Plant Profile: China Fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata)


Today’s Plant Profile is about the China Fir, or Cunninghamia lanceolata. This is a majestic, evergreen tree that stands out in the landscape with its blue needled foliage. It is not a tree that should be planted in a small area as it can reach 75′ tall by 30′ wide in the landscape. It should be sited in full sun or very light shade and so that it can spread its branches far and wide.

China FirChina Fir was brought to the United States in the 1800’s for use as an ornamental tree. As is indicated by its common name, it hails from China where it can be found growing on roadsides as well as rocky hillsides. This should give you some indication of the toughness of this tree. It will do its very best in moist, well-drained soil but will grow quite well in soil that is drier. It is reliably hardy to Zone 7 but can be grown in Zone 6 gardens as well. In a cold Zone 6 garden, it may be killed to the ground in a harsh winter but it will resprout from suckers and will form a lovely dense shrub until the top is killed again in a subsequent winter. China Fir and Yews are the only two conifers that will resprout from suckers if they are cut back to the ground. You can use this knowledge to your advantage if you have a smaller garden but still want the beauty of the China Fir; just cut it back to the ground when it outgrows its allotted space and wait for it to fill the space again.

China Fir does have one significant drawback: it holds its dead foliage scraps in the tree instead of dropping them like pines and other conifers do. I call them foliage scraps because they aren’t individual needles…they are foot long pieces of foliage that have the needles intact. If allowed to accumulate for too long, the tree can look quite unkempt in the landscape. I have found that if you limb the tree up, it provides a path for the dead foliage to exit the tree. It also allows the lovely cinnamon colored bark to be displayed.

China FirIf you enjoy blue foliage in the garden, you should consider the China Fir. ‘Glauca’ is a cultivar that has been selected for its rich blue needle color. If your garden is small, you can treat it like a large shrub and cut it back every few years to keep it in check. But the true beauty of the China Fir is observed when it is allowed to grow to its maximum ability and spread its long Dr. Seuss-like branches over the landscape. I’d like to know if any of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have experience with growing China Fir. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

February 22, 2012Permalink 13 Comments

Plant Profile: Hollywood Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’)


Today’s plant profile is on the Hollywood Juniper, otherwise known as Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’. While we’re on names, it also goes by Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ so don’t be confused if you see it listed as this at your local nursery.

The Hollywood Juniper is a fast growing large shrub or small tree that tops out around 15′ tall and 10′ wide. With selective pruning, you can keep it smaller to fit a particular area such as a corner of a house. Its bluish-green color lends itself to many backgrounds, including brick walls and houses as well as fences and siding. It has an interesting twisting habit with two to three leaders. If you like your garden to be perfectly symmetrical, this is not the plant for you. But if you enjoy a more whimsical, natural landscape, this plant can fit into almost any garden.

Hollywood Juniper derives its common name from its popularity in Los Angeles area gardens but it is perfectly at home in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region as well. Thriving in full sun, it is content with minimal water once established. Its boastful branches maintain their bluish-green color throughout the winter and don’t turn purple in cold weather as some junipers do. Hollywood Juniper is cold hardy through Zone 5 (-20°F) so it comes through the other side of Mid-Atlantic winters unscathed.

When siting it in the landscape, care should be taken to not locate it under eaves where snow falling from the roof in sheets could land. Some snow here and there falling isn’t a problem but if you have a particularly steep roof slope that sheets of snow descend from, pick another area of the garden to display this beauty. The Hollywood Juniper makes a beautiful specimen in the landscape but it can also be used as a privacy hedge or windbreak as well. It is salt tolerant so for all of you coastal folks, this makes a particularly adaptable shrub. And it’s deer resistant as well. The only real cultural requirement that this plant has is its need for well-drained soil. Don’t place it in a low or consistently wet area or you’ll end up with an Addams Family juniper.

Birds enjoy the evergreen foliage and can often be found nesting in the protective branches during the winter. It sports small blue berries in the winter months that add to its attractiveness to birds. Hollywood Juniper is practically bulletproof when it comes to pests and diseases. If planted in well-drained soil, you shouldn’t have any issues with root rot or other scourges.

Now I must confess that I generally despise junipers as a whole. There are only two that I can tolerate and they are the Hollywood Juniper and the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Perhaps it is due to the volume of junipers I have encountered in my professional career or the vast quantities of bermudagrass that tend to rear their ugly heads through patches of juniper…either way, I am not a fan of junipers with these two exceptions. The Hollywood Juniper is truly a gem that stands out in a sea of otherwise overused species and cultivars. I’d love to hear how you’ve used Hollywood Juniper in your landscape…leave me a comment in the section below or send me an e-mail at Happy gardening!


December 7, 2011Permalink 6 Comments