no. 7.403

Evergreen Trees

by R.A. Cox and J.E. Klett* (2/14)

Quick Facts...

  • Most evergreens prefer full sun; some will tolerate partial shade.
  • When selecting evergreens, consider available space, soil and site conditions, and weather factors.
  • Evergreens have different soil moisture preferences. Group drought-tolerant types separately from those that require more moisture.
  • All evergreens benefit from mulches. All need sufficient water to become established after transplanting.
  • Most evergreens benefit from supplemental water during dry, warm or windy periods from November to March.

Narrowleaf evergreen (conifer) trees give a landscape year-round interest, color and texture. Conifer trees are versatile and can be used as specimens, hedges, privacy screens, backdrops for smaller flowering plants, or as a windbreak planted on the north and west to deflect or intercept winter winds. (See fact sheet 7.225, Landscaping for Energy Conservation.)

“Evergreen” refers to trees that normally retain most of their foliage (needles) through the winter. Such trees, however, do not retain all of their needles indefinitely. For example, ponderosa pine drops needles each year that are three years old. These older needles are the innermost ones toward the main trunk. Younger needles, further out on the branch, are retained until they are three years old. This annual browning and drop of innermost, older needles can cause concern, but it is a natural process.

Selection

Examine the intended planting space for good soil drainage, adequate sunlight and sufficient space to accommodate the desired evergreen tree at its mature size. Allow for clear access to driveways, sidewalks and entryways. Determine whether the tree’s growth will affect any overhead utility lines. Before planting, call the utility companies’ hotline (dial 811) to mark the location of any underground lines to avoid damaging them while digging.

In smaller sites, consider smaller trees or shrubs. (See 7.418, Small Deciduous Trees, 7.414, Evergreen Shrubs or 7.415, Deciduous Shrubs.) Consider dwarf conifers for limited space areas. If there is sufficient space, use several kinds of evergreens to add variety to the landscape.

Watering and Maintenance

The following list indicates the relative moisture needs of evergreens. Plant species with similar water needs in the same general area – do not mix trees with widely different water needs.

Evergreens that need less moisture may work well on slopes. All evergreens usable in Colorado prefer well-drained soils. Avoid planting them in swales or poorlydrained, soggy areas. Evergreens that need less moisture may not do well in lawn areas because of the amount of water needed to sustain the lawn. Even for those trees that need more moisture and are compatible with lawn watering, leave the planting area free of sod to allow for good root development. An organic mulch is recommended over the entire planting area. (See 7.214, Mulches for Home Grounds.)

Most evergreens growing in Colorado landscapes, whether recently transplanted or well-established, benefit from supplemental water during winter dry spells. Often, such spells are accompanied by drying winds or unseasonably warm temperatures, further emphasizing the need for watering. (See 7.211, Fall and Winter Watering.)

For gardeners above 6,000 feet, some of the plants listed in Table 1 are not adapted. Refer to 7.423, Trees and Shrubs for Mountain Areas for specific recommendations. Refer to 7.421, Native Trees for Colorado Landscapes and 7.422, Native Shrubs for Colorado Landscapes for native evergreens.

Table 1: Recommended evergreen trees for Colorado.

Plant Name Estimated
Mature Size
(H x W)
Tree
Shape
Growth
Rate1
Soil
Moisture 2
Comments and Cultural Hints
Arborvitae
Thuja occidentalis
     Eastern or American
          arborvitae
     ‘Degroot’s Spire’
     'Smaragd' ('Emerald')
     'Techny'
20' x 10'


12' x 4'
12' x 4'
12' x 8'
conical


columnar
columnar
broadly
columnar
s


s
s
s
H


H
H
H
Prefers higher humidity; all varieties listed below are subject to winterburn
and snow damage.
Rich green foliage turns bronze in winter.
Dense, medium green foliage.
Better cold tolerance; dark green foliage.
Fir
Abies concolor*
     White fir

     'Candicans'
60' x 20'


40' x 15'
conical


broadly columnar
m


m
M-H


M-H
Flat, blue-green needles; may winterburn in windy sites; may perform poorly in clay soils.

Longer, silvery-blue needles.
Abies koreana ‘Hortsmann’s      Silberlocke’ 15' x 10' broadly conical s M-H Needles curved upright exposing silvery undersides, violet purple cones.
Abies lasiocarpa*
     ‘Glauca Compacta’
     Blue Dwarf Rocky Mountain
           fir
15' x 9' broadly columnar s M-H Slower growing with silver-blue foliage.
Pseudotsuga menziesii*
     Douglas-fir
60' x 20' conical m-f M Unique cones with "mouse-tail" bracts; more cold-tolerant and soil-adaptable.
Juniper
Juniperus chinensis
     Chinese juniper
     ‘Blue Point’

     ‘Hetzi Columnaris’

     'Spartan'
     ‘Spearmint’


12' x 18'

15' x 5'

12' x 5'
15’ x 6’


broadly columnar
narrowly
columnar
conical
conical


m

m

m-f
m


L

L

L
L


Slower growing with silver-blue foliage, blue-green fruit.
Abundant fruit.

Dense green foliage.
Dense, bright green foliage.
Juniperus scopulorum*
     Rocky Mountain juniper
     'Cologreen'

     'Grey Gleam'
     'Moonglow'

     'Skyrocket'

     'Welchii'

     'Wichita Blue'
variable

15' x 8'

15' x 6'
15' x 8'

15' x 3'

10' x 5'

12' x 6'
broadly
columnar
broadly
columnar
conical
broadly
columnar
narrowly
columnar
broadly
columnar
broadly
columnar
s-m

s-m

s
s-m

s-m

s-m

s-m
L

L

L
L

L

L

L
Foliage color varies from green to blue-green.
Dense, green foliage; abundant fruit.

No fruit; dense, gray foliage.
Dense, silver-blue foliage.

Narrow; subject to snow damage; formerly listed as J. virginiana 'Skyrocket'.
Blue-green to medium green foliage.

Bright blue foliage color.
Juniperus virginiana
     Eastern redcedar
     'Blue Arrow'

     'Hillspir,' ('Cupressifolia')
40' x 15'

15' x 3'

15' x 6'
conical

narrowly
columnar
conical
s-m

s-m

s-m
L

L

L
Open, horizontal branching;
foliage turns brownish in winter.
Bright blue foliage on narrow upright form.

Columnar; bright green foliage.
Larch
Larix decidua
     European Larch
45' x 18' broadly
columnar
m M-H A deciduous conifer. Needles in clusters that turn yellow in fall before dropping.
Pine
Pinus aristata*
     Bristlecone pine
20' x 15' irregular s L-M Shorter, dark green needles with white resin dots; specimen plant.
Pinus edulis*
     Pinyon pine
20' x 15' conical to rounded s-m L Not suited for frequently watered lawn areas; edible seeds may not develop dependably in urban landscapes.
Pinus flexilis*
     Limber pine
     ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’
40' x 20'

35' x 20'
broadly columnar
pyramidal
m

m
L-M

L-M
Wind-tolerant; adaptable to dry soils; very flexible branches; needles about 2".
Blue-green needles on ascending branches.
Pinus heldreichii var
          leucodermis
     Bosnian Pine
20' x 12' broadly columnar s L-M Stiff, dark green needles in brush-like tufts.
Pinus mugo
     Mugo pine

     ‘Tannenbaum’

variable

12' x 6'

irregular

broadly columnar

m

s

L-M

L-M

Variable growth habit; tree-like to shrubby; dwarf forms commonly sold for landscapes.
Good winter color and hardiness.
Pinus nigra
     Austrian pine
     'Arnold Sentinel’

     ‘Oregon Green’
50' x 25'

15' x 5'

15' x 12'
broadly columnar
narrowly columnar
broadly columnar
m

s

s
L-M

L-M

L-M
3-5", dark green needles; tolerates many soil types and urban pollution.
Dense, dark green needles.

Stiff, dark green needles.
Pinus ponderosa*
     Ponderosa pine
50' x 25' broadly columnar m L Longer, yellow-green needles; older trees develop cinnamon-brown bark.
Pinus strobiformis*
     Southwestern white pine
45' x 25' broadly columnar m-f L-M Blue-green needles; similar to limber pine; attractive elongated cones.
Pinus strobus
     Eastern white pine
     ‘Fastigiata’

     ‘Pendula’
50' x 20'

35' x 10'

15' x 15'
broadly columnar
narrowly columnar
weeping
m-f

m

m
M

M

M
Horizontal branching; fine-textured, blue-green needles; best in protected sites.
Fine textured blue-green needles.

Bluish-green needles on long branches that sweep the ground.
Pinus sylvestris
     Scotch pine

     ‘Fastigiata’
40' x 25'


20' x 5'
broadly columnar

narrowly columnar
m


m
M


M
Blue-green, twisted needles; mature bark is orange-brown.

Tightly angled branches often damaged by snow storms.
Spruce
Picea abies
     Norway spruce
     ‘Cupressina’
50' x 25'

15' x 5'
broadly columnar
narrowly columnar
m-f

m-f
M-H

M-H
Short green needles; branches droop with age.
Good vertical accent; withstands snowloads.
Picea glauca
     White spruce
     ‘Pendula’
50' x 20'

20' x 5'
broadly columnar
narrowly weeping
m

s
M

M
Short, greenish-white needles; adaptable tree.
Gray-green needles on weeping limbs; sheds snow loads.
Picea glauca var densata
     Black Hills spruce
30' x 15' conical s M Dense, short, dark green needles.
Picea pungens*
     Colorado spruce
60' x 25' broadly columnar m M-H Needles short, sharp, green to blue-green.
Picea pungens glauca*
     Colorado blue spruce

     ‘Baby Blue Eyes’

     ‘Bakeri’

     'Hoopsii'

     ‘Fat Albert’

     ‘Iseli Fastigiate’

     ‘R.H. Montgomery’
     (‘Montgomery’)
     ‘Sester Dwarf’
60' x 25'


15' x 8'

30' x 15'

45' x 15'

30' x 20'

15' x 5'

12' x 8'

10' x 5'
broadly
columnar

broadly columnar
broadly columnar
broadly
columnar
broadly pyramidal
narrowly columnar
broadly pyramidal
conical
m


s

s

m

s

s

s

s
M-H


M-H

M-H

M-H

M-H

M-H

M-H

M-H
Needles short, sharp, blue; several varieties selected for blue needles. Colorado state tree.
Lighter blue needles, dense growth habit.

Brilliant blue needles and slightly irregular branching.
Intense silver-blue needles.

Outstanding blue-needled form with strong central leader.
Striking blue needles.

Striking silver-blue needles.

Silver-blue needles on a dense, conical form.
1Growth rate: s = slow; m = moderate; f = fast
2Soil moisture: H = high; M = medium; L = low
* Native to Colorado

*R.A. Cox, Colorado State University Extension horticulture agent, Arapahoe County; and J.E. Klett, Extension landscape horticulturist and professor, horticulture and landscape architecture. 4/05. Revised 12/14.

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Updated Monday, July 21, 2014

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