The simple answer - are all conifers evergreen? - is no, but only just!
One of the most significant benefits of planting conifers in your yard is that most of them are evergreens. However, not all conifers are the same. There are some that shed their needles in the chill of autumn, just as a deciduous tree loses its leaves. If you are looking for that permanent fullness, you will need to do your research. Thankfully, we are here to help!
As it can be assumed from the term, evergreen trees “stay green” year round. While most conifers carry this trait, there are some that lost their needles yearly and others that turn a dingy brown in the winter.
Planting evergreens adds a unique contract to your yard full of deciduous trees. Not only do they keep their needles all year, but they are also unique in their shape and texture. In fact, instead of beautiful broad leaves, you will see thin, and sometimes sharp, needles. While most deciduous trees display beautiful canopies and branches growing near the top of the trunk, conifers are traditionally pyramidal.
Defining all the evergreens would be a difficult endeavor in one article. On the other hand, the list of conifers that are not evergreens is much shorter. We will quickly highlight the conifers that are not evergreens and then highlight our favorite evergreens for your yard.
Conifers that Lose their Needles
Out of the 615 conifer species, only 20 of them are deciduous. This means that these trees lose their needles yearly. All in all, the larch trees are the largest genera of deciduous conifers. Most of the larch species are deciduous. Just to name a few, larch trees that lose their needles include the tamarack, European, and western larch all lose their needles.
Additionally, the dawn redwood and the bald cypress lose their needles in the winter. The golden larch (which is not a true larch) loses its needles as well.
With these conifers, you will see the needles change from their summer green to a golden yellow in autumn before turning brown and falling off.
Top 3 Evergreen Trees
Almost all pines, firs, and spruces are true evergreens. A true evergreen does not lose its needles and does not discolor in the autumn or winter. If you see your evergreen with brown needles, you may need to investigate for health issues.
Unless there is severe weather, your evergreen will sustain cold and hot weather, drought, and flooding, as well as strong winds and frost. The needles demand less water than the broad leaves of the maple tree.
Finally, your evergreen will produce an abundance of cones. These cones come in many shapes and sizes. When it is time for fertilization, the cones will fall and litter the ground.
You may want an evergreen in your yard or garden for that pop of green year-round. However, many species grow quite slowly. So, you will need to plan accordingly. There are some excellent choices for hedgerows or windbreaks, but not all conifers are the right choice for this application.
1. White Pine Tree
As mentioned above, most pine trees are slowly growing. However, the eastern white pine grows quickly (over 24 inches a year). Furthermore, the needles are wonderfully soft. This tree has some potential as a privacy hedge if you pruned it properly. The needles will not deter intruders, though, because of their soft touch.
The eastern white pine grows up to 80 feet tall. Additionally, the spread reaches 40 feet wide. Overall, this is a hardy tree that sustains most of the climates in North America. It can sustain moist or rocky soil.
2. Fraser Fir Tree
With lovely, soft needles, the Fraser fir is a favorite for Christmas tree farmers. If you are looking for a low maintenance tree with a naturally beautiful shape, this is the one for you. Unlike the eastern white pine, the Fraser fir is less hardy. The Fraser fir prefers cooler weather and truly thrives in mountainous areas. Any location with hot and humid summers is not suitable for this tree.
The Fraser fir grows to 50 feet in height and 25 feet in width. They are often pruned and shaped by Christmas tree farmers into the proper pyramidal shape for selling around the holidays.
3. Norway Spruce
Just like the two other trees on this list, the Norway spruce grows soft needles. Norway spruces are the fastest growing spruce, climbing by two feet per year. That being said, it is very suitable for landscaping purposes. No matter if you want to grow a hedge or a centerpiece for your yard, the Norway spruce will quickly become a star.
With the dark green needles displayed year-round, the Norway spruce is also an excellent choice for a Christmas tree. In nature, these trees easily reach 60 feet in height. Though they sustain cold and frost well, they are not heat tolerant.
The list of true evergreens continues with most pines, spruces, and firs making the list. When planning your garden or yard, confirm which species are true evergreens. Most hybrids at nurseries will still display evergreen traits. You will be pretty safe as long as you avoid the cypress and larch genera. As stated above, the list of deciduous conifers only contains 20 species out of 615. Studying that list of conifers to avoid should make it easy for you to pick the perfect evergreen to display yearlong color in your yard.