Stately evergreens in the mountains and in the landscapes of the cities do as much as any plant to promote the Christmas spirit. Spreading branches adorned with green needles, bending under the weight of new-fallen snow or adorned with lights and tinsel designate these as sentinels of the winter landscape.
In Utah, numerous conifers provide wondrous beauty, shelter from the wind and protection for birds and other animals. Numerous states have chosen conifers as their symbols. Ten different states have chosen pines as their state trees and two states, including Utah, have spruces as symbols.Numerous species of pines grow well throughout Utah. Austrian pines are native to the forests of Europe and were introduced into this country in 1759. These trees grow 50 to 60 feet tall and 20 to 40 feet wide. They retain their lower branches better than other pines so they remain attractive in the landscape. They thrive in almost any climate or soil and are very cold-hardy. They tolerate alkaline soil, heat, drought and salt better than other conifers.
Ponderosa pines are native to the Western United States and are valuable timber trees in southern Utah. Cultivated trees may grow 60 to 100 feet high and 20 to 30 feet wide. Young trees are narrow, columnar and well-branched. As they age, they become large, open trees. They grow best with moist, well-drained soil but survive in arid areas.
Allepo pines are less well known but grow well on dry, hostile sites where little or no irrigation is available. They are not suitable for typical urban landscapes.
Limber pines are native in our mountains. They grow near summits and ridge tops where the soil is rocky and poor. Consequently the trees are often gnarled and deformed. In the garden, they are attractive and well shaped evergreens growing 20 to 30 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide. They are very dense when young but open up when they get older. One advantage is that they grow very slowly and do not overgrow their designated area.
Pinyon pines are natives and are widely dispersed in dry areas of Utah. They develop low, round or flat crowns and generally get no more than 15 or 20 feet tall. They grow slowly and will survive poor, rocky soils in areas with little moisture and wide temperature extremes. They are excellent windbreaks or screening trees, as they always remain dense. The added bonus of the pinyon nuts is seldom, if ever, produced on landscape trees.
Japanese black pines should be planted more often in landscapes. They grow to 25 feet tall and have extremely variable shapes, so they fit informal landscapes. They tolerate wind and salt and can be easily sheared into Christmas trees. They will form different and unusual shapes if allowed to grow naturally.
Scotch pines grow as highly shaped Christmas trees or to an irregular native form. There are also columnar forms available. They require well-drained soils but tolerate most other conditions.
The blue spruce, our state tree, produces magnificent specimens growing 80 to 100 feet tall. The species name, pungens, comes from the Latin word "sharp" as in puncture wound. The sharp, precisely erect needles plus the strict conical forms of the trees inspired early observers to propose the common name "spruce," which means "dapper, smart or fashionably put together."
Norway spruces also grow well in Utah. These trees, native to Europe, have greener, more pendulous branches. The trees are hardy and grow well in moist, well-drained soils. They will not tolerate hot, dry conditions. Weeping, upright and dwarf spruces are available.
White firs are native trees that grow 70 to 100 feet tall with a very narrow growth habit. They grow best in the mountains in rich, moist soils but adapt to other soils except for heavy clay. They may develop iron chlorosis in heavier soils. There are other growth forms available to broaden the landscape palette.
Douglas firs are not true firs and generally become too large to be permanent landscape trees. These native trees grow 80 to 100 feet tall. While young, they have a pyramidal shape but become loose and open with age. They prefer deep, moist soil, but tolerate most conditions except swamps or deserts. Douglas firs are available with pendulous branches or more upright growth.
Many other conifers are adapted to our area. They are used as specimens, as windbreaks, as shelters, or at this time of year, as trees for the holiday season. Conifers are versatile and useful. If your landscape seems to lack winter charm or suitable places to hang the outdoor Christmas lights, consider adding a few of these wonderful trees to increase the versatility of your garden.