreens on the attic-level deck.

I suspect that we want dwarf trees, simply because we will need to keep them in pots. We would prefer to be able to leave them out all winter in zone 6a. However, we are near - but not at - the top of a hill, and the deck is two stories up. So there's a fair bit of wind.

The deck gets a lot of sun in the afternoons, and possibly late mornings as well. The deck is behind my office, so the rest of the 3rd floor on one side, and has a small amount of shelter but not light-blocking on the other side. I get a lot of light in my office through the glass sliding doors in the afternoons, which is why I know it gets a lot of light out there then. I suspect - but cannot recall - that there's also light earlier in the day, it's just not getting into my office.

We're also hoping to not have much for needle or leaf drop (presuming that they remain healthy), thus conifers and not deciduous trees.

Any suggestions?

Thank you!


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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Abies lasiocarpa

Abies veitchii

Picea pungens
'Regal Chub'

Picea abies
'Uncle Stan'
'Perry's Gold'

Picea glauca
'Burning Well'

Pinus mugo
'Carstens' aka 'Carsten's Wintergold'

There's a link below to a guy who sells wonderful conifers and you won't be disappointed.


Here is a link that might be useful: Coenosium Gardens

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 8:47PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


link below to INTRO TO CONIFERS ....

check out annual growth rates ...

i THINK ... you are using dwarf generically ... i am thinking you might want conifers with a MINI growth rate ...

how big is the deck???


how big of pots are you contemplating???

i think your biggest problem MIGHT be wintering them over in pots in your zone ... but we can leave that for late in fall ...

this is how i explain it.. if momma is a 375 foot redwood.. a dwarf of her could be a mere 250 feet.. just because her growth rate will be proportionally slower ... but being trees.. they never really stop growing ...

if a dwarf grows up to 6 inches per year.. in 10 years.. you can have a 5 foot tree ...

but a mini.. growing at 1 to 3 inches per year.. is going to be much more favorable to a confined space.. in the next decade or two ...

perhaps.. with a deck.. you are not concerned with what will happen in the next 10 or 20 years .... but you should at least be aware ...

more info on the project.. and even better would be a pic for me to see where we are talking about


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:10AM
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Dax: thank you for the suggestions! Will definitely take a look.

Ken: I was actually thinking dwarf, not mini. We were thinking that we could trim the trees to keep them at a reasonable height, so the link you gave will help a lot on that front!

I'm not sure of pot size, as I was thinking that it would really depend on the tree's needs and on what needs to happen in order to survive the winter.

I thought I mentioned in the initial post, but there is a _lot_ of sunlight, as there is nothing above the deck at all. There is only light blocking on one side (the sliding door side), as the opposite size isn't particularly tall, and there's only railings on the remaining two sides.

What sort of photos would be helpful? I presume that you're interested in the appearance of the deck, but not precisely what.

Dimensions are approximately: 112"x210", with the height on three sides being 38" (the side opposite the sliding door has a tiny bit that is higher than that in the center). The fourth side is the attic. The deck is on an addition that is only two stories high, you see.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 3:24PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

a two hundred and ten foot deck??? oops... inches eh?? ....9 feet by 17 feet ....

my wintergold.. whether or not it is carsens.. is 3 foot high by 4 feet wide.. in just a few years .... not many dwarf conifers are going to eat up that space pretty fast ...

pot weight is not an issue???

do you not have a garden below.. that you could plant conifers in.. and gaze down upon ...

sounds like a neat idea ... and i would suggest you go with cheap wallyworld conifers this summer and winter.. and if you can get them to winter over and thrive.. move into pricier conifers in the future ...

finding a plant.. is going to be one of the minor challenges in growing TREES [yes that is what they are] in pots for the long term... in my world.. experiment with cheap and disposable.. and once the learning curve is up.. move on to the pricier ones ...

how about some little picea glauca conica.. aka dwarf alberta spruce.. [cant believe you are the first i am recommending them to.. lol] ..

your hurdles will be, name of plant aside :

proper pot media
proper drainage
proper watering
proper fall prep
and good luck with winter ...

ever consider taking up bonsai.. now that is how to grow a forest on a roof ....


    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 5:04PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Those reasons (Ken) are why I referenced the plants this person is "putting outdoors" as all being around zone 2, 3 for winter-hardiness. And Picea pungens survives drought, responsibly.

This person will choose planters that are foam insulated I am quite sure. As to mix, a perfect choice are the ingredients to packaged "bonsai mix". Every now and then during winter they can water if the pots are becoming severely dry... but the idea is to throw snow over them as often as possible, & always have them mulched.

That's what I think should be done............... whatcha think Ken?


    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 5:21PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Suzanne, do you have room in the yard to put things that outgrow their pots? If so, your options widen. Also, if you use a pot within a pot you could overwinter them in the ground which has a much higher success rate and allows for less hardy plants. Finally, what were you looking to achieve with the plants? Screening, just some green, something out of the ordinary? And what size did you envision there?


    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 6:16PM
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Weight shouldn't be a huge issue; the previous owners had a hot tub up there. I doubt the trees plus dirt - even when recently watered - would be more weight than a hottub full of water. It took up about 1/3 of the space on the deck.

Does sound like lots of dwarf trees are wider than tall. I presume that one can prune in order to reduce this, though.

I believe that the reason we want trees up there is for wind blocking and privacy, as well as pretty. I will double-check, though! I actually wonder if it might be better to look at some other type of plant for wind/privacy/pretty up there, upon reflection. I know we also wanted to avoid plants that would drop their leaves all over everything come winter.

We were in fact thinking cheap conifers this year; probably from Home Depot. Does make sense to try that first, especially since we're not sure if they'd make it through the winter!

Dwarf alberta spruce may be one of the ones we were looking at at Home Depot; can't recall.

I was actually kind of thinking that this was very similar to bonsai. When I was first investigating, before posting here, I was following the many links relating to trees in containers, which led to soil drainage and the other related posts by Al throughout this site. I haven't yet gotten the courage to try to _find_ the necessary ingredients, though. Bonsai mix would probably be easier to find!

Foam insulated planters makes complete sense! I wasn't sure what, but figured that there must be some way to help improve the chances for a plant to survive. :) I figured as far as the snow and the mulch, in terms of reducing heat and moisture loss.

Garden: yes, well-established. There's two conifers that I can think of offhand, both the same type. I don't know what they are, but they have yellow-green, fairly short needles, and are soft to touch and kind of... droopy? Not terribly helpful, I know. :)

Being well-established, I don't yet know where we might be willing/interested in putting in trees that outgrow their pots. As such, I was hoping to not presume that we would be able to do that. Overwintering in the ground might... actually be possible. Even if we don't leave them there, that does sound potentially work-able!

Size, I think probably 4-6' or so. Guessing. I really need to go ping my housemates and get more details, clearly.

Thank you all! This is certainly giving me lots of think about, as well as specific ideas of what to try. :)


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 7:44PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Concrete planters and if you were to build wooden boxes that house larger styrofoam, containers..... you could keep them there year-round.

If and when they become potbound, you'll easily know because, they won't absorb water as they should. Fall is the time to root-prune, then re-pot them to their original, containers.

When you want to shape or prune, allow the new buds to expand the growth (spring of course) and pinch the shoot off above (a needle). As long as you have a needle on the new, soft growth, a bud will set for the following year.

I hope this encourages you to add dwarf conifers and miniatures, to your patio garden.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 8:43PM
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FYI, yes, the reasons for the tree desires were, in order, green plant-company & deck appearance improvement, wind blocking, and privacy.

So, yeah. No idea if trees are necessarily the only or best choice. :)

Dax: concrete planters placed within styrofoam containers within wooden boxes? Is that the order you were thinking? :)

Fall for root-pruning, spring for pruning above-ground? Surprised by the fall root-pruning!


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 9:13PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Concrete on their own. Styrofoam in wooden boxes. Fall-pruning indeed. Just as I wrote.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:02AM
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