The Q&A Archives: Dwarf Conifer

Question: Am planning to re-do the front entrance to my townhome. It's a shared entrance with my neighbor. The area faces north and at the front, on each side of the central walkway, the space is about 2'x2' on either side. I'm looking for a dwarf conifer that would best fit this area. It can't get too tall as it will invade the garage lighting. It can't get too wide as it will then come into the walkway and driveways. We have a maple tree in the front so these areas get full sun in spring until the tree fills out and then they would get partial sun/shade for the rest of the summer. Thinking about a dwarf alberta spruce or a juniper. I've seen some junipers that grow to 8-12 feet tall but that's in full sun. Would this plant then be manageable in my area considering it would not get full sun all the time? Plus the downspouts run off right where the plants would be and I'm not sure if they can be re-directed elsewhere. Sorry for the length but thanks for your help/suggestions.

Answer: Both junipers and the dwarf Alberta spruce need full sun or a minimum of six hours of direct sun in summer to do well -- as do nearly all evergreens. In shade such as a northern exposure they will not thrive and will become thin and sparse. Also, in time, the dwarf Alberta would outgrow the space you have described, as would most junipers. In addition to the shade issue, the maple roots will be stealing moisture and nutrients from the root area of your shrub, tree roots usually reach out at least twice as far as the branches. This makes it difficult for new plants to become rooted and established. Then, there is the problem with the drain spout dumping excess water at the root area; few plants do well in this type of sometimes saturated situation with subsoil compacting and topsoil or mulch washing off due to the downpour. All in all, unfortunately I do not think this is a great spot to try to plant. Instead, you might consider using a decorative urn or large planter that suits the architectural style of your home and also fits nicely in that spot. Then in summer you could plant it with a shade loving annual such as impatiens flowers for bright color and a seasonal change. Since I have not seen the location, you might also want to consult with your local professional nursery staff and see if they have any other suggestions based on a more detailed understanding of your planting site and your overall design goals. Good luck with your project!

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