Understanding the Growth Habits of Conifer Trees: A Guide for Landscapers

Uncategorized By Mar 22, 2023

A comprehensive guide has been released for landscapers planning to add conifer trees to gardens or landscapes. The guide outlines important growth habits and care recommendations to ensure the trees grow healthily and live long. Conifer trees are slow-growing, with whorled branching, needle-like leaves and a central leader growth pattern. They need proper planting, watering, fertilising, and pruning to optimise their growth and aesthetics. The guide’s tips include choosing well-drained soil with full sun exposure, regular watering to avoid fungal diseases, slow-release nitrogen fertilisers and minimal pruning enough to remove dead, diseased or damaged branches without altering the tree’s growth.

Understanding the Growth Habits of Conifer Trees: A Guide for Landscapers

If you’re planning to add conifer trees to your garden or landscape, knowing their growth habits is crucial to ensure their health and longevity. Here’s a comprehensive guide that explains the growth habits of conifer trees and what you, as a landscaper, need to do to optimize their growth and aesthetics.

Understanding Conifers

Conifers are evergreen, cone-bearing trees that are native to many parts of the world. The most popular conifers are pines, spruces, firs, and cedars. These trees add structure, texture, and color to any landscape, making them a popular choice for landscapers.

The Growth Habits of Conifer Trees

Understanding the growth habits of conifer trees helps you make informed planting and care decisions. Below are the key growth habits of conifer trees:

1. Central Leader Growth

Conifer trees grow vertically in a central leader growth pattern. This means they have a dominant leader, or trunk, that grows taller than the other branches. The central leader serves as the main axis for the tree’s growth, giving it a pyramid-like shape.

2. Whorled Branching

Conifer trees have whorled branching, which means that the branches come out in a circular or spiral pattern from the trunk. This is in contrast to deciduous trees that have alternate branching. The whorled branching of conifers helps them tolerate heavy snow loads and high winds.

3. Needle Leaves

Conifers have needle-like leaves that are usually long and skinny. The needles are adapted to conserve water in arid conditions and to minimize surface area, reducing water loss through transpiration.

4. Slow Growth Rate

Conifers are known for their slow growth rate, even in optimal growing conditions. This means that they are long-lived trees that need minimal maintenance once established.

Optimizing the Growth of Conifer Trees

Although conifers are low-maintenance trees, they need proper planting, watering, fertilizing, and pruning to optimize their growth and aesthetics. Here are some tips:

1. Planting Conifers

When planting conifers, it’s essential to choose a location that has well-drained soil and full sun exposure. Dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the root ball and the same depth as the container. Backfill the hole with a mix of compost and native soil. Water the tree thoroughly and add mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth.

2. Watering Conifers

Conifers need regular watering, especially during the first two to three years of growth. Water the tree deeply once or twice a week, depending on the temperature and rainfall. Avoid standing water or waterlogging, as it can lead to root rot or other fungal diseases.

3. Fertilizing Conifers

Conifers don’t need excessive fertilization, but they can benefit from a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. Avoid using high-nitrogen fertilizers that can burn the roots or damage the tree.

4. Pruning Conifers

Conifers need minimal pruning, but you can remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches in the late winter or early spring. Avoid pruning the central leader or the main branches, as it can alter the tree’s growth pattern or damage its structure.


Q1. How fast do conifers grow?

A. Conifers are slow-growing trees that can take several years to reach their mature height and width. The growth rate depends on the species, the site conditions, the planting technique, and the care practices.

Q2. What is the best fertilizer for conifers?

A. A slow-release nitrogen fertilizer that’s specifically formulated for conifers, such as an 18-6-12 or 12-6-12 blend, is ideal for feeding conifers. Apply the fertilizer in the spring and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Q3. How do I prune a conifer tree?

A. Use sharp, clean pruning tools, such as loppers or shears, to remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Cut the branch close to the trunk or the main branch, leaving a 0.25-inch stub. Avoid pruning the central leader or the main branches, as it can alter the growth pattern of the tree.


Conifers are beautiful and resilient trees that add value and style to landscapes. Understanding their growth habits and following the best planting and care practices can ensure that they thrive and provide years of enjoyment.