Like many other plants, we only import conifers during the seasons that are best for planting here. The majority of the conifers we carry are grown in Northern Oregon with year round rainfall and temperate summers, so getting them established before the summer is crucial.
At Magnolia, we start bringing in conifers in the fall and stop bringing them in mid spring, with right about now being the best time for prime selection. In nature, Conifers come from all over the world, and where they come from is a pretty good indicator of whether they can adapt this hot and dry part of California. If you are lucky enough to have good draining soil, various sunlight conditions and automatic irrigation there is a place for every conifer we carry in your garden. Most of the smaller conifers we carry are grafted cloned varieties making them very predictable in growth and habit.
I tend to put conifers into three categories
Category 1- The Safest Bets for Success
Cedrus- True Cedars come mostly from the Mediterranean, and are excellent durable choices in the valley and up into the hills. They are very flexible with sun and soil conditions (provided the drainage is good).
Cupressus- Cypress are also from more arid places. Both the Arizona and Italian varieties do very well here, though they do need regular water to get a foothold. Monterey Cypress are a little trickier and seem to do better in clay rich soil with dappled shade.
Thuja- or Western Cedar thrive in shady or part sun spots Thuja occidentalis varieties are a great choice (occidentalis is a latin term used for plants native to the western americas). Other Thuja species can be more sensitive to dry heat.
Cephlotaxus and Taxus- though the Yews are not fans of afternoon sun, they are roughed performers in various shade conditions.
Category 2- The Softies-
Chamaecyparis, White Pines, Oriental Spruce, Cryptomeria and other Thuja varieties
It’s a safe bet with conifers that if they are soft to touch, they are not suited for hot areas in the North State. These plants need shade most of the day and a reliable watering system (drip irrigation is best).
Category 3- the Wild Cards- for those with green thumb confidence only-Other spruces and Pines as well as any new variety of anything
Some people have luck with certain plants, and some do not. What can I say, many conifers are not a sure thing here. Some customers can grow wonderful mugo pines and blue spruce and others fail miserably. Both plants tend to be ones that people plant multiples of, which can be a big expensive mistake. Start by trying these as accents in selected areas before you get too invested.
Once you get the conifer bug (and some get the bug big time), you might be wanting to try something new and different- and we stock the new and different if we think it has a chance of growing here.
Having a good watering system and large trees to give you dappled sun light can do wonders for plant success, but sometimes what ever your providing is not doing it for a type of plant. Never “mass” plant any conifers that not category 1 on the valley floor. Make sure that you or your landscaper has confidence in your plantings. I wouldn’t recommend changing a vacant landscape into a conifer garden in one big swoop and definitely not without a serious amendment to the soil (I love to use E.B. stone Azalea and camellia planting mix for all of my conifer plantings).
All this being said, once you choose the right conifer, for the right spot, going forward there is not many plants in need of less maintenance than dwarf conifers, and not many that can provide such year round interest.
-Chris Hunter Owner at Magnolia Gift and Garden