By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
This is the season when decorated evergreens dominate living rooms and sparkle in the winter landscape. The list provided grows best outdoors and is often used as a living tree through the holiday celebrations then planted in the yard when the festivities are over.
Here is a list of the top 7 evergreen trees that stand up to mountain wind, winter cold, and resist the naturally occurring insects and diseases found at higher elevations. You will find each at the garden center, and links are provided for further research and to buy directly from our farm.
Colorado Spruce – When customers don’t know the name of this tree, they refer to it as “The one that looks like a Christmas tree.” The thick branches swoop horizontally, forming a perfect broad pyramid. Drought hardy, this tree prefers dry, windy conditions.
Con– Tree aphids like the taste of native Ponderosa and of Colorado Spruces. They rarely do severe damage and are easily spotted in mid-spring as new growth elongates.
Pro – Ancient specimens are living proof that this tree does well. Feed with aluminum sulfate to bring out the silver-blue of this perfectly formed tree. Size: 60’H x 20’W
Austrian Pine – This long-needled evergreen often is mistaken for young Ponderosa pine, although it is far more graceful. Whereas the Ponderosa loses all its lower branches as it matures, the Austrian’s rich green needles seem to flow right to the ground for a balanced appearance. The dense, stout, pyramidal growth is uniform right to the crown. It is the hardiest of the ornamental pines without the bug issues that plague many natives. It makes a most effective windbreak or privacy screen.
Con – There aren’t many negatives other than that this is a fast-growing, big tree. It has been known to overpower walkways and eaves of a house when placed incorrectly in the yard.
Pro – The fastest growing of all-mountain pines. It can quickly grow 18 inches a year and more when under the care of an attentive gardener. Size: 35’H x 18’W
Vanderwolf Pine – Take a close look, and you will see the top of each needle is blue with a green underside. This very stately pine is so soft most homeowners literally hug their trees! Its very unusual and distinctive shape is unique to mountain landscapes.
Con – Unreceptive to heavy clay soil or a gardener with a heavy hand on the hose. Don’t over-water this evergreen, or you could lose it within the first year of planting.
Pro – The color is stunning. Requires little to no pruning. Very low water user. Size: 25’H x 12’W
Fat Albert Blue Spruce – Has the perfect shape like a Colorado Spruce; Fat Albert doesn’t grow as tall, so it won’t overtake more than its allotted space. A broad pyramidal shape with distinct blue needles that present a consistent blue color.
Con – I really can’t think of any cons for this tree! I did see grubs eat some roots of a Fat Albert this spring, but that is a scarce sight.
Pro – Intense silver-blue needles adorn this tree. The choice for those that love a Christmas tree shape but need a tree with a small footprint. Size: 25’H x 12’W
Dwarf Alberta Spruce – The slowest growing of the evergreens is the easiest to maintain. Its perfect cone shape displays dense green soft-to-the-touch needles. Although it often is used to make a formal statement in the garden, it is excellent as a container plant or miniature Christmas tree.
Con – Watch for spider mite webs possible in June. Spider mites like the taste of an Alberta Spruce but are easily thwarted by using Watters ‘Multi-Purpose Insect Spray‘ for instant protection.
Pro – A small format evergreen that needs little to no maintenance with a classic evergreen look and feel. Perfect for large containers framing the garage, accenting decks, and highlighting pots at the front door. Size: 8’H x 3’W
Arizona Cypress – This tree is a real celebrity in the Arizona garden world. Often mistaken for a juniper, but this blue evergreen forms miniature cone instead of juniper berries, making it less allergy-inducing than native juniper. Very fast-growing and readily tolerates mountain soil, valley winds, and bitter winter cold.
Con – Carefully watch the frequency of irrigation the first couple of years after planting. If you are going to kill this evergreen, it will be from too much water.
Pro – This fast grower should be a serious consideration for dry, dusty properties exposed to mountain living elements. Deer and javelina resistant. Size: 20’H x 10’W
Deodar Cedar – This fast grower has a central leader with soft branches that sway gracefully in the wind. A large tree that needs a large property.
Con – Such a fast grower, it often overpowers the landscape. Soft branches can break from heavy snowfalls. Needs more regular feeding than other evergreens, or it will become yellow and off-color.
Pro – Fast growing and drought hardy are this tree’s claims to fame. Size: 50’H x 25’W
Local Planting Guide is the link on planting and appropriately irrigating winter evergreen trees. We also have printed versions free here at Watters Garden Center.
Until next week, I’ll be helping local gardeners plant the best winter evergreens here at Watters Garden Center.