What are Dwarf Conifers?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Dwarf conifers are conifer trees which are very slow growing, bred to mature to a smaller size than they normally would, or both. There are a number of uses for dwarf conifers in landscaping and around the garden. Nurseries often carry or can order them by request, and they can also be obtained directly from breeders of dwarf conifers. Many nations have associations of conifer and dwarf conifer enthusiasts which can provide gardeners with resources such as breeder listings and profiles of dwarf cultivars.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Conifers are native to the cool regions of the world. These trees are characterized by the presence of seed cones and needles, and they are very popular as landscaping elements. Many are evergreen, providing people with colorful foliage year round, and they have a distinctive scent which some people find very enjoyable.

In the case of a dwarf conifer, the tree is designed to stay small. Like full sized conifers, dwarf conifers are famous for being highly durable, able to withstand varying weather conditions, and long lived. However, they top out at a relatively low height, often around six feet (two meters).

For gardeners and landscapers, a tree with a limited height can be a boon. On a small lot, dwarf conifers are ideal because they add foliage and vertical height without getting out of control; a fully matured non-dwarf conifer could make everything on the lot seem out of scale and emphasize the small size, while dwarf conifers can add a sense of space. Likewise, they also won't grow up to overshadow homes and other structures, a concern in some areas.

Some dwarf conifers are bred to be planted and then left largely to their own devices. These cultivars tend to have a naturally dense, bushy growth habit. Other dwarfs can be trimmed and shaped for specific desired effects. For example, people can use them to create topiary sculptures, or branches can be carefully selected and trimmed to create a specific shape, such as a twisting profile or a broadly branching low tree.

Some dwarf conifers are suitable for container gardening, and can be grown on decks and patios in areas where people do not have room for a garden. Others are small enough for indoor gardening as bonsai, with bonsai cultivars being sold by specialty nurseries. People should be aware that dwarf conifers can be deceptive; a relatively small tree may in fact be very old and quite valuable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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