Here is the 3rd installment of a series we are doing in December as the year wraps up to look at some of our favorite plants in 2023. This list is in no particular order and highlights the evergreen conifers we love both for their beauty and thriving growth in the mountains of Western North Carolina. While we are also big fans of fancy evergreens brought in from the west coast (like spruces), for this list we are sticking with conifers readily available from local suppliers in the southeast. Without further ado:
1. Thuja Green Giant arborvitae. While these trees are quite all over the place at this point, we have to include them here for pure utility’s sake. If you need a tall, fast-growing privacy screen, there’s no better tree on the market right now.
2. Thuja Fire Chief arborvitae. Another in the same family as Green Giant, this is a relatively new variety on the market and an excellent foundation shrub if you need an evergreen that is both colorful and compact. Fairly slow growing but that’s a good thing for foundations.
3. Gold Fernspray chamaecyparis (false cypress). We just love both the green and gold versions of fernspray chamaecyparis. They grow to around 8′ and make excellent specimen evergreens or corner foundation planting. The loose, wild form isn’t for everyone, but if you like that look, they grow very well in WNC, and are deer resistant too!
4. Globosa Nana cryptomeria. Cryptomeria is one of those conifers that gets a little touchy with the cold, particularly if left in pots. Don’t let that deter you from planting globosa nana though, they make very nice, if slow-growing, foundation plants or low-growing specimens. We love their soft feel and unique leaf structure.
5. Thuja Polar Gold arborvitae. Polar gold, for us, beats out some of the other upright yellow conifers on the market like Fluffy or Forever Goldy. We think it’s form, somewhat like a more compact green giant, size (12-15′ at maturity), and just the right amount of gold make this cultivar stand out.
6. Thuja DeGroots Spire arborvitae. DeGroots! It’s not just a cool name with this one. If you like that California look with the tall thin Italian cypress, this is the best option for the southeast. We like DeGroots for corners or to frame doorways, and since they are hardy to zone 3, they are great if left in ornamental pots.
7. Thuja Pancake arborvitae. Pancake is a new one for us, and no doubt one of our favorites on this list. Pictures don’t do it justice, it has a fantastic blue-green color during cooler weather, the bluest we’ve seen on arborvitae. Pancake is very compact, making it very versatile in the garden. Don’t forget the compact conifers! Many people tend to look for perennial flowers or groundcover for border areas, but adding a few compact evergreens can make a very low maintenance statement as well.
There you have it, 7 of our favorite evergreen conifers of 2023 for growing in Western North Carolina. As you can tell, we are big fans of arborvitae, they just handle the dips in temperature we have in the mountains so well, as well as the heat and humidity of the summers. If deer are a big concern for you, you might want to stick with chamaecyparis or junipers, or just keep an eye on them for the first couple of years until they get established.