Sunday, January 20, 2013

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Hoopsi blue spruce
Hoopsi Colorado blue spruce
Living in the Chicago area, I've always appreciated the blues -- especially those in my garden during the winter.

I have nine evergreens with blue or green and blue needles that provide much needed color this time of year. For most of the growing season, these conifers retreat into the background, providing texture and a nice backdrop for the perennials and shrubs. In the winter, though, they take center stage.

It wasn’t always this way. Evergreens and I started out like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I thoroughly disliked the scrubby junipers in the foundation planting at my first house as well as a taller, sharp-needled juniper near the front door that seemed to attack every visitor. They were quickly removed. I vowed never to plant an evergreen.

Living through a few snowy Minnesota winters with next-to-no color in my back yard softened my position. I planted an arborvitae to screen my wood pile.

Then I moved to the Chicago area where I eventually worked part-time at a nursery specializing in dwarf conifers. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. I never realized that evergreens came in so many sizes, shapes and colors besides green. Many are slow-growers or very narrow, perfect for typical urban lots.
Blue quickly became my favorite because it complements the purple, blue and pink flowers I tend to plant. Call me old fashioned, but don’t call me late for dinner.

Here are my "everblues."

Dwarf globe Colorado blue spruce

1.)    Dwarf Colorado Blue Spruce. (Picea pungens glauca globosa) A globe that anchors the main bed in my front yard. A slow grower, it will eventually be about 3-5' tall and wide. A nice complement to blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). 

Hoopsi blue spruce

2.)    Hoopsi Blue Spruce (Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’).  Tall, thin and true blue. A slow grower, it will eventually reach 20-30' tall, and just 5' wide. It was the first evergreen I planted after moving to my current home and the tallest one.

Blue Star juniper

3.)    Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’). A small ground hugger, only 2-3' tall and 3-4' wide at maturity. The needles take on a bronze tone during the winter.

Vanderwolf's Pyramid limber pine with needle closeup
Vanderwolf's Pyramid limber pine with needle closeup
4.)    Vanderwolf’s Pyramid Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’). These branches with their blue and green needles are verrrry flexible, a plus if you have small children running around in your back yard. Open habit. Another slow grower, its eventual height is estimated at 20-25' tall and 10-15' wide.
Blue Shag white pine

5.)    Blue Shag white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Blue Shag’). This round ball with blue and green needles is a slow grower but could eventually become 5' by 5'. Located near my front door, it blends particularly well with perennials.

Candicans white fir

6.)  Candicans white fir (Abies concolor 'Candicans'). Wonderfully thick blue gray needles. Will gets to be 30' tall and 10' wide. Has purple pine cones. My neighbor actually asked me if the pine cones were real!

The following are harder to find, but be sure to pick them up if you spot them.
Blue Serbian spruce

7.)    Blue Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika ‘Glauca’). I love the swooping nature of the branches and the blue color makes it even more special. Eventually will reach 50-60' high and 20-25' wide.

Yukon Blue white sruce

8.)    Yukon Blue white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Yukon Blue’). This evergreen has short needles that are almost a “smoky’ blue and cute, tiny pine cones. It supposedly will eventually reach 12' tall and 5' wide. Another slow grower, it isn't in danger of reaching that anytime soon.

Blue Tear Drop black spuce

9.)    Blue Tear Drop Black Spruce (Picea mariana ‘Blue Tear Drop’). Its foliage is an unusual shade of blue grey and its branches are slightly droopy. Will only get to about 3-4' in 10 years.

Of course, I do have an extensive wish list. It includes a Dream Joy juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Dream Joy’) which has blue needles and yellow tips. Ah, conifer lust!!

I am watching my evergreens particularly close this year because of the ongoing severe drought in my area. They generally don’t show the signs of stress until the fall when they have their annual needle drop. Evergreens also can dry out quickly in the winter because the frozen soil doesn’t allow the roots to replace the moisture lost through evaporation.

I kept watering them well into November (and have the water bill to prove it). Our precipitation is still about 10” below normal and -- with little snow cover -- it looks like that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Still, I’m willing to keep it up and provide some TLC next spring. Without my blue evergreens, I’d definitely have a bad case of the winter blues.

By Karen Geisler

Dwarf globe and Hoopsi blue spruces
Globe Colorado blue spruce with Hoopsi blue spruce in the background


  1. Oh, these are gorgeous! I live in zone 7, where many blue evergreens don't do well, since they aren't native. Yours are just lovely. We too are suffering a terrible drought, and I hear you on that water bill! :O)

    1. Thanks. I have to admit that I'm jealous of all the things you can grow in zone 7 that are out of the question here. I've been planting more and more natives in recent years because of the drought.

  2. Thanks for the tour. I also have had a prejudice against evergreens that has softened. Right now all I have is a big japanese yew. I especially like the dwarf Colorado blue spruce and the yukon blue white spruce.

    1. The dwarf Colorado blue spruce is a good one that I hope you'll try. By the way, I was told in a garden design class at the Chicago Botanic Garden that 30% should be evergreen!? Wonder if that's still the official line.

  3. Karen we just got a foot of snow after the last thaw so now we have snow cover again. I love the blue evergreens but I did not realize how many there were.

  4. These are all growing in your yard?
    It must be very busy to take care of all that.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I have several conifers - sadly no blues. Agreed with the drought issue. It is challenging to keep them and also get them started. I will start watering again as early as possible.

    Teresa Marie

    1. I'm planning on watering mine tonight or tomorrow morning,even though it rained & sleeted over the weekend. Crazy weather!

  6. I grew up with a huge blue spruce in the front yard (it's still there). I don't have any now and really miss them in winter. Nice photos!

    1. Thanks. Hope you'll care some sort of dwarf evergreen. They really are well behaved.

  7. I also came slowly to enjoy and love evergreens. Your collection is amazing and the information is very helpful in expanding my garden collection. Thank you for sharing.