Most people erroneously suppose that just because many plants are dormant during the winter, there is no such thing as a winter landscape.
Sadly, they're missing out.
Finding plants that look good in the winter takes some effort. While common junipers and mugho pines add some interest to the winter landscape, there are more exciting evergreens to choose from. Unusual forms might be weeping, columnar, prostrate or spreading. Some have exceptional colorations silvery blue, gold, grays or other colors.
Since planting living Christmas trees is becoming more popular, it is worth considering how Christmas trees you purchase might perform as landscape trees in the future.
With that in mind, let's start with our state tree, the Colorado blue spruce. While the species form is great for the mountains, it outgrows most residential landscapes in a few short years. It will top out at nearly 80 feet. However, you can lengthen its usefulness in your landscape by selecting one of several select cultivars that will stay much smaller and more attractive.
All of these are Picea pungens glauca. The most popular kinds include Backeri, which is one of the best upright pyramidal cultivars. It grows 12 feet tall by 6 feet wide, with blue foliage. Blue Totem is very vertical and grows 15 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Hoopsii matures at 40 feet tall by 15 feet wide with silver-blue foliage.
Another popular tree is Picea abies ' Pendula or weeping Norway spruce. This irregularly shaped, semiweeping tree grows 10-15 feet tall and develops branches that flare horizontally and make a focal point in beds or near entrances.
Picea glauca or white spruce is seldom planted as the species form in Utah. However, the dwarf form is probably the most common small evergreen tree in our landscapes. While the Alberta cultivars are the most popular, there are many other choices available.
You might want to consider Densata or Black Hills spruce. It has light green to bluish-green leaves and is more ornamental and denser than white spruce.
Picea omorika or Serbian spruce is the tall upright evergreen growing at the LDS Conference Center. While the species form gets 50 feet tall, it is supposed to be more tolerant of pollution than blue spruce. Selected cultivars include Berliner's Weeper, an upright, narrow tree with pendulous branches, and Pendula, a spreading plant when young that become weeping with age.
Fir trees have two native species in Utah. They prefer living in the cooler areas of our mountains but can adapt to selected valley locations. Subalpine fir or Abies lasiocarpa has a smaller cultivar called Compacta, and white fir or Abies concolor cultivar Candicans has silvery-blue needles and a narrow shape.
Many pines also are useful in Utah landscapes. One of the most successful is the Austrian pine or Pinus nigra. There are a number of selected cultivars to consider, including Arnold Sentinal, a columnar selection from the Arnold Arboretum, Obelisk, a narrow, columnar-shaped type, and Pyramidalis, an upright form that grows quickly.
Limber pine or Pinus flexilis is native to Utah, but the species form gets very large and looks very open. It is an excellent tree for colder climates, but you should avoid those that are grafted on a white pine rootstock. Selected cultivars include Pendula, a spreading, vigorous tree with bluish foliage, and Vanderwolf, a pyramidal form with ascending branches that becomes broader with age.
Another pine species, Pinus heldrichii var. leucodermis or Bosnian pine is becoming more popular in Utah. The species form grows 40 feet and spreads to 10 feet. It is a slow-growing tree with glossy, dark green needles. The young cones are purplish-blue and add extra interest. One cultivar is Compact Gem, a dwarf with very dark green needles.
Pinus sylvestris, or Scotch pine, normally grows to about 50 feet in height with a spread of about half that. It is a popular tree in our area but is too large for most landscapes when mature, so look for some of the many smaller cultivars.
Selected choices include Beacon Hill, Compressa and Contorta, a tree with twisted trunk and branches. Fastigiata is a narrow, columnar form with blue-green, twisted foliage, and Globosa Viridis, a pyramidal plant with deep green needles. There are more than a dozen other cultivars of Scotch pine available.
Larry Sagers is the horticulture specialist, Utah State University Extension, Thanksgiving Point.