The Best Coniferous Trees To Plant In Australia + Images
Around the world, coniferous trees are loved for their distinctive needle-like foliage and vibrant colouration. While they are most commonly associated with the forests and gardens of the Northern Hemisphere, coniferous trees are a versatile addition to Australian gardens. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and colours, making them ideal for all types of gardens, from carefully styled Japanese gardens, through to road-side avenues.
But what exactly is a coniferous tree, and which are the best coniferous trees to plant in Australia?
What is a coniferous tree?
When most people think of conifers the classic Christmas tree springs to mind. But while pines are the largest family of conifers, not all conifers are pines. So, what is a coniferous tree?
Put simply, a conifer is any plant that produces cone-like seeds. According to the American Conifer Society, there are approximately 800 different conifers occurring in nature, and many thousands more cultivated varieties. As well as the ubiquitous pine tree, cedars, cypresses, firs, junipers, redwoods, spruces, and yews are all common examples of coniferous trees.
Conifers aren’t just trees either—they come in numerous shapes and sizes, ranging from ground-covering plants and small shrubs, to forest giants.
Do coniferous trees lose their leaves?
The vast majority of coniferous trees are evergreens. This means that unlike deciduous trees which shed their leaves in a dramatic display of colour every autumn, the majority of coniferous trees retain most of their needles year-round.
We say ‘most of their needles’, because coniferous trees will shed their old foliage over time to make way for new growth. In most species this process occurs gradually, with older foliage yellowing and falling off in autumn and winter. However, the volume of needles shed each season varies according to the species, with some trees shedding large amounts and becoming visibly sparse over the cooler months.
Best native coniferous trees to plant in Australia
Australia is home to numerous endemic coniferous trees that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Some of the most well-known Australian conifers include the Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), Kauri Pine (Agathis australis) and Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis).
Below are some of the best native coniferous trees to plant in Australia.
Wollemi Pine (Wollemia Nobilis)
By Architeuthis Dux – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia
Discovered in a remote part of Wollemi National Park in 1994, the Wollemi Pine is one of the world’s oldest living plants. Initially known only through fossil records, the tree has since been cloned and is available for planting by backyard gardeners.
In the wild, the plants grow up to 40 metres tall, but they can be easily pruned—or grown in large pots—to keep the trees at a more manageable size. Young Wollemi Pines have striking bright green foliage, which changes colour to a yellowish-green as the trees mature.
The trees are one of the least heat tolerant Australian conifers, and grow best in climates with a maximum temperature of 35 degrees Celsius. While they can tolerate full sun, they prefer shady locations that provide protection from the wind. They also require regular watering—particularly in the summer months—accompanied by well-draining soil to prevent root rot.
White Cypress Pine (Callitris columellaris)
By Hesperian, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia
Cypress pines are found Australia-wide in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are suited to a range of climates. White Cypress Pine is one of the most popular species, due to its hardiness and low-maintenance requirements. The tree grows upright, with a spreading shape, reaching a maximum height of 12 metres, and maximum width of 4 metres. Its vibrant dark green foliage and cone clusters make it an attractive hedging and screening option.
It will grow in most climates across Australia, except those prone to heavy frosts, and prefers a full-sun to part-shade growing position. It can be grown in any soil type, and is drought tolerant once established.
Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
As the name suggests, the Norfolk Island Pine is endemic to Norfolk Island, however, it is widely grown along the Australian coastline. The tree is large, growing to between 20 and 35 metres tall and 10 to 15 metres wide, and is well-known for its symmetrical, pyramid-like shape and dark evergreen foliage. Unlike other conifers, Norfolk Island Pines have soft foliage. When grown in a pot, they make a wonderful living Christmas tree.
Norfolk Island Pines tolerate harsh coastal conditions and thrive in humidity. While they are not well-adapted to cold climates, they will tolerate very light frost. Norfolk Island Pines prefer a growing position in full-sun to part-shade and will tolerate most soil types.
Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii)
Hoop Pines are a subtropical rainforest species widely planted in Australia as both ornamental trees and in timber plantations. They are a large tree, reaching up to 60 metres tall and 4 metres in girth, and occur in rainforests and rainforest edges along Australia’s east coast. The foliage is a deep green, and occurs in tufts towards the end of each branch. The tree’s common name comes from the way the bark on the tree’s trunk forms horizontal bands.
Given their size, the trees require a spacious planting location in a subtropical climate. Regular watering is required for the first two years, however the trees are resilient once established and will continue to grow slowly over time.
Best foreign coniferous trees to plant in Australia
Found across the world, there are numerous conifers to choose from when considering what trees to plant in an Australian garden. Below are some of the best foreign coniferous trees to plant in Australia.
Pencil Pine (Cupressus sempervirens)
Pencil Pines are one of the most distinctive coniferous trees available. Tall and narrow growing, with deep green-blue foliage that grows in dense sprays, these trees are ideal for planting in small spaces, or along avenues. They also make a wonderful screening tree, due to the density of their foliage. At maturity, the trees reach between 10-15 metres tall, but retain their compact, cylindrical shape, reaching a maximum width of up to 1 metre.
Pencil Pines are hardy and will tolerate both dry and frosty conditions. Because they don’t produce many cones, minimal pruning is required for the plant to retain its desired shape. These trees grow best in well-drained soil, and prefer a position in full-sun.
Blue Arrow (Juniperus scopulorum)
Similar in shape, but shorter than the Pencil Pine, Blue Arrow is a compact evergreen in the juniper family with beautiful dense, blue foliage. At maturity, it reaches approximately 4-5 metres in height, and 40-50 centimetres in width. This compact size makes it an ideal conifer to plant as a narrow hedge, or in pots as a statement plant.
Blue Arrow will tolerate most conditions, including a range of soil types, but grows best in full sun. To encourage a deep root system to develop, the tree requires deep watering in the first year. Once established, it requires little maintenance other than occasional watering when the soil is dry.
Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’)
If you’re after a statement plant, or a centrepiece for a Japanese-style garden, the Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar is a great choice. The tree is a cultivated variety of two parent plants—the Atlas Cedar and the Blue Atlas Cedar—specially bred to grow in a weeping style, rather than upright. It is a slow grower, reaching between 3 and 4.5 metres tall and 4.5 and 6 metres wide at maturity. Small, dusty blue needles form in dense clusters along the branches, and the plant can be trained to form either a low shrub, or a taller tree with outstretched branches.
The Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar tolerates cold conditions in Australia well, and prefers a full-sun to part-shade planting position. Select a growing position that provides the plant with enough space—they initially grow quickly and will be most attractive if given the space to spread their branches.
Dwarf Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii)
Native to Japan, the Dwarf Japanese Black Pine is an evergreen conifer that forms striking cloud-shaped tufts of dark-green foliage. It has a curved trunk, and grows asymmetrically making it an ideal statement piece. While the plant will grow beautifully by itself, it is also an ideal topiary tree. Slow, and low-growing, the tree is perfect for Japanese inspired gardens and small spaces such as courtyards.
Dwarf Japanese Black Pines will tolerate a range of conditions and will be drought tolerant once established. Select a growing position in full-sun to part-shade, with well-drained soil.
Golden Larch (Pseudolarix kaempferi)
Native to eastern China, the Golden Larch is a deciduous tree with magnificent colouration in autumn. The tree reaches between 30 and 40 metres and grows in a large conical formation. In spring and summer the tree’s foliage is a bright green, before turning golden in autumn and falling off the tree. Coupled with the tree’s attractive flaking bark, this makes it an ideal statement tree in large gardens.
Golden Larch tolerates heat and humidity well, and prefers a growing position in full-sun, with part-shade during the hottest times of the day. They will also tolerate the cold in Australia, but prefer well-drained soil.