The buds of our deciduous trees are starting to swell and the leaves are gently unwinding after a long winter’s slumber. Yes, spring has arrived and our trees and shrubs are starting to awaken. But, they won’t be fully displayed until sometime in May, which leaves us with a landscape that still seems a bit colorless. Enter, stage right, a few golden needled conifers and “Shazam“, problem solved!
When the yard and gardens are needing a little pick me up, nothing illuminates an area more efficiently than a golden foliaged evergreen. Coming in a range of sizes and shapes, from dwarf shrubs to stately trees, anyone can find a buxom blonde companion to brighten up the dreariest spot. And early spring is a great time to plant new additions.
Starting with smaller citrine charmers that work well in a garden bed or as anchors, one of the most common is the golden mop false cypress, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’, a Japanese native that loves sun and well drained soils (very drought tolerant) in zones 5-8. Golden mop has a soft, weeping form that looks wonderful mixed with upright forms and perennials. Be forewarned, false cypress can grow over five feet tall and wide and may require some pruning if in a garden bed.
For a more prickly personality with the same gusto, there are many noteworthy smaller evergreens in the juniper family. I like the gold lace juniper, Juniperus chinensis ‘Gold Lace’, although I’m not sure “lace” is the best way to describe this shrub; I would not want to cuddle or mop my brow with it! However, Gold Lace does have many redeeming qualities; a quirky growth pattern that is multi-dimensional, a harsh texture that makes it unappealing to critters, and in zones 4-8 should stay a compact four feet tall and wide.
Another medium sized yellow option is from the arborvitae family, Asian native Thuja orientalis ‘Aurea Nana’, with a vertical ridged characteristic similar to waves, and soft, flexible branches. Nice for pruning, but very tempting for the native fauna, please keep as protected as possible from hungry visitors. Aurea will stay relatively petite and maintain a somewhat rounded/conehead form growing up to five feet tall and wide in zones 5-8.
I recently added a pair of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’ in the protected area in front of my home. The open form and pattern of the foliage is simply enchanting, and indeed resembles its namesake fern leaf. The inner branches stay green, while the ends most exposed to the sun glisten like goldenrod blossoms from a distance. Fernspray is a slow grower, up to ten feet in fifteen years, but can ultimately grow to twenty feet. A word of caution, keep this in a protected site and it should be o.k. in zone 5, but technically it’s a zone 6. Paired with colorful rhododendrons (with a bright fuchsia flower), the fernspray cypress is a complementary bed mate.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’ is a personal favorite; a big, bold showoff that can reach well over twenty five feet tall with a free spirited pyramidal form. Crippsii, a zone 5-8 safe evergreen, loves the sun, tolerates some dry soil, but will get a bit of scorch from cold winter winds (not to worry, it revives quickly). I’ve found Crippsii to be extremely tolerant and easy care, but its color and stature are what make it such a stellar specimen. From a great distance, Hinoki cypress stands out like the star it is.
The Japanese red pine, Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’, is a fabulous alternative to the bluish-green needled white pine. With emerald needles striped in bright yellow, this is another fast growing tree, up to fifteen feet in zones 4-7. Give it lots of sun and well drained soil and Burke’s Red will set your landscape ablaze with its brilliance.
And last, but by no means least, oriental spruce Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ has bold, fluorescent lime new growth, which becomes flaxen through the rest of the year. A fabulous (albeit slow growing) specimen in zones 4-7, in ten years it may reach up to eight feet, with the potential of eventually going over twenty five. Skyland has great ornamental value because of its interesting, randomly spaced horizontal branching form, and looks spectacular when paired with burgundy foliaged garden mates. Happy gold digging!