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August 27, 2014
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We all need a little color through the drab days of winter, and for most of us, flowers won’t be happening. So, what do we plant that will give us color in our garden all year. Conifers can be one answer. These tough and low maintenance plants can bring color into the garden when the flowers don’t. I am generally talking about the dwarf conifers, as most of us do not have room for huge trees. These small evergreens are mostly “witch’s brooms”, abnormalities found growing on larger trees, and then reproduced by grafting or
 
cuttings to make duplicates. If these oddities continue to make an attractive shrub, they are named and registered with the American Conifer Society. There are hundreds if not thousands of these little gems that can add color to your yard, and they are deer proof and most are drought tolerant. I would like to give you some examples that work well.
For blue, plant Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Blue Surprise’, Cedrus deodora ‘Divinly Blue’ or Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’. Each of these cultivars offers a different form that is useful too. ‘Blue Surprise’ is a light blue column up to 8 ft., ‘Divinely Blue’ is a medium shrub with weeping tips, and ‘Blue Star’ will make a low, flat ‘star-shaped’ accent.  
 
To add gold or yellow, plant Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’, Juniper x media ‘Daub’s Frosted’, or Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’. One of our favorites ‘Wilma’ will grow into a column of yellow 5-6 ft. tall, ‘Daub’s Frosted’ will be a low spreading accent of chartruce-yellow, and ‘Rheingold’ will add a rich gold hue in a shrub that grows wider than tall.
 
For dark green, plant Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguro’, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Hage’, or Pinus thunbergiana ‘Thunderhead’. Wissel’s Saguro will make a very interesting narrow vertical sculpture 6 ft. tall, ‘Hage’ will make a dense, dark green mound, and ‘Thunderhead’ will grow into a nice full tree 6-8 ft. tall.
 
The color red is probably the hardest to find. Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ and Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Red Star’ both have reddish foliage in the winter, but not the rest of the year. For excellent winter red foliage, the heather Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’ does a great job and can look like a mounding red conifer in the winter.
For a florescent lime green, Pinus densiflora ‘Low Glow’ has all year color unlike any other conifer. The plant does really “glow” and attract the eye. It is a slow grower, becoming wider than tall. Another candidate is Cedrus libiani ‘Green Prince’. Here is a dwarf conifer that becomes more attractive every year. The spring new growth is a florescent lime green as well, but will fade as the seasons progress. The deciduous weeping larch, Larix decidua ‘Pendula’ has incredibly showy new growth in April, and will definitely fill the bill for “florescent lime green”.
The last color I will address is silver or gray. This tone is very different from most other foliage colors, and can add contrast and interest. Abies koriana ‘Silberlocke’ is a Korean fir that turns its needles backwards to expose the bright silver undersides. It becomes even showier when blue-purple cones line the tops of the branches. Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Greenstead Magnificent’ grows into a low, wide silver-blue-green specimen and is stunning! Cedrus atlantica ‘Saphire Nymph’ is an unusual prostrate growing Atlantic Cedar with silver-blue leaves.
Our gardens have proven themselves over the years with year-round interest, and much of that success has to do with the various dwarf conifers growing there. Give it a try! Plant dwarf conifers for year-round color and you will be greatly rewarded.
 
1. Add dolomitic lime around the dripline of your rhodies will give them an extra boost to help them get through the winter months. One might think adding lime to these acid loving plants to be a mistake, but it has been proven to improve the health and vigor to rhododendrons. When rhododendron leaves are analyzed for their chemical composition, the element of highest concentration is magnesium, and dolomite lime is Calcium-magnesium carbonate. Often leaves can be made a darker-richer shade of green with the addition of this inexpensive amendment. There are articles dating back to the turn of the century, praising the use of dolomite lime as a great fall feeding for rhododendrons. Usually 1-2 cups sprinkled around the drip line is sufficient.
2. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Adding a generous layer of mulch around the rootzone of your rhododendrons is probably the best protection against the ravages of winter weather. If the roots are protected, there will be less loss to freezing and drying from winter winds. This should be done in conjunction with watering your plants well to hydrate them before winter. A good root soaking every couple of weeks and the addition of a generous layer of mulch before the temperatures drop will do more to protect your rhododendrons than just about any other measure.

3. Spraying the foliage with an antitranspirant or antidesiccant such as ‘Cloud Cover’ or ‘Wilt Proof’ can be an excellent way to protect your rhododendrons too. When the root system freezes in winter, the leaves have no way of keeping hydrated, and drying winds can then kill our plant. By spraying with one of these products can possible even save rhododendrons that may not be hardy in your zone, although we would not ever guarantee such a thing. There are actual testimonials on the web showing photos of rhododendrons sprayed and un-sprayed before winter set in, with excellent results for the sprayed plants.

4. Shielding your plants from blasts of icy winds with a simple burlap windbreak can also be a worthwhile step to protect that favorite rhododendron. Install 3-4 posts in the ground around your plant and staple burlap for protection. This step will provide good protection if the winter winds are severe.

5. Here is a simple and fun protection that I have used to protect my tender rhododendrons from loosing their flower buds to bad freezes. This method is only applicable to milder, coastal areas of the US. You can string Christmas lights in your plants, like you do your holiday tree, then connect the lights to a thermostat operated switch that goes on when the temperatures drop below 35 degrees. The heat given off by the little bulbs are just enough to protect the tender buds of some of the fragrant rhododendrons, and when they come on in the night, it is quite a festive display!