Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifers
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A Forest of Conifers in Containers on My Deck . . .       (page created April 2003, last updated January 2010)

    My life-long but usually dormant interest in coniferous trees was suddenly rekindled by a chance visit to Sequoia National Park in early 2002, where I was again awed by the giant sequoias which I had last seen as a child over two decades earlier. Within weeks of this trip, I was reading every book I could find about conifers, both the spectacular forest giants themselves and their numerous unusual dwarf cultivars which have been developed by horticulturists over the past few centuries. Soon I had acquired a veritable forest of container-grown dwarf conifers, seen here on my deck above Lake Union in Seattle. Most conifer species form large trees in the wild, but these dwarf cultivars and slow-growing species can easily be grown in pots. They require almost no maintenance compared with typical finicky deciduous trees and plants. No hard pruning is required to maintain their compact size, since typical growth rates for these trees are only a few inches per year (and even less than an inch per year for some of them). Most of these trees are quite drought-tolerant, and in Seattle's moist maritime climate they easily survive much of the year with no supplemental water, although regular watering is still needed during the hot and dry summer weeks. To avoid this chore, I have installed a cheap and simple automatic drip-irrigation system going to each pot (the tubing and heads for this system are visible in the photos). As you can see from the photos below, cultivated conifers are available in a wide variety of foliage colors, including blue, golden, silver, and even reddish-purple in addition to numerous shades of the more-typical green. See my page about Conifers of the Cascade Range for more about conifers in their native environment.

A spectacular double rainbow rises above Lake Union beyond my deck (all photos from 2003).
    See the table below for the names of the trees shown here: (left to right) alc, ssa, ssn, ppb, pal, pcn

View of trees to right of frame in the previous photo: (left to right) ppb, pal, pcn, pmn, par, jsb, aks, pae, tpc, clb, cls, pgc

Closer view of trees in the back of the previous photo: (left to right) par, jsb, aks (with cones), pae, tpc, clb, cls

View of trees to right of frame in the previous photo: (left to right) ctr, fic, pab, tsm, psp, arb, ara, cyr (barely visible inside window)

List of the conifers in these photos:     (I may add more detailed descriptions for each of these at some point)

(Click on any botanical name to open the corresponding page from the Gymnosperm Database in a separate window.)

Botanical name and cultivar
Common name
Brief Description (if cultivar)
Native range of species
aks Abies koreana 'Horstmann's Silberlocke'Korean Fir (semi-dwarf, silver recurved foliage, cones!)Mountains of southern Korea
alc Abies lasiocarpa 'Arizonica Compacta'Subalpine Fir (dwarf, gray-blue foliage, corkbark variant)Mountains of western North America
ara Araucaria araucana Monkey Puzzle Tree  slow growing upright, sharp spiky foliageSouthern Chile & Argentina
arb Araucaria bidwillii Bunya-Bunya Tree  medium growing upright, sharp flat foliageNE Australia (Queensland)
clb Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise'Port Orford Cedar (dwarf upright, blue juvenile foliage)Coast of SW Oregon, NW California
cls Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Silver Threads'Port Orford Cedar (dwarf upright, green with white and gold)Coast of SW Oregon, NW California
ctr Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Red Star'Atlantic White Cedar (dwarf upright, reddish purple in winter)East & Gulf Coasts of USA
cyr Cycas revoluta (see also Cycad Pages) Sago Palm  looks palm-like, but is a cone-bearing gymnospermIslands of southern Japan
fic Fitzroya cupressoides Alerce  slow growing, spreading, awl-shaped foliagePatagonia, southern Chile & Argentina
jsb Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'Singleseed Juniper (dwarf spreading, blue juvenile foliage)Central Asia, China
pae Picea abies 'Echiniformis'Norway Spruce (dwarf, apty known as "Hedgehog Spruce")Northern & eastern Europe
pal Picea abies 'Little Gem'Norway Spruce (very dwarf, miniature, globose)Northern & eastern Europe
pgc Picea glauca 'Albertiana Conica'White Spruce (dwarf pyramidal, "Dwarf Alberta Spruce")Alaska, Canada, northeast USA
pmn Picea mariana 'Nana'Black Spruce (dwarf nest-like form, blue-green foliage)Alaska, Canada, northeast USA
ppb Picea pungens 'Bakeri'Colorado Blue Spruce (semi-dwarf pyramidal, powder blue foliage)Rocky Mountains (southern and central)
psp Picea sitchensis 'Papoose'Sitka Spruce (dwarf globose, sharp silver-green foliage)Pacific Northwest Coast
par Pinus aristata Bristlecone Pine  very slow growing, irregular uprightRocky Mountains (CO, NM, AZ)
pcn Pinus cembra 'Nana'Swiss Stone Pine (dwarf pyramidal, long soft needles)Central Europe, Alps
pab Podocarpus alpinus 'Blue Gem'Mountain Plum Pine (dwarf, spreading, bluish-green foliage)Tasmania & southeastern Australia
ssa Sequoia sempervirens 'Adpressa/Albospica'Coast Redwood (semi-dwarf, upright, whitish tips on foliage)Coast of N California & SW Oregon
ssn Sequoia sempervirens 'Nana Pendula'Coast Redwood (dwarf, spreading, broad green foliage)Coast of N California & SW Oregon
tpc Thuja plicata 'Cuprea'Western Red Cedar (dwarf globose, golden foliage)Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies
tsm Tsuga mertensiana Mountain Hemlock  slow growing upright, blue-green foliageMountains of Pacific NW, Sierra Nevada

Bibliography of websites and books:

Interested in conifers and dwarf conifers?   This is a brief bibliography of websites and books which I have found to be useful and informative:
Gymnosperm Database   (extensive taxonomic info, descriptions, and photos for nearly all known species of conifers and other gymnosperms, including cycads)
The Conifer Society   (society for dwarf conifer enthusiasts, includes the World Conifer Database listing more than 4000 conifer species and cultivars)
Trees of the Pacific Northwest   (info and identification key for common conifers of the Pacific Northwest)
Silvics of North America   (online version of book from USDA Forest Service, extensive info and range maps for common North American trees)
Flora of North America   (extensive database with info about all North American plants)
Center for Urban Horticulture - U of Washington   (excellent horticultural and botanical library, also manages the Washington Park Arboretum)
The Cycad Pages   (extensive taxonomic info, descriptions, and photos for nearly all known species of cycads)

(books in reverse chronological order)

Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference James E. Eckenwalder Timber Press, 2009720 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
A Natural History of ConifersAljos Farjon Timber Press, 2008304 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Conifers for Gardens: An Illustrated EncyclopediaRichard L. Bitner Timber Press, 2007448 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Northwest Trees (anniversary edition) Stephen F. Arno & Ramona P. Hammerly The Mountaineers Books, 2007272 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
The Bristlecone Book: A Natural History of the World's Oldest Trees Ronald M. Lanner Mountain Press, 2007110 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Northwest California: A Natural History John O. Sawyer Univ. of California Press, 2006264 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Botany for Gardeners (revised edition)Brian Capon Timber Press, 2004240 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Gardening with Conifers Adrian Bloom Firefly Books, 2002192 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Cycads of the World (second edition)David L. Jones Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002456 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
The CycadsLoran M. Whitelock Timber Press, 2002532 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast Robert Van Pelt Univ. of Washington Press, 2001224 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Coast Redwood: A Natural and Cultural History Michael G. Barbour et al Cachuma Press, 2001240 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
A Guide to the Sequoia Groves of California Dwight Willard Yosemite Association, 2000124 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Conifers of California Ronald M. Lanner Cachuma Press, 1999284 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
A Garden of Conifers: Introduction and Selection GuideRobert A. Obrizok Firefly Books, 1999120 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Dwarf & Unusual Conifers Coming of AgeSandra McLean Cutler Barton Bradley Crossroads, 1997176 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Growing Conifers: Four-Season PlantsR. William Thomas et al Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1997112 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Conifers: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (2 volumes) D. M. van Gelderen Timber Press, 1996706 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Ecology of the Southern ConifersNeal J. Enright & Robert S. Hill (editors) Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996342 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Trees of the Northern United States and Canada John Laird Farrar Canadian Forest Service, 1995512 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Forest Giants of the World Al Carder Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd, 1995224 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
The World of Northern EvergreensE. C. Pielou Cornell University Press, 1988184 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Timberline: Mountain and Arctic Forest FrontiersStephen F. Arno & Ramona P. Hammerly The Mountaineers, 1984304 pp. (View at Amazon.com)
Northwest Conifers: A Photographic Key Dale N. Bever Binford & Mort, 1981116 pp. (View at Amazon.com)

Interested in learning more about conifers in their native environment? See my page about Conifers of the Cascade Range.

Page History:

April 2003Original version of the webpage
January 2004Minor update to internal links
January 2008Updated all links to the Gymnosperm Database
January 2010 Expanded the bibliography to include several books published since 2003, plus a few more older ones too

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