When was the last time you planted a conifer in your yard? These often overlooked workhorses need more attention and respect.  I often hear folks say that they get too large and drop too may limbs when we get ice. If you choose the right conifer and put it in the right place, these are not issues. Conifers come in the lowest of ground covers to the tallest trees on the planet and in a variety of shapes and colors.  It is very important to do some research as to the mature size of the plant so it doesn’t take over the front door in 10 years. There are many reasons to plant conifers; sight and sound screening, wildlife food and cover, year-round color and they make a beautiful back drop for spring and summer annuals and perennials.

So what is a conifer? They are usually evergreen trees, shrubs, or groundcovers with needle-like or scale-like ‘leaves’ and the male reproductive parts consist of a cone bearing pollen on the stamen. Well, all that sounds pretty good until you consider that the Ginkgo is considered a conifer. Leaves not needle like, not evergreen, and female fruiting bodies that smell horrible when rotting on the ground. I guess every family has their eccentric members. Conifers have been around for 225 million years and there are over 615 known species today (Farjon 2010). Surely out of that many choices, something will do well in your yard.

Before purchasing a conifer, visit the conifers at Memphis Botanic Garden ( There is a concentration of these plants at the Northwest corner of the garden, both outside and inside the children’s garden fence. If you head north through the rose garden, there is a mailbox at the edge of the conifers with a map and plant list. We are certified as a Conifer Reference Garden through the American Conifer Society and you can find an application to join the organization in that same mailbox.  The goal of this organization is ‘development, preservation and propagation of conifers with an emphasis on those that are dwarf or unusual, the clarification of nomenclature and education of the public’. Visit their website at: Maybe you will become a conifer groupie too……

Laurie Williams, Adult Education Coordinator, Memphis Botanic Garden