Mounding forms fill in gaps
Variegated elkhorn cedar (Thujopsis dolabrata ‘Nana Variegata’)
Conifers with a mounding habit usually have a fluffy texture, adding softness to the garden. These shrubs can have a loose branching structure or a creeping growth pattern, but either way, they fill in the middle ground between taller trees and the ground layer. Not all medium-size, mounding conifers will grow in the shade, but some do.
Don’t confuse Emerald Spreader™ Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata* ‘Monloo’, Zones 5–7) with those overgrown blobs flanking foundations across the country. This prostrate grower is far handsomer than those yews commonly used for hedging. Its small, dense, dark green needles and low, spreading habit set Emerald Spreader™ apart. It can be used as a billowy ground cover (quickly reaching its maximum size of 3 feet tall and 9 feet wide) and helps add depth, texture, and contrast to the garden floor. Emerald Spreader™ does not like root competition, so it usually does best when planted in dense shade under trees with deep root systems, like tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera, Zones 4–9). Deer like to graze most yews, so take the proper precautions.
I sometimes find mounded shapes difficult to work with because of their loose habit, but the bold presence of variegated elkhorn cedar (Thujopsis dolabrata ‘Nana Variegata’, Zones 5-7) lends itself to a variety of uses. It makes an impressive focal point and looks equally good integrated with other low-growing conifers and perennials. Its moderate size (6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, growing 3 to 4 inches per year) is nothing special, but the bright green-and-white foliage is strong yet delicate. Deer will nibble on its bright white tips, so offer it some sort of protection. Partial shade and moist, well-drained soil are best.