Planting a Tree? Consider a Conifer!

Washington is known as the “Evergreen State” thanks to our vast conifer forests.  However, large conifers often get overlooked when selecting trees for urban areas.  Conifers such as pine, spruce or fir provide many year round benefits to the urban home or garden.

The evergreen canopy offers cover for birds and other wildlife.  When planted strategically, conifers can reduce energy costs by shading homes in the summer and blocking wind in the winter.  The expansive root systems of conifers can help to stabilize slopes and reduce erosion.  The canopy of evergreen needles can filter air pollutants and reduce stormwater runoff.  Also, because of their unique form, large conifers will store more carbon and create more oxygen over a smaller area than trees with broad canopies.  Because conifers maximize these benefits all year, these large trees can be an excellent and sustainable choice if  your site has the appropriate space.  In addition to these ecosystem services, conifers often become beloved neighborhood icons as they mature.

If you have room in your yard for planting a large conifer and live in Seattle, there are free trees available through Seattle reLeaf’s Trees for Neighborhoods Program.  Learn more and apply for your tree here:

Norway spruce (Picea abies)
Oregon State University
Norway spruce (Picea abies). This semi-weeping tree can have a dramatic effect in the landscape working well as a group planting for screening. The cigar-like cones hang ornamentally from the branches.


Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Oregon State University
Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris). The distinctive flaking orange/red-brown bark of this tree is one of the first things that gets your attention. The twisted blue-green needles add interest as well. This tree can develop a picturesque, irregular outline with maturity.


Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana)
Oregon State University
Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana). This northwest native conifer has no serious disease or insect problems. Its blue-green needles are spirally arranged around the shoots. Its slender/small habit and layered side branches make it a great choice for smaller or rock gardens.


Photo credit for all pictures to Oregon State University Landscape Plants Database.