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How-To

Growing Tips for Variegated Conifers

Fine Gardening – Issue 191
Photo: Carol Collins

Although generally low-maintenance, variegated conifers have a few extra needs. Here’s what you should do to keep them looking their best. See 9 cool variegated conifers here.

Reject reverted branches

As with any variegated plant, new growth may revert back to the original color of the species or cultivar. Some variegated plants are more stable than others.

Deal with reversions swiftly by pruning out these green branches so that you do not lose the character, shape, and color of the plant.

Prevent winter burn

The lack of pigment in a conifer’s needles can result in winter burn. March is particularly a difficult month, because as the sun gets stronger, its bright reflection off the snow can damage the more sensitive variegated needles, especially on young plants. To help prevent winter burn, follow these steps:

  • Place sensitive varieties in sites with morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Wrap new plants in fabric, not plastic (photo). In spring, remove the fabric once the frost is out of the ground and the forecast calls for a couple of cloudy days. This will allow the plant to acclimate to the new light levels. Disastrous burning may occur if the plant doesn’t have time to adjust from dim light to bright sun.
  • Bury plants in snow or leaf mulch, but be aware that both methods have potential drawbacks. Snow works fine as long as you have consistent snow cover; leaf mulch works fine as long as you don’t have voles in your garden. If you use leaf mulch, though, be sure to remove it in early spring.
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