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Best conifers for shade?

Posted by firefightergardener WA State Z7 (My Page) on
Fri, Dec 5, 08 at 19:47

Oh no, another post! I'm on a roll, that compulsive obsessive disorder is kicking into high gear!

I am rethinking some of my plantings around my house and as with most properties I have some planting areas with considerable shade. This ranges from mild shade(I'd say 4-6 hours of direct sun in mid-summer) to fairly heavy shade(just a couple hours tops of sun or indirect sun). I am wondering what conifers will be happy enough in these conditions?

I understand so far that Canadian Hemlock, maybe some Picea Pungens and some varigated conifers tolerate or even prefer shade, but how about for abies, picea and cedars? Can I get away with a plant like Picea Mariana 'Aureovarigata in full or partial shade? Would the lovely gold hues disappear?

From most literature I've seen 90% of conifers seem to be listed as 'full sun' and while I have seen many beautiful cultivars at Coenosiums growing in what appear to be part shade conditions(or more) I am still apprehensive, since conifers aren't free and I'd hate to waste 2-3 years only to find out the plants were unhappy or dying.

Thanks to all you experts in advance for any information!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Best conifers for shade?

  • Posted by bboy z8 WA USA (My Page) on
    Fri, Dec 5, 08 at 21:30

Yews and hemlocks among the more familiar kinds.

RE: Best conifers for shade?

In addition, Abies balsamea is very shade tolerant. Thuja species moderately so.


RE: Best conifers for shade?

Most conifers will tolerate part shade. It will have a tendency to stunt growth in some cultivars.

I have a Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula' in full shade and it is a good performer.

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These Juniperus communis 'Compressa' do well in part shade along with Picea orientalis ''Aureospicata' and Tsuga canadensis 'Gentsch White'.
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This Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis' is in full shade.
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These are just a few...I could give more...go for it. Mix some Acer palms in for a good blend of color.


RE: Best conifers for shade?

Nootkatensis Cypress (known as many different confusing names) seems to look okay in part sun

Thujopsis is a different beautiful slow growing arb-like tree, doesn't mind staying out of the heat in part shade it seems.

RE: Best conifers for shade?

Well, fun, it sounds like a lot of conifers are OK in some shade, even full shade. Are there any that I should avoid at all costs for shade? Large cultivars? Firs? If I could plant them in some medium to heavy shade I can plant much more! Hah!

RE: Best conifers for shade?

I'd agree with most of the above advice, adding only that there are some really nice dwarf hemlocks... Tsuga canadensis 'Curly' is one of my favourites but I have several and they do really well in limited light. Oh, and I'd add Cryptomeria to the list that tolerate shade, especially 'Knaptonensis.' I actually have very little garden that is truly full sun so I grow almost all my conifers in significant shade (half day or more), and they look OK as long as they get air (ie aren't actually rubbing shoulders with anything). Even my two larches ('Blue Rabbit' and 'Dwarf Blue') were shaded for most of the past summer. If they're planted right against a bushy neighbour, sections of the conifer will die off.

I have a Picea orientalis 'Skylands' still in a pot that I recently moved from part shade into full shade, and it promptly turned green from gold. The gold does need a sustaining amount of sun.

I don't think most conifers will actually up and die due to shade, but will be leggier and less attractive. All over Vancouver there are both pines and junipers planted in the most unlikely places (industrial landscaping) and chugging along heroically despite the conditions. The thing with home gardening is that you're trying to make plants look great, not just survive. But keeping them alive is the first step :-)
And then you move them around if they don't seem happy.


RE: Best conifers for shade?

I am also growing many of my conifers in what I consider to be fairly bright shade (as opposed to dense shade), and everyone seems happy and healthy so far, although none have been in the ground longer than 4 years. The only trees that really seem to do poorly, getting leggy and open quickly, are the pines. The tsugas are in the heaviest shade and quite healthy; Cham. obtusa, Nootka, Taxus, Thuja plicata and dolobrata, Picea abies, and several different junipers also doing very good in moderate shade. We have both Skylands and Tom Thumb growing in this same area and while they are not bright yellow, they are a pleasant chartreause-y green/gold, and they haven't fried!

RE: Best conifers for shade?

all that said.. you then have to throw in variegation ....

anything green will tolerate anything.. they are food producing machines...

once you start moving away from all green ... then food production goes down ... add a wax over the whole plant.. ergo.. a blue plant ... and you can easily see that its food production capability is reduced.. even in full sun ...

throw it in the shade.. and its vigor goes down.. throw it in deep shade and it really goes down .... if its too dark.. it could eventually use up all its stored energy and fail ... but man.. that would probably have to be a cavern ...

then next go to the yellows... and follow the same logic ... if its a yellow plant that greens during the year.. its probably net zero loss.. but for the fact that it isnt the green machine ...

if the plant is all yellow.. all year ... it is just going to be less vigorous than its green sister ...

when you get to white tissue.. it sure is pretty .. but frankly.. useless to the plant.. since it has no chlorophyll ... its use to the plant is a negative..

and this is where the real catch 22 is... white notoriously burns in too much sun ... so you put it in shade ... but then it can fail in vigor, if there is too much shade.. since the white parts dont feed the plant ...

and dont get me started on yellow plants with white variegation ... i will presume you can use the logic there ...

then the bottom line.. though we can make suggestions.. how it all works in your garden.. in your sun.. in your light.. can only be answered by you ...

that is as simple as i can make it ...

good luck


PS: if you think you can perfectly place every plant on the first planting.. you have the wrong hobby ... lol ... no true addict is good enough to plant and walk away from all of them ... that is why we all know how to transplant.. lol

RE: Best conifers for shade?

Shade tolerance of many conifers seems to related to exactly what is causing the shade. Shade produced by other, larger trees poses a difficult situation as not only is the area shady but it tends to be dry shade and there is ongoing competition for moisture and nutrients from better established root systems. Shade produced by structures is usually easier to deal with unless directly under eaves or other overhangs.

Most of my collection of dwarf conifers grow in part shade - there just isn't a full sun location available in my garden. All are quite healthy and have not developed any leggy or sparse growth. These include mostly Chamaecyparis but I also have Cryptomeria, larch, hemlocks, Thuja, Podocarpus and a couple of mini pines.

The attached listing might be of interest. This is from a NZ nursery so the comment about planting on the south side can be translated to planting on the north side up here :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: shade tolerant conifers

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