Conifers help break monotony of a win­ter for­est


Our corner of the world would be bleak if it were not for conifers. In win­ter, conifers be­come the sym­bol of life while the rest of the for­est re­mains dor­mant or asleep.

Conifers, or ever­greens, break the monotony of a leaf­less win­ter for­est. They pro­vide wind pro­tec­tion and are a source of shel­ter for in­sects, birds and small an­i­mals.

To a non-gar­dener all conifers might look the same. Quite the con­trary. There’s a world of dif­fer­ences be­tween spruce, cedars, pine and fir and within each conifer there are seem­ingly end­less va­ri­eties and cul­ti­vars.

With­out a doubt, White pine, On­tario’s of­fi­cial pro­vin­cial tree, is our most trea­sured conifer. White pine is hardy, highly adapt­able, fast grow­ing and has been east­ern Canada’s most valu­able tree for com­mer­cial pur­poses.

White pine is note­wor­thy for its straight main stem and pic­turesque branch­ing habit, giv­ing it a windswept look. It is no small won­der that White pines are a favourite for artists. In home land­scapes, White pine is ap­pre­ci­ated for its soft nee­dles and rapid growth. They pro­vide pri­vacy, wind pro­tec­tion and are a won­der­ful back­ground for a colour­ful peren­nial gar­den.

Scotch pine, a slower and smaller grow­ing rel­a­tive of White pine, has grey-blueish ev­er­green colour with nee­dles about two inches long, about half the length of White pine. Nee­dles are two per clus­ter while White pine has five per clus­ter. Scotch pine, not a Cana­dian na­tive, has been a favourite for Christ­mas tree pro­duc­tion.

Aus­trian pine is a chunky ev­er­green with rugged dark green fo­liage. Its claim to fame is that it will grow any­where, in­clud­ing busy cities with poor soil and ques­tion­able air pol­lu­tion. They will also tol­er­ate salt spray along ma­jor high­ways.

White spruce, like White pine, is na­tive to Canada but likely wouldn’t be grow­ing in South­west­ern On­tario were it not for the fact that it has been in­tro­duced to the area. White spruce has a dense growth habit, grow­ing a lit­tle smaller and slower than White pine, mak­ing it bet­ter suited for small prop­er­ties.

Nor­way spruce has been in­tro­duced to Canada from Europe. It be­comes stately, even­tu­ally grow­ing over 100 feet tall. In time, its limbs droop down­ward, giv­ing Nor­way spruce a grace­ful form. If you see an ev­er­green lined ru­ral laneway, you can bet the trees are Nor­way spruce.

Colorado spruce has gained pop­u­lar­ity be­cause it is a stately tree with blue nee­dle colour. It has of­ten been planted on its own in the cen­tre of a front yard. Colorado spruce, like Aus­trian pine can with­stand liv­ing in ad­verse city con­di­tions as well as along busy high­ways.

White cedar, an­other na­tive se­lec­tion with wide­spread growth through­out East­ern Canada, is trea­sured as a host for many birds. White cedar grows smaller than most conifers, mak­ing it a good choice for hedges and windrows. Black Cedar, a pop­u­lar re­lated spinoff, has darker green fo­liage and a more com­pact growth habit.

Other On­tario conifers less abun­dant than those listed above in­clude Cana­dian Hem­lock, Dou­glas, Sil­ver and Bal­sam firs, Jack and Red pine and East­ern red cedar.


A Nor­way spruce. Gar­den­ing ex­pert John DeG­root says all conifers or ev­er­green are not cre­ated equal, and notes there is a world of dif­fer­ence to be ob­served among the many species. John DeG­root photo

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