The best online conifer nursery? Reviews here...

firefightergardener(7/8)October 15, 2013

So I received an email from Ken today bringing up a post about conifer nurseries and their reviews. I think this is one of the greatest advantages of modern media and forums like this because we can discuss our experiences, share photos and of course you can find just about any plant you want as long as you don't mind paying for what you get.

I have some time this morning so I'm putting together another review, though this is more condensed and based more on six years of ordering from conifer nurseries(and over 2,000 conifers) and it would be great if people could add their own reviews and/or experiences.

I will also include links below reviews to the conifer nursery reviews I created about three years ago, for those wanting perhaps more detail or photos with plant sizes/price, though that is subject to change and may not be accurate to today's market.

I'm going to order these in *roughly* the order I would use them today, if I were starting to collect anew though opinions are subjective, please don't think that my '10th ranked nursery' is a bad nursery. In total I've ordered and had experience with about 20 nurseries online, so every nursery listed here was 'above average', at least compared to the competition.

Also one more note before the list. Coenosium Gardens is operated by Bob Fincham who recently suffered the tragic loss of his life long love and business partner, Dianne Fincham. No doubt when Bob begins to offer plants again Coenosium would fit in with the top nurseries I've used before. In respect to Dianne and to allow Bob the time he needs to heal, I've left Coenosium from this list. We all look forward to Bob coming back to doing what he likes best, working with conifers.

1. Conifer Kingdom
What's to like? Huge, very rare selection, large variety in some cases of size of plant offered, good bang for your buck, exceptional plant quality, good sale promotions, excellent shipping record, newer business, cutting edge new offerings and constantly updating inventory.
Original review

2. Western Evergreen Nursery
What's to like? Probably the best bang for your buck out there, good selection, exceptional plant quality, some very rare offerings, discounted quantity orders(wholesale), some unique offerings(owner is a seedling/broom hunter), new offerings each year, some unique to this nursery.
Original reviews

3. Bethlehem Nursery
What's to like? Extremely rare offerings, small plants but fair prices, good shipping record, great way to start small with new plants(only ships baby plants), great sciadopitys source, constantly offering rare and new offerings.
It's worth noting the owner has had some weather problems the last few years and is a mostly one-man operator, so be patient if you contact him.
Original review

4. Porterhowse Farms
What's to like? Probably the most comprehensive selection of conifers in the U.S., good plant quality, decent bang for your buck, plants in either ban pots or gallons, tried and true nursery(25 years experience).
Original review

5. Stanley and Sons
What's to like? Enormous selection, very small plants but at wholesale prices, worth noting you have to have a business license or ACS member to shop, safe, very fast shipping, plant selection varies by the time of the year, good overall plant quality. Don't expect plant guarantees when you're paying these prices.
Original review

6. Bloom River Nursery
What's to like? Pretty rare and unusual selections though overall selection list isn't very large, wide variety of sizes offered, will ship huge plants, decent price/value ratio, safe shipping and good customer support.
Original review

7. Cloud Mountain Farm
What's to like? Good plant quality, some rare offerings, prices aren't too great but plant size is, no problems with shipping.
Original review

8. Forest Farms
What's to like? More for species trees, forest farms has a very nice selection of rare plant species that you often can't find anywhere else. Rare firs, spruce, pines, yews, etc. Prices are decent, plants are solid sized and they do offer some large 5-10 gallon plants, super shipping and customer support. Not a good option for conifer cultivars...
Original review

9. Girard's Nursery
What's to like? Decent selection, good price ratio, some rare offerings, frequent sales, plant quality unfortunately not great, shipping reasonable.
Original review

  1. Whistling Gardens Nursery
    What's to like? Great selection including many older varieties rarely found, decent prices and offerings of ban pots/bare root plants, decent plant quality. The biggest problem here frankly is that you have to deal with customs/inspections because this nursery is in Canada. Obviously a great option for Canucks. :)
    Original review

Honorable mention: Gee's nursery & Arrowhead alpines. I have never ordered from either of these nurseries but I'd like to. They both have very large selections, rare choice, old-world cultivars and wide varieties of sizes offered. I have not ordered because I've been told they won't ship to the West coast.

Add your own list or experiences. It's our combined knowledge that makes us informed, intelligent consumers.


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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

of those i have ordered from in this list.. lets be very clear ...

these businesses are a labor of love... one and two man places ...

they do not have a staff to be sitting near a phone.. or spending 24/7 on the computer ... etc ... [though the younger punks with newer technology are pretty on top of it, compared to the old way ... e.g. : mimeograph a list from the back of a tree magazine.. and send in your A&P stamps in payment.. lol ... ahhhh remember in school when they made a mimeograh quiz.. and the first thing everyone did on getting it in their hands ...... was take a deep breath.. and get that quiz buzz... lol .....]

if you think in conifer/tree growth terms ..... these things grow in slow motion.. so expect the customer service to be the same... lol ...

whether you get your plant next week.. or a week later.. in a decade or two.. while you are still enjoying your conifer.. who will care how long it takes...

===>>>> and i want to repeat this part:

please don't think that my '10th ranked nursery' is a bad nursery. In total I've ordered and had experience with about 20 nurseries online, so every nursery listed here was 'above average', at least compared to the competition.

===>>> the worst of these.. leaves out the other hundred ... the ones no one ever heard of.. and for good reason.. and note.. none of them are ebay .. lol ...

i am sorely tempted.. to bump up all the old posts .... any reason why not???


ps: and will left out edwin.. i suppose for the only reason ..... that he has not tried legally importing from the the other side of the world yet .... there is a limit to the cost/benefit ratio .....

pps: THANKS WILL ... i didnt expect you to retype it all ..... you da man ....

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:41PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

All of these certainly have their niche but the top two are certainly the power houses for conifer mail order. Conifer kingdom catering to a wider selection and Western Evergreen making collecting affordable.

Only negative comments I would have are for Forest Farm and Girards and would put them at the bottom, sorry! Forest Farm because of their shipping costs, which are straight up hilarious. Then Girards due to extremely poor quality ranging from road kill plants and plants not true to the cultivar name. They've cut back on their offerings dramatically. No idea on the quality of their deciduous plants.

Three to add would the be the obvious Broken Arrow Nursery, Song Sparrow and Iconic Gardens.

A few not so obvious would be Blue River Nursery, Oriental Garden Supply and Dans Dwarf Conifers.

So my top 10
1. Tie - Western Evergreen / Conifer Kingdom
2. Oriental Garden Supply
3. Coenosium
4. Stanley and Sons
5. Iconic Gardens
6. Dans Dwarf Conifers
7. Song Sparrow (gotta back up my WI friends!)
8. Broken Arrow Nursery
9. Blue (not Bloom) River Nursery

  1. Topiary Gardens (need to contact her for listing)
    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 8:06PM
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fairfield8619(Zone 8 NW LA)

I always order something from FF each year and have generally been happy. They are sometimes the only place to find something, especially things other than conifers, but man the shipping is steep! I just received five gallon containers from All Season Plants and the shipping was about little more than half of FF I think, they are west coast too. I don't know why they are so high. They are nice to deal with though.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 12:01AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Hadn't heard of All Season Plants before but they seem to have a nice site.

Although a conifer topic I'd like to see a decidious list as well.

Gossler Farms is one of my favories. I'm strating to see some Conifer mail order open up to things beyond JMs...for example Coenosium had quite a few nice Beech selections this year.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 2:00PM
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I'll add in my two cents. I would break down online nurseries into two camps. There are those offering primarily starter plants: Coenosium, Bethlehem, and Stanley and Sons. These are mostly 1-3 year grafts, and will not look like much at first, but they're a great way for the collector to acquire plants in quantity. Most folks here are familiar with Coenosium, if not, they've got a great website with loads of information. They have introduced countless selections which are now "must have" plants. It's also worth mentioning that Bob's plants are never root-bound.

If your an ACS member, Stanley and Sons is another great option. With wholesale pricing and great selection of rare plants unavailable elsewhere, this is a no-brainer. There's a minimum purchase of at least 15 plants though. Also, plants are listed once a year in the early summer and fly off the shelves like hotcakes. Many are sold out in a matter of days so if you're not paying attention, you'll miss out on all the interesting selections.

The other large bucket includes mail-order companies offering larger sizes of plants (often in addition to bands). Here I agree with Will and Will: top choices here are without a doubt Western Evergreen and Conifer Kingdom. In my book, Western Evergreen takes the cake for overall best value. Jason's plants are outstanding, it's clear he spends a lot of effort caring for them so they look their best. This is particularly true for 1 gallon and larger plants. Conifer Kingdom has received a lot of accolades here lately their selection is second to none; I tried them out for the first time this fall and was very happy with the plants I received. They list lots of very rare plants though you'll pay up for them; on the other hand, there are lots of reasonably priced plants on their website as well. One very noteworthy fact is that they graft Abies selections on either bornmuelleriana or firma, understocks that are appropriate for most regions of the country (okay, not in the southeast). I have the feeling they'll be my go-to source for firs going forward. Porterhowse Farms is another winner which fits into this category.

90% of my plant orders (conifer cultivars) go to one of the above companies. Some thoughts about the other companies.

Bloom River: high quality plants, always expensive, but I'd order from them again for reliable and top notch plants.

Cloud Mountain Farm: anything reasonably priced is propagated from cuttings. I've tried a few and have been happy with what I've got. Good selection of Tsuga. Grafted plants are available but overpriced.

Forest Farm: Ditto to the shipping fee complaints. The last time I looked several years ago, the price to ship a single 5 gal plant was $60. The shipping fee is not bad for a single 1 gal plant. For two 1 gal plants, it was cheaper to place to separate orders than a single order with the 2 plants!

Girards Nursery: A few years back you could get low quality plants for a modest price. Now they've raised their prices, perhaps as a result of having to replace so much of the shoddy stock they send. Also, their use of nomenclature is abysmal. If you want a really common plant in a 1 gal (think C. nootkatensis 'Pendula') it might be worth looking at but otherwise I'd avoid them.

Whistling Gardens: If I'm not mistaken, they stopped shipping to the U.S. a few years back.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 9:46AM
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bluecone(Central Texas8b)

For inexpensive seed-sown conifer seedlings (mostly wildtype species that grow in size to their full glory):

Lawyer Nursery
Good info on seed provenance, hence can be picky about drought/heat/cold/soil tolerance and color characteristics.

Musser Forests
Good for Christmas tree seedlings

If you're in Europe:

Milan Havlis
Hard-to-find cultivars

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 11:11AM
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Ive dealt with alot of mail order trees over the years. Heres a first time order from Singing Tree Gardens out of California....3 Calluna 'Firefly' and a Pinus nigra 'Komet'. Coast to coast.....I would give them an A+

Also got a larger order from Conifer Kingdom that was just as good also!


    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 11:25AM
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billb(Zn5 OH)

Nice thread! Thanks

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 12:11PM
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fairfield8619(Zone 8 NW LA)

These are the plants from All Seasons. Nothing rare or outstanding but they seem ok, the magnolia is rootbound of course but not too bad, I think it can be fixed.
Magnolia 'Merrill'
variegated box
Cedrus atlantica 'Fastigiata'

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 2:03PM
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Well, I received an order today from Evergreen Plant Nursery, TN (careful there are other nurseries by the same name in other states).

These are size #1 Green Giants. They have a good selection, but they will not satisfy a need for many exotics. I don't think you will find a better value anywhere or better service.

Coffee cup for scale. They are all 20-22 inches tall and in perfect shape. $5.95 each. If you find what you want, I think this place would be hard to beat.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 2:38PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

As far as Conifer Kingdom and Porterhowse, how are the root systems on their grafted conifers? Good/passable? Or do they have issues? I get nervous about grafted conifers having badly deformed root systems.

P.S. Maple Grove...I thought A. firma IS a good rootstock for the southeast! That is one reason I am looking at Conifer Kingdom. Here in MD anything on nordmanniana or bornmuelleriana is probably OK too, but not balsamea.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 10:52AM
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cococo(7 Nashville)

I have almost exclusively switched to Conifer Kingdom. I believe the plant size selection and bang for the buck is great. In addition they have always been quick to respond to questions. I have never lost a plant purchased from CK.The root systems are well developed. They also have a ever changing selection of BP's of the newer offerings.Often a free maple is included as a gift.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 3:00PM
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Hairmetal: to clarify, good for MD, sure. Good for Alabama, Florida, etc., maybe not so much.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 1:25PM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Based on what I have seen here the blue cedar will have a stake due to a deformed rootstock being used, and the tops of the box are plenty big enough for their roots to be matted - the magnolia will not be the only one that needs work at planting.

With deciduous magnolias it appears you want to be subjecting them to root damage only when they are in leaf. Otherwise they may just sit there and rot.

When a potted plant has the correct proportion between top and roots the top looks undersized to many consumers. This and growers not keeping up with potting on anyway results in under-potted stock being the general situation in the retail setting. Loosening up the outside of a matted root system is not too hard to deal with; corkscrew roots, hard woody root turnips and other severe deformities in the center of the root mass, right below the crown - resulting from stock being left in bands, liners or 4" pots way too long at production facilities - is a different story, and just the thing to spoil a woody specimen after it has grown for many years and made a nice big top. Tall, fast growers like cypresses or pines may even break loose and go over, when part of the root system is caught up in going around and around - instead of all of the main roots immediately leaving the vicinity of the trunk and radiating outward to their full lengths and forming a good anchorage.

This post was edited by bboy on Tue, Dec 31, 13 at 16:38

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 4:32PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Its always going to vary based upon the genus, species, cultivar and understock vigor. PInes are the worst in my opinion.

Best you can do is select nurseries that tend to up-pot and secondly use good media. Most all listed do well with up-potting.

Going specifically off media, Western Evergreen gets top dog as they use fir bark. The root systems just grow better in that media. Just my experience thus far.

Western Evergreen and Conifer Kingdom are my main go to options. Broken Arrow Nursery is probably next for best root systems but their conifer selection is somewhat limited.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 4:55PM
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fairfield8619(Zone 8 NW LA)

The blue cedar has been planted and was fine no "turnip" and suprisingly not bound up. The magnolia was pretty bad and was planted while in leaf although they're planted here in the winter all the time and are are usually bullet proof. It must the cold soil temps that you have, all year in fact, coupled with constant wet in the winter. We don't have that here.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 4:59PM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

We don't have particularly cold soils, as far as it goes, or constant wet during the winter.

There used to be a web site up called something like "Seattle Zone 9".

Deciduous magnolia roots not being active, being prone to rot when the top is dormant is a feature of the trees that has nothing to do with where I live.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 9:01PM
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fairfield8619(Zone 8 NW LA)

Compared to here you do have cold soil and wet throughout the winter and it never really warms up to promote root activity. And with 19-20 rainy days per weatherbase in dec-jan I certainly consider that constant wet. You have double what we have here. "Seattle Zone 9" really? Maybe Zone 9 west, completely different I think. Between precipitation in winter we dry out and the dewpoint plummets and we have brilliant sunshine, sometimes for a week or more. You're really not going to tell me that happens there too are you? We plant magnolias all winter along with most hardy plants and we often have to water them as well.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 1:40AM
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