Very small conifers – natural bonsais without maintenance

by Bertrand Dumont

When one speaks to you of conifers, the image that comes immediately to your mind is made of tall trees that rise like arrows to the sky. Or the image of the famous California redwoods whose highest peaked at 77 meters (a building of more than 25 floors). Unless it’s the Huon pines, located in Tasmania, which are more than 10,500 years old. In short, the word conifer doesn’t conjure up small plants … unless they are grown as bonsais. Yet there are many conifers that grow so slowly that they take years to reach maturity. One of the smallest conifers in the world is the ‘Minuta’ hemlock, which unfortunately, isn’t cultivated much, growing 2 to 4 millimeters a year. Even if they don’t always respect the principles and concepts of bonsais, compared to their kind, they can be described as such.

A long life

It should be noted that while deciduous trees are long-living plants (100 to over 300 years old), conifers are the champions. This longevity is effective not only for large trees, but also for their dwarf forms. So, a dwarf form can take almost 100 years to reach its… reduced dimensions. Therefore, if you install a plant that is one meter tall in 100 years, it is unlikely that you will be able to contemplate it in its “final” dimension. Depending on its size at the time of purchase, you will only see it, at best, at half its size when mature.

Microscopic growth

How do dwarf conifers reach these reduced dimensions? It’s very simple. Their annual shoots are microscopic … almost. In some cases, they are only a few centimeters, sometimes even less than one centimeter.

This very slow growth, of course, makes them expensive plants to buy. Indeed, before becoming “saleable” these varieties of conifers will remain in nursery for a long time where they will have to be watered, potted, etc. 

Champions of minimal maintenance

Once you will have installed the right plant in the right place, you just have to watch it grow (be patient!). Indeed, passed the period of recovery where watering should be well followed, these plants “grow” by themselves. Of course, not in size, watering only during heatwaves, and no fertilizer (even if you add some, they won’t grow any faster). As conifers are rarely attacked by insect pests and diseases, all that is left is to admire them.

Representatives in all species of conifers

All large coniferous species have representatives in the dwarf plants category. They are considered to be miniature plants when they reach less than one meter high and as wide when mature.

In spruce trees, many are dwarves. They all have the shape of a ball, more or less regular, according to the varieties. Some are flatter than others.

Two fir trees also grow in the shape of balls, but the appearance of their shoots makes them very original plants.

False cypresses also have dwarf plants in the shape of balls. However, they are rarely of a regular appearance. Several have filiform foliage that is more or less golden according to the seasons.

Some pines are also small in size. They then have a ball shape. Be careful, some varieties are small and very round at the time of purchase, but after a few years they will take up a lot of space. Ask your Passion Jardins coach to guide you in choosing the right plant.

In thujas or cedars, some varieties grow into regular and compact balls. There are some with green foliage and some with golden foliage.

Dwarf hemlocks have a round shape, flattened on top, and the tips of their branches fall gracefully.

Warning! low does not mean small

There are several conifers, especially in juniper trees, whose height does not exceed 30 to 40 cm. However, they can extend in width over 1.50 to 2 meters, and this within just a few years. These are so-called “creeping” plants that require a good surface to develop. Not to be confused with dwarf conifers.

In order to choose wisely the right plant for the right place ask the Passion Jardins coaches to accompany you in your decision-making.