Besides winter interest and year-round color, conifers can serve as a privacy screen, provide wildlife habitat, and protect against high winds. Recognized for the cones they produce and their needle-like foliage, many conifers prefer the cultural conditions of more northern areas with high elevation and cold winters. Heavy soils, heat, and drought in the South Central region are not welcome by the needled evergreens – most of the time.
Conifers in Southern Regions
There are some conifers in southern regions that do well though. This includes Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. Extra care is required to alleviate environmental stress (such as irrigating conifers in times of drought or hot spells). Applying a thin layer of mulch will prevent rapid loss of moisture and help regulate fluctuating temperatures in southern regions.
By checking regularly for signs of disease, stress, or insects, many problems can be eased before they become serious. Your local extension agent can help diagnose disease or insect damage. A variety of needled evergreens of varying heights, foliage color, and landscape use are available to gardeners in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas.
Choosing Conifers for Southern Landscapes
For residential landscapes, it’s important to learn the potential size of a coniferous tree before purchase because many of them are too large for placement near a building or as a street tree. If your heart is set on a certain large conifer, check for a dwarf cultivar in that species.
Below are recommended needled evergreens for Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. Due to wide variations in the environment and climate within each state, these selections may perform better in one part of the state than another. Check with your local extension office or nursery professional for more information.
In Oklahoma, consider these conifers for landscape interest:
- Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda L.) can reach 90 to 100 feet (27-30 m.) tall. The native tree needs moist soil with a pH of 4.0 to 7.0. It can withstand temperatures as low as -8 degrees F. (-22 C.). Loblolly pine also does well in Arkansas and Texas.
- Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) grows from 150 to 223 feet (45-68 m.). It prefers most soils with a pH of 5.0 to 9.0. Ponderosa pine tolerates temperatures down to -36 degrees F. (-38 C.).
- Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii) generally reaches 25 to 30 feet (7-9 m.) in the landscape, but in its native environment, can exceed 70 feet (21 m.) tall. It can tolerate high pH soils and drought once established. Bosnian pine is recommended for smaller spaces and is cold hardy to -10 degrees F. (-23 C.).
- Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a deciduous Oklahoma native conifer that can grow to 70 feet (21 m.) tall. It can tolerate wet or dry soils. It is hardy to -30 degrees F. (-34 C.) Bald cypress is also recommended for Texas.
Coniferous plants for Texas that perform well:
- Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) is a smaller tree topping out at 30 feet (9 m.) in the landscape. It prefers acidic, well-drained soil and makes an excellent coastal tree. Black pine is hardy to -20 degrees F. (-29 C.).
- Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) features an open crown without a leader, contrary to the typical cone shape of needled evergreens. The size is a moderate 50 feet (15 m.) tall. Stone pine is hardy to ten degrees F. (-12 C.).
- Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is excellent for screening or as a wind barrier. Size can reach 50 feet (15 m.) tall. It produces berries relished by wildlife. Eastern red cedar is hardy to -50 degrees F. (-46 C.).
- Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica) is a quick grower to 20 to 30 feet (6-9 m.) and a great option for hedging. Very drought tolerant but dislikes wet soils. It is hardy to 0 degrees F. (-18 C.). It is also a recommended tree in Arkansas.
- Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) of Central Texas is a U.S. native evergreen with a trunk that is often twisted or branched from the base, giving the illusion of a multi-trunked tree. Heights of ashe juniper can reach 30 feet (9 m.). It is hardy to -10 degrees F. (-23 C.).
Conifers that do well in Arkansas include:
- Weeping conifers such as Cascade Falls bald cypress and weeping blue Atlas cedar can be grown statewide, while the weeping white pine and weeping Norway spruce are better suited to the Ozark and Ouachita regions. They need well drained, good soil in a sunny location. Pruning is important to establish form.
- Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) performs best in northwest Arkansas in a shady location. Japanese yew is often used as a hedge. It grows to 25 feet (8 m.) and is hardy to -30 degrees F. (-34 C.).
- Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is a medium sized conifer that can reach 50 feet (15 m.). Canadian hemlock excels in the northwest region of the state in part to full shade and is hardy to -40 degrees F. (-40 C.).
- Atlantic Whitecedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) resembles the native eastern redcedar. The fast growing conifer works well as a screen and tolerates boggy soils. Growing from 30 to 50 feet (9-15 m.), Atlantic whitecedar is hardy to -30 degrees F. (-34 C.).