please help deciding on conifers.

ttonk(OH 6A)November 25, 2013

I'm finally done with planting deciduous trees and moving on to evergreen conifers. I'm limited by the size of the space. I have two maples (20' apart). They are still small. I am trying to squeeze two conifers into the 20' space in between.

I've been recommended
1) White fir (Abies Concolor),
2) Colorado blue spruce (either the regular? one or Hoopsii), 3) Black hills spruce
4) Hemlocks

I was told that white firs would be the most tolerant to the soil condition (clay, alkaline), but they all would do just fine. I agree that I won't go wrong with any of these.

I'm curious as to what your thoughts are on goods and bads, especially about their looks. Are there any maintenance concerns that I have to be aware of..e.g. I have to pick up cones all the time.. or they look bad at certain time of the year, etc. I don't have any blue color around so leaning toward blue spruces.

I know these are not really cultivar names and wonder if you would recommend any specific cultivars. But I'm limited by the local nursery wholesaler's stock items. I guess I can only get very small ones if I mail order.

This post was edited by ttonk on Tue, Dec 3, 13 at 13:56

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i think that even one evergreen between those 2 maples would be crowding it. These maples are 20 feet apart, planted about 10 years ago. If you want privacy now, you could build a fence or plant some fast growing shrubs that you could remove when the maples are bigger.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 7:02PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

What do you want in your yard?
I would think privacy first. Low maintenance and budget are close seconds.
Conifers should be first in your plans, then deciduous trees. Conifers are your bones, as in framework. Then you build on that structure. You're looking at it in a piecemeal fashion and picking a conifer in a secondary role is not the way to go.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 8:58PM
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I would plant something generic (i.e Big box store Arb) in between the two maples for privacy. Normally I wouldn't recommend buying for instant gratification, but in this case I think it would be merited due to the lack of privacy. You could always limb up those maples to accommodate the hedge. At the big box store you will likley find Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd', which are multi-leader and terrible with snow load. If you get a lot of snow, you might want to search for a better single leader alternative like Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire' or maybe even a globe variety if you don't need too much height.

Then, if you really get interested in conifers, you could create a nice new bed over by the foundation to plant some unique, mail order speciments that could grow over time. The species/cultivars you mentioned above get huge and are not appropriate for your yard. Luckily, there are many exciting dwarf versions of those varieties to chose from. In the image I have displayed:
-Abies concolor `Archer's Dwarf' (blue, left)
-Tsuga canadensis 'Cole's Prostrate' (green, middle)
-Picea abies 'Gold Drift' (yellow, right)

If you get conifer crazy like the rest of us, you could add a bunch of dwarf/mini conifers to the bed as well.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 9:21PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Who are you talking to that said Abies concolor is more tolerant of clay soils than the others? Completely false.

How far off is the lot line in which you plan to plant?

Unless this is a temporary planting you'll have to select a squat evergreen that is part shade tolerant An example would be Picea abies 'Acrocona'.

Mike's advice is right on but may be water under the bridge at this point for you...or is it? It took me two homes before I realized this.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 9:50PM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

Thanks all.
To answer your qs.
@nurseryman33: Should I go for just one large conifer then? Shrubs won't be tall my setting. But I actually thought about maiden grasses.

@Mike: Thanks. Yes. it's something I really didn't whaas said. Water under the bridge. But you're right on. Privacy (or more like softening the view) is the main concern.

@SC77. That is my neighbor's house you planted nice conifers for. :-) I'd love to create a conifer bed like that someday!! I'll revisit Thuja occidentalis. I scratched it from the list thinking I need color contrast from the background lawn, but if I go back to them, how many would I need?

@Whaas Saw that info from some web site. Don't remember where.. I have about 15-20' space from the patio wall to the property line. The yard behind the wall slopes down and then slopes up from the property line. All the green you see in the pic is the neighbor's lawn. I thought I'd plant them in the middle (approx 10' from the property line). This is a side view.

This post was edited by ttonk on Fri, Feb 28, 14 at 16:02

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 10:16PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


did i miss where north and south are?? future sunlight patterns ???

frankly ... those two trees and the shrub there.. you are done out there ... in my estimate ... you are thinking inside a box ... lets look outside the box that contains the grass ....

all you are left with.. is wringing the patio ... perhaps with some trellises ... and some fast growing vines ...

as shade takes over .... those will have to be manipulated due to shade demands ...

around the patio.. you can do something like at the pic below ...

mail order all the conifers ...


    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 6:57AM
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With two huge maples in my front yard that started life about the same size as yours, I would recommend cutting them down and ripping out the roots. In time they will destroy your front lawn, you will be left with no privacy except a couple of trunks.

My opinion anyway...but based on experience. Maples are beautiful, if you have a lot of space and you can sacrifice it and you don't mind raking leaves.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 8:10AM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

In the first pic, i am facing west. Those tree spots are sunny almost all day from later in the morning. The house in the pic shades them from late afternoon. In the second pic, i am facing north.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 9:39AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Why the hell do people rake leaves?lol

Mulch them...they add organic matter to the lawn. Earthworms consume the mulched leaves further helping with aeration of your lawn which helps with compaction and water absorbtion. Let mother nature do the work for you.

ttonk, off the cuff I'd be putting three semi-upright yews in there if you want to maintain those maples there for shade and fall color. You just don't have the space otherwise.

You will need something as long term as the maples. Yews fit the bill in my mind. Once those maples get going you're going to have a heck of a time planting anything in their root sytems.

PS: Whatever you do don't plant two of something inbetween the maples. Go three or five if you can sneakshrubs behind the maples. Then stagger which ever route you go. Don't line them up in a row. Then have one mulch bed engulging all the plants. Avoid squiggles...keep it simple with either an oval or kidney shaped bed. Take your time, think it through.

Just my two cents.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 9:43AM
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NoVaPlantGuy_Z7b_8a(Alexandria, VA 7B/8A)

I have to concur with most of the posts here, especially this last one. When I looked at your photos and envisioned those maples as mature trees, you are going to have LOTS of shade in summer. The one of the right looks to me like a Red Maple. Not sure about the one on the right. Those get big.

My first thought was alot like what whaas posted above. I think upright yews are your best bet. They can handle substantial shade from what I have seen in real life settings. Your other options would be to replant the maples eleswhere (maybe front yard?) but again as has been pointed out they are large trees with large root systems.

Ditto on the not raking leaves. I don't rake them either, I mulch them with my mulching lawn mower. The only thing I use the rake for is to get the leaves out from between / behind shrubs and into the open lawn so I can mulch them.

This would be a great thread to keep updated to show what you decide to do, and how it progresses!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 10:07AM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

Oh no! Are you guys saying I should give up my powdery blue dream? :-)
I love the one big planting bed idea. That lawn space behind the sitting wall is unused anyway. Can I dare to make something like what Ken has in the background? Any small/dwarf plants won't be seen from my house because of the sitting wall and the slope. I need taller ones, I guess? That shrubby mag next to the maple can go. Didn't look very good this yr..The maple on the left is a hybrid of Shantung and Norway. The maple on the left is for shading the patio (gets real hot in the summer), and the maple on the right is a red maple, cultivar name unknown to me.
Are "upright yews" better than others because of the sun/shade situation? Any cultivar names did you have in mind? I'm new to all these conifer names.
I'd like to add that I'm willing to remove any of the trees within the next 20 years and start over here and there. This is pretty much the view from inside. I'd like to have some nice tree view.

This post was edited by ttonk on Wed, Nov 27, 13 at 14:46

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 11:04AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

Can I dare to make something like what Ken has in the background?

==>>> yes.. if you move.. lol ...

you are seeing 3 ACRES ...!!!!!! .. half of the plants in my pix.. out past the patio.. have a bigger foot print than your grass ....

i bet you have a couple hundred square feet .. of grass sloping away from your patio ... your 3rd pic .. just above mine ...

are there any HOA issues ....???

whaas is semi-delusional .... in regard to your situation... if you picked up and mulched every leaf off your future trees.. and ground them down.. you would have an 8 foot high berm of leaves on your TINY little back yard ... you have two 50 to 80 foot trees planted there .... in 40 years or so ... now.. his situation .... what??.. 3 acres.. with no fences... he does what i do.. grind them all into the lawn ... but you arent going to do that ....

i am sorry.. but if you have dreams of what i have.. you better start dreaming of acreage ....

how far is it.. from your patio wall.. to the bottom of the culvert/ditch.. which i presume is the property line.. since i see the utilities in your last pic????


    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 11:15AM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

you are seeing 3 ACRES ...!!!!!!
=> Now you're just bragging :-)

are there any HOA issues ....??? => No fence.

how far is it.. from your patio wall.. to the bottom of the culvert/ditch.. which i presume is the property line.. since i see the utilities in your last pic????

=> From the property line to the red/orange line (utility lines marked) is about 5' or less. From the property line to the patio wall is about 15'-20' (15' from the planter in the center, 20' from the sitting wall.)

This post was edited by ttonk on Tue, Nov 26, 13 at 12:03

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 11:46AM
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Whaas, you gotta rake 'em (or mulch mow 'em) to compost 'em, at least I do. Leaving it on the grass builds up deep thatch that kills the grass.

I even have a lot where I encourage (little needed) my neighbors to pile their leaves on. After a year or so....compost.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 1:57PM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

Do we have to rake leaves on a mulch bed? Or just leave them and mulch over?

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 2:05PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

If you compost more power to you.

The mulching of grass and leaves does not create thatch. Very common misconception. But if you have a thatch problem mulching can make matters worse.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 5:00PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

ttonk, just mulch right over those leaves.

Ken must think the leaves are constrained to your property line. The majority of the leaves will blow right off the tree and end up else where before they even hit your lawn. In more calm situations with wind along with hard freezes there are instances many leaves will fall below the tree, Ginkgo is one of those. Otherwise if a couple days pass the leaves are scattered through your subdivision and IL.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 5:05PM
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I thought you just didn't like your neighbor so you planted two huge maples right over his patio...turns out that is your house!! I agree with the others, those maples have to go...they are going to be huge and literally create a ceiling over your patio.

If it was my yard, I would put up a fence, a Japanese maple, and 3 narrow upright (mail order conifers).
- Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'
--Picea glauca 'Pendula' or Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Jubilee'
--Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace'
--Picea orientalis 'Skylands'

With the Japanese maple on the North side, you can plant the conifers on toward the south for full sun. Skylands can get large after many years, but it's relatively narrow and awesome. I have to make that disclosure or Ken will throw out the hidden lakes photo and make me look foolish for including this cultivar on such a small lot.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 9:35PM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

I mean I'm willing to remove maples, or any trees, when they become problems 20-30 years from now. I cannot wait for them to become huge and shade my patio. :-)
So, all saying nays, to my plan to squeeze three (you're right whaas, 3 would look better than 2.) large blue spruces or white firs into that space...What happens if one squeezes large conifers into a small space? Do they die?

This post was edited by ttonk on Wed, Nov 27, 13 at 21:59

    Bookmark   November 27, 2013 at 10:59AM
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wannabeGardnr(7 Maryland)

I would think you can remove the red maple. The other one should create enough shade for your patio, and you get a little more space to plant something else, and some light from the other side.
I would put in a couple different shade tolerant evergreens in that area, things that don't get too large - meaning narrow, weeping, or slow growing. The area is very close to your patio and I would want some variety since I have to look at it all year. Don't forget broadleafs like holly and rhododendron. You could mix in some deciduous shrubs for variety, such as vibernums, oakleaf or arborescens hydrangea. Once you have something in that area, you may feel you don't need a solid wall. Holly I would recommend Dragon Lady. Other people have given you ideas for shade tolerant conifers. I would also do a row of shade perennials in front, stuff like hosta, Carex, brunnera, heucheras, etc. Annuals like begonias and impatiens will give you bright flowers in the summer, and those can go in pots too. Whatever you plant, plant it before the maple/s get too large, because it will be very hard, if not impossible to plant under. When you pick plants, think how the leaves will look next to each other. Contrast makes an interesting screen.
While you still have sun, you can get screening from tall ornamental grasses planted next to you patio wall. It will be like a living wall when you sit down, but be open to the sky.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2013 at 4:49PM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

Thanks for your advice! So one thing I didn't really think of before coming to the board is the shade. I though all along that the spot is very very sunny because in the summer, I cannot even dare to sit on the patio before 6pm. I even considered & searched for a JM that does best in the sun. Didn't envision how maples will make it shady. I'm all very confused now. I may well just live with no tree there. Maybe have only one conifer and see how it does..It's not like I hate the view as of now. :-)
Are Thuja Occ better than Green G?

This post was edited by ttonk on Mon, Dec 2, 13 at 15:22

    Bookmark   December 2, 2013 at 1:50PM
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ttonk(OH 6A)

Dup posting

This post was edited by ttonk on Mon, Dec 2, 13 at 15:21

    Bookmark   December 2, 2013 at 3:09PM
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