Good trees for urban gardens: Evergreens can add interest to winter landscapes

This Hinoki Cypress has a golden edge.

During this time of year when so many trees and shrubs have lost their leaves, evergreens play an important part in your garden. The Hinoki cypress (chamaecyparis obtusa) is one good example.  The false cypress has many varieties developed by the Japanese where it is native.

There are varieties which are quite tall but also many varieties which are dwarf. The variety named “Gracilis” has many versions, which have become standouts in the garden. Many of them have gold edges, which make a bright spot in a winter garden. You will see examples of these throughout Edmonds.
A dwarf Hinocki Cypress outside the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

Edmonds in Bloom chose a dwarf Hinoki Cypress when they landscaped the south side of the main building of the Edmonds Center for the Arts. They planted it in a place with Art Deco additions to the building. They did not want to obscure the decorations with a tree that would grow too tall. Fortunately, Edmonds gardeners have many good choices in varying sizes.

A mountain hemlock

Another good evergreen is the mountain hemlock (tsuga mertensiana), a native of the higher elevations of Washington. At sea level, this hemlock stays much smaller. It grows slowly and takes 20 years or so to reach 20 feet. The silhouette of this tree gives the Northwest evergreen look we love in the Pacific Northwest. But it will not overwhelm a small garden.

There is a special beauty in the winter where we notice the shape and bark of a tree and appreciate the trees with red branches. This may be the time to add to the beauty of your winter garden.

— By Barbara Chase

Barbara Chase is a Master Gardener who serves on the City of Edmonds Citizens Tree Board.

  1. thank you for this very interesting information. I have a new garden and finding it difficult to add evergreens that don’t grow too tall for my neighbors to dislike them being planted!

    1. This is a great article. I have a number of dwarf evergreens in my yard. Many came from savage nursery in Kingston now closed. Ravenna gardens in the uvillage is another source and they are very well informed. The one thing I have found is that the true dwarves are often pricey. But worth it because they are dwarfs and work well here. Another thing to look for are minatures. I have a couple of those as well. Be sure to carefully read and research the labels.

  2. I really appreciate the fact that the hemlock is native, albeit to higher elevations. I often look at the trees and other landscaping plants around the city, and think of how few are native, or adapted to the seasonality of the Sound – generally moderate winters, and long dry summers. The fact that almost all of our downtown street trees are northern hardwoods, nonnatives, is rather disappointing. I’d like to see an education program that helps owners choose native trees and understory plants, to reduce the chance of escaped nonnatives, reduce water demand in summer, and in some cases reduce fire risk. I’d be even happier to see the city adopting a native-plants policy for city-owned property.

  3. I’m in eastern Washington where we planted a beautiful Hinoki tree 4 years ago from the westside, but is now dying since January. We had snow early before the other trees could loose their leaves. It was fine at first, but after cold winds and zero degrees for weeks it started turning rust color. We just have to wait – and be thinking of another type of tree to replace it.☹️

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