Shrubs for Oklahoma Gardens

By John Smelser


Buxus sempervirens 'Vardar Valley'
boxwood
Broadleaf evergreen

This is considered to be one of the few reliably evergreen forms of English Boxwood for Oklahoma gardens. Even so, it is recommended that Boxwood be watered thoroughly every 12-14 days during the winter months to insulate roots against temperature fluctuations & winter drought. Be aware that mulching may cause stem rot and is not recommended. Also note: Boxwood in western Oklahoma prefers afternoon summer shade. The leaves are a fairly unique shade of blue-green throughout the year. New growth is light apple-green, giving the plant a distinct two-toned look in spring. Varder Valley Boxwood gets about 2-2.5 feet high….spreads to around 3 feet….and forms a low, somewhat flat-topped mound in the garden.
No image Camellia oleifera
camellia
Broadleaf evergreen

Camellia’s used to be unseen in Oklahoma gardens. The introduction of cold-hardy cultivars having Camellia oleifera as one parent has changed all that. These cultivars reach about 5-7 feet in height, with a 5 foot spread. As of this writing, all cold-hardy cultivars bloom in the fall from September to December. They are available with white, pink, or shades-of-pink blooms. For best results, give them good drainage; rich soil with a pH on the acidic side of neutral; supplemental water during periods of stress in summer and winter; & afternoon summer shade.
Ilex cornuta
Chinese holly
Broadleaf evergreen

Chinese [or Horned] Hollies are widely used in Oklahoma gardens. Of the many available hybrids & cultivars, ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ is most highly recommended for our area. Consider it a far superior alternative to Burford Holly, Dwarf Burford Holly and Japanese Holly [Ilex crenata]. ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ is a vigorous & very durable hybrid that stands up to our climate fluctuations very well. It can be managed in the 5-6 foot range with judicious pruning….but can also grow significantly larger. Plants carefully shaped into pyramidal tree forms are especially attractive. Noteworthy features are very dark, glossy green leaves with 3 spines & very large, showy red berries in winter. Having said that, I will also recommend watering every 12-14 days in winter to significantly reduce the possibility of root, stem and foliage damage.
Ilex vomitoria
yaupon
Broadleaf evergreen

Yaupon [multi-trunk tree form] & Dwarf Yaupon [shrub form] Hollies sometimes seem to be a mandated staple in both our commercial and home gardens. Native to our state, it has proven to be a very hardy broadleaf evergreen. This is a beautiful plant when allowed to mature to natural form. Unfortunately, they are all too often whacked & slaughtered into balls and, even worse, boxes. Ironically, the dwarf cultivar develops a dense rounded form with no pruning whatsoever. The multi-trunk tree form naturally assumes a beautifully relaxed & windswept shape….and rewards gardeners with a good display of small, bright red berries in fall into winter.
Ilex x attenuata 'Fosteri'
foster holly
Broadleaf evergreen

This is the best of the American Hollies [Ilex opaca hybrids & cultivars] for gardens in our area. Specimens can reach 20 feet in height, are pyramidal in form, and have a base diameter of approximately 6 feet. The leaves are long & narrow, dark & glossy, with several spines along the margin. Fruit is smaller than that of many Ilex opaca….but they more than compensate for size by being very bright red and very attractive. It is very tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. Winter watering every 12-14 days is recommended.
Ilex x meserveae BLUE PRINCESS
blue holly
Broadleaf evergreen

This very attractive Holly is noteworthy for it’s foliage color; which is described by different authors as blue, blue-green and blue-purple. However described; they provide a good alternative to the shiny greens of most Hollies. This cultivar is also valuable for Oklahoma gardeners because it is more winter hardy than many other holly hybrids and cultivars. If you want berries please remember to plant one male [Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Prince’] in with the females.
Aesculus parviflora
bottlebrush buckeye
Deciduous shrub

This wonderful shrub is highly recommended for your garden; IF you are willing to follow the planting & maintenance rules needed to give you successful results. This Buckeye requires moist organic soils that also drain well. It needs to be protected from drying southwest summer winds. It requires shade on summer afternoons; planting under a large shade tree is ideal. It should be watered thoroughly during periods of summer heat & drought. This is not a “plant it and forget it” shrub. Give it what it needs, however, and you will be rewarded with a true garden “aristocrat.” The early summer blooms are spectacular. The fall color is a rich, butter yellow. This shrub will probably not exceed 8 x 8 feet in central Oklahoma; and it will accomplish this at a sedate pace.
Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Atropurpurea Nana'
Japanese barberry
Deciduous shrub

Crimson Pygmy Barberries are a somewhat common sight in area gardens, but that should not in any way lessen its appeal. It very easily fits the needs of a gardener who want a shrub that does not overgrow a small bed space. Even better…. it maintains its compact, rounded form without any pruning by the gardener. Best of all, its foliage has a deep red, almost smoky color that compliments almost any adjacent shrub or perennial. I particularly like this shrub paired with Russian Sage [Perovskia], Coneflower [Echinacea], ‘Paprika’ Yarrow [Achillea], and/or ‘Hot Cocoa’ Rose. A note for our area: gardeners who like to plant in the spring should be aware that this Barberry will not be very drought tolerant its first summer in the ground. It will need supplemental water in periods of high summer heat. As the shrub matures over the years, its drought tolerance will improve. Full sun will produce the best foliage colors.
Betula nigra 'Little King' FOX VALLEY
river birch
Deciduous shrub

This shrub is just the ticket for Oklahoman’s who garden in heavy clay soil. It’s even better for sunny borders that stay moist to wet a lot of the time. In dry borders it will appreciate supplemental water in the high heat of summer. The foliage has delicately cut edges and a good, bright green color. And the cinnamon tan bark flakes and peels just like its larger relative, the River Birch tree. PlantFinder suggests a mature height of 8-10 feet. I will suggest that Oklahoma’s growing conditions will lower this mature height by as much as 3 feet. Gardeners wanting an even smaller plant can prune….. but be careful; the beauty of this plant’s form can be ruined by thoughtless shearing.
Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Worcester Gold'
bluebeard

Deciduous shrub

Gardeners have been growing Blue Mist Spirea in Oklahoma gardens for years. It’s silver-gray-green foliage and late summer into fall blue flowers are handsomely good looking. And the butterflies it attracts are fun and beautiful. You get the blue flowers and butterflies with ‘Worcester Gold.’ But you also get soft golden foliage throughout the growing season. The clusters of small blue flowers appear on top of the foliage at a time when most shrubs are well past their bloom season. Very well drained soil and full sun are necessary for good performance.
Chaenomeles speciosa 'Toyo-Nishiki'
flowering quince
Deciduous shrub

The white flowering and red flowering varieties of Flowering Quince are considered harbingers of spring in central Oklahoma. As such they are widely planted. Much less well-known is the cultivar called ‘Toyo Nishiki.’ You will understand this recommendation when you see one in bloom. Some blossoms are white, some are pink, some are red, some are white splashed with pink….and all this on just one plant. [ If you can find it, the Chaenomeles japonica var. alpina listed in PlantFinder would be well worth growing here as well.]
Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'
bloodtwig dogwood

Deciduous shrub

This may strike you as odd…..but shrub Dogwoods are not recommended to gardeners for their blooms or their foliage. They are recommended for the yellow, green, or red stems they display so flamboyantly in winter. The shrub Dogwoods normally grown in Oklahoma have yellow or red stems. ‘Midwinter Fire’ beats them hands-down. The bottom of the stems are tawny yellow…. the tops & the twigs are blood red. An added bonus is good fall color. Make sure you plant this shrub in well-amended, organic soils….and afternoon summer shade.
Forsythia suspensa
weeping forsythia
Deciduous shrub

Forsythia is widely planted on the great plains. Very few examples of the varieties on PlantFinder can be found here. Because everyone plants the old, stand-by variety that gets HUGE and then gets clipped into balls and boxes. What a shame! I’ll link to this less common species instead of the ubiquitous one. The upright, arching habit better lends itself to shaping than the stoloniferous, old-fashioned one. And the serrated foliage is very attractive throughout the season. Better remember though; the weeping branches will root if they touch the ground. Full sun is best… any shade reduces the bloom display.
Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Mist'
dwarf fothergilla
Deciduous shrub

This is a beautiful plant, with multi-season appeal. The spring flowers remind me of cottontails. The foliage color makes both a colorful contrast & compliment to the greenery surrounding it. And the fall foliage color is fiery and attention getting. It is well worth growing in central Oklahoma…. as long as it is planted & maintained according to its needs. Mix lots of peat moss into your soil… as much as 80% by volume. This helps provide an acidic soil mix. Remember to run this plant just slightly moist…it should not be allowed to completely dry out… particularly in our hot summers. This is not a carefree shrub. Gardeners who enjoy the process as much as the results will thoroughly enjoy growing Fothergilla.
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'
witch hazel
Deciduous shrub

This beautiful plant will not get as large as it does in Saint Louis, but it will perform well out here on the plains. Plant it as an under-story shrub, in good soil, with protection from SW summer wind, and it will do very well. Do not plant it up against a wall or fence…. the reflected heat will stress this particular plant. The blooms do occur very early in the spring, or late winter. They are especially effective if the Witch hazel is backed by dark evergreens such as yews or hollies. ‘Arnold Promise’ & ‘Pallida’, also discussed on PlantFinder, are other good choices for our area.
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Bailmer' ENDLESS SUMMER
bigleaf hydrangea

Deciduous shrub

For as long as I can remember, Oklahoma gardeners have loved Hydrangeas….and complained of bloomless plants resulting from our quirky late frosts. Complain no more! ‘Endless Summer’ blooms on new as well as old wood. This means late frosts are much less destructive. It also blooms pretty much all summer…..given some extra care during summer’s high heat. Read the PlantFinder notes carefully for planting & maintenance guidelines. Remember that many of our soils [& our water supply] are very alkaline….so add aluminum sulfate in fall for blue blooms next summer.
Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'
panicle hydrangea
Deciduous shrub

This Hydrangea deserves serious consideration by Oklahoma gardeners. Its performance in Saint Louis was excellent, and there is no reason to believe it won’t perform as well here as other species & cultivars do. The panicles of bloom arrive quite late in the season… there is little risk of lost blooms to late frosts. In fact, it blooms into the fall…. a time when most bloom is well past. Shade on summer afternoons is recommended here, but good light is also necessary for good bloom production. This is a beautiful and reliable Hydrangea, and deserves more widespread planting in Oklahoma.
Hydrangea quercifolia
oakleaf hydrangea
Deciduous shrub

This is, quite simply, a superb flowering shrub with four seasons of visual interest. It’s leaves are enormous….and are lobed like the leaves of a Red Oak. Conical bloom clusters start out pure white and gradually fade to a rusty brownish pink. The leaves [again] turn rich shades of red & orange red in the fall. And the winter bark is cinnamon tan and peels like the bark of Birch trees. All of the cultivars shown in MBG’s PlantFinder will grow quite well out here on the plains. Although tolerant of light shade, these Hydrangeas will do just fine in full sun. I would recommend protection from southwest summer winds to avoid “tattering” of the leaves.
Ilex verticillata 'Nana' RED SPRITE
winterberry
Deciduous shrub

The MBG website recommends moist, acidic, organic soils for this cultivar of deciduous Holly. It also says, thankfully, it is adaptable to a range of soil conditions. The site also emphasizes the need for a male pollinator if you want berries. YOU WANT BERRIES! YOU WANT THIS SHRUB! It is infinitely worth growing in our area. The red berries on bare stems are stunningly beautiful. And they are produced at a time when most shrubs are beginning their preparations for dormancy & winter. If this sounds like a sales pitch, IT IS. I simply cannot imagine a gardener being disappointed by this remarkably beautiful plant.
Itea virginica 'Sprich' LITTLE HENRY
Virginia sweetspire
Deciduous shrub

Sweetspire is a very pleasing shrub for lightly shaded locations. It mixes well with Yews, Azaleas and Hollies…. offering enough contrast to stand out from the crowd. The spring “bottlebrush” blooms are very delicate, appear in profusion, and are fun to have around as a contrast to larger spring blooms. My favorite attribute are leaves that turn plum purple in the fall… and often last that way well into winter. This plant is very tolerant of Oklahoma’s heavy clay soils, and actually enjoys wet spots in the beds. The amount of bloom and degree of foliage color are improved with some direct light – a combination of morning & late afternoon light is ideal. Amend the planting soil with lots of organics for improved root development. I’m linking this entry to ‘Little Henry’ even though both plants have great merit in the garden. One is simply better suited to smaller spaces and smaller gardens.
Lagerstroemia indica 'Whit I' RASPBERRY SUNDAE
crape myrtle
Deciduous shrub

Listing this plant almost seems like belaboring the obvious. The mottled bark, multi-trunked look, superb fall color, and mid to late-summer blooms make it an almost indispensable part of a great plains garden. The “watermelon red” and “pink” varieties are over-planted [in my opinion.] Let me suggest any of the cultivars developed by Dr. Carl Whitcomb as significant improvements over older varieties. These include ‘Tightwad Red’, ‘Siren Red’, ‘Red Rocket’, ‘Raspberry Sundae’, ‘Dynamite’, ‘Burgundy Cotton’, and ‘Whit II’. Crape Myrtle need full sun in Oklahoma; and are tolerant of a wide range of soils. Make sure they get excellent air circulation to avoid powdery mildew.
Nandina domestica
heavenly bamboo

Deciduous shrub

Nandina’s are heavily planted in Oklahoma gardens because they are thought to be very shade tolerant. They are; but siting them in heavy shade deprives you of two of the plant’s more desirable features. In better light, Nandina’s will display showy terminal clusters of white blooms that “lay” across the top of the plant. Better light will also more reliably provide you with foliage that turns bright to deep red during the winter months. I will not recommend the true dwarf [Nandina domestica ‘Nana’] to you because it all too often defoliates in our winters. I can strongly recommend ‘Gulf Stream’, ‘Harbor Dwarf’, ‘Firepower’, and ‘Wood’s Dwarf’ as excellent compact forms of this plant.
Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile'
mock orange
Deciduous shrub

My initial attraction to this shrub was its mature size. I got the feeling it would not try to overwhelm everything nearby. But ultimately I fell for the blooms. They are large enough to be prominent individually as well as in groups. Four petals create a simple and very beautiful flower. The fragrance is rich and tropical. Cut stems for indoor display just as the buds are coloring. Pay attention to the need for well drained soil. This Mockorange does not like waterlogged or wet soils. Can be acquired locally or on-line.
Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo'
ninebark
Deciduous shrub

This is a very adaptable, tolerant shrub for Oklahoma gardens. ‘Diabolo’ has added ornamentation to its list of attributes. The leaves of ‘Diabolo’ are a good purple color that adds a little mystery to the garden. In spring-early summer the mystery is enhanced by attractive pinkish-white bloom clusters. Ninebark benefits from a little afternoon summer shade. But don’t get carried away; too much shade will turn the leaves green and result in fewer blooms.
Rosa banksiae 'Lutea'
banksia rose
Deciduous shrub

I cannot resist mentioning one rose that simply will not survive the winters in Saint Louis [zone 7 hardiness]. I first became aware of this rose on a visit to Tombstone, Arizona. The specimen there had been growing on an arbor since the late 1800’s. The trunk is now approximately one foot in diameter. It now covers a 7,000 square foot arbor. It blooms once in late spring, bearing small but exquisitely beautiful pale yellow blossoms. The canes are thornless, and the bark is a terrific cinnamon color, peeling in large vertical strips. I planted one in Oklahoma City in 1992. It’s 3 trunks are only 4 inches each, and it only covers 225 square feet of it’s arbor. But then, it’s only a baby. It is the glory of our garden every spring. If you have an arbor, and some patience, it cannot be recommended strongly enough.
Rosa 'Dainty Bess'
hybrid tea rose
Deciduous shrub

Bess may have been dainty, but her rose needs a stronger defining adjective. Good looking foliage on a strong upright form; tolerance of poor soils; free flowering habit; strong resistance to pests & diseases. Does this sound dainty to you? Best of all; the blooms are five petaled singles with a ruffled edge; produced in clusters. The color is a wonderful clear pink; dramatically enhanced by reddish-purple stamens. She may be hard to find; she is impossible to resist. Oh yes, she bloomed repeatedly through 30+ days of 100+ temperatures.
Rosa 'Golden Wings'
shrub rose
Deciduous shrub

Any passionate gardener knows that once in a while you see a plant and just cannot get it out of your mind. Such was the case when I saw a climber called ‘Mermaid’ at our local botanical garden. But I just could not justify another large climber in my garden. Then I read in a mail-order catalogue that ‘Golden Wings’ was like a shrub form of ‘Mermaid’ and knew I had to have one. I haven’t been disappointed. The blooms are large singles, creamy light yellow, with reddish orange stamens. They are strikingly beautiful. On top of that, it blooms freely all summer, has a dense bushy habit, few thorns, and no apparent pest or disease problems. This rose is well worth searching out and planting.
Rosa 'Meidomonac' BONICA
shrub rose
Deciduous shrub

‘Bonica’ is a medium sized shrub rose; generally growing about 3 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide. The foliage is glossy dark green and usually free of powdery mildew and black spot damage. Blossoms are cupped, fully double, about 3 inches in diameter, borne in terminal clusters and a wonderful pastel pink color. Let the last blooms stay on the shrub and you can enjoy bright orange persistent hips well into the winter months. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions and some degree of drought once established.
Sorbaria sorbifolia
false spiraea
Deciduous shrub

Many gardeners love a perennial called Astilbe, but few gardeners in our area have had any prolonged success with them. Think of Ural False Spirea as a durable, and very large white Astilbe…..and you might be more tempted to grow them in your garden. Here are several more reasons: [1] It is one of the very first shrubs to leaf out in spring [2] The new leaves have a terrific copper, bronze, purple coloration [3] the leaves have a distinct, delicate, and rich “pleated” appearance throughout the growing season & [4] The bloom panicles are quite large, pure white, and very showy. Plant it in full sun to light shade, in good soil, and make sure you provide supplemental water during summer’s high heat.
Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame'
Japanese spirea
Deciduous shrub

What this shrub lacks in size, it more than makes up for with impact. The new spring growth is red copper and gold. As the leaves mature they take on a fairly uniform gold color. This foliage is “topped” with flat heads of good pink blooms during the summer months. In the fall, foliage again turns shades of gold and red. It makes a colorful and durable contribution to mixed borders.
Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim'
Manchurian lilac
Deciduous shrub

Excellent resistance to powdery mildew is reason enough to plant this lilac in your garden. You also get beautiful, fragrant spring blooms and good burgundy red fall foliage. Plant in rich, but well drained soil and run slightly moist during periods of high heat. Making sure the location has good air circulation will cinch preventing mildew. Full sun is recommended in Oklahoma as in Missouri.
Viburnum acerifolium
cabbage
Deciduous shrub

This Viburnum is valuable for its willingness to bloom and develop fall foliage color when planted in shade. Plant it just as you would any Viburnum…. Give it sun to some shade in good, mildly moist soil. Prune only just after flowering.
Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake'
Japanese snowball
Deciduous shrub

This doublefile viburnum has several desirable attributes. It blooms profusely in spring. The blooms line up on horizontal branches to give the shrub a “layer cake” look. Sporadic rebloom occurs through the summer into fall. The foliage is very attractive; with good color and distinctive veining. Foliage often turns good shades of red & wine in the fall. The mature size allows its use in smaller gardens. Give ‘Summer Snowflake’ good soil and light afternoon summer shade. Supply consistent water in periods of high heat.
Viburnum x burkwoodii 'Mohawk'
burkwood viburnum
Deciduous shrub

If possible plant this shrub on the north or east side of your home; and fairly close to the front entry or the patio. Your family and friends will be rewarded with a real treat in late spring. Rounded clusters of red tipped flower buds will open….forming tight 3.5-4 inch hemispheres of waxy white blossoms lightly splashed with soft pink. The treat consists of an easily noticeable fragrance that is sweet without being cloying. Note: if the weather is “Oklahoma windy” while Mohawk Viburnum is in bloom; by all means cut some stems for an indoor vase; and enjoy the fragrance indoors. Once bloom is finished for the season, do any pruning you feel is needed. Pruning later in summer, or fall, or winter will deprive you of blooms the following year. Mohawk Viburnum finishes the growing season with a good display of maroon foliage that lasts through all but the hardest winters.
Viburnum x juddii
Judd viburnum
Deciduous shrub

This comment virtually duplicates the entry for ‘Mohawk’ Viburnum. These plants have the same cultural needs. Mohawk Viburnum is evergreen in Oklahoma. Judd’s Viburnum is deciduous.] If possible plant this shrub on the north or east side of your home; and fairly close to the front entry or the patio. Your family and friends will be rewarded with a real treat in late spring. Rounded clusters of red tipped flower buds will open….forming tight 3.5-4 inch hemispheres of waxy white blossoms lightly splashed with soft pink. The treat consists of an easily noticeable fragrance that is sweet without being cloying. Note: if the weather is “Oklahoma windy” while Judd’s Viburnum is in bloom; by all means cut some stems for an indoor vase. Once bloom is finished for the season, do any pruning you feel is needed. Pruning later in summer, or fall, or winter will deprive you of blooms the following year. Judd’s Viburnum finishes the growing season with a good display of maroon foliage before losing it’s leaves to winter dormancy.
Xanthoceras sorbifolium
yellowhorn
Deciduous shrub

Very few Oklahoma gardeners are familiar with this shrub or small tree. I cannot tell you why; I can only suggest it be planted much more frequently. The spring bloom is well worth any significant lack of interest later on. It’s blooms, about 1 inch in diameter, are five petaled and pure white with a yellow or red throat. They appear as terminal clusters on the end of each branch; shortly after Forsythia’s bloom in spring. Careful pruning after blooming can keep Yellowhorn looking like a small shrub. Left unchecked, it will reach 8-12 feet with a 4-10 foot spread in central Oklahoma. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, as well as drought and heat.
Cedrus atlantica (Glauca Group)
blue atlas cedar
Needled evergreen

As a juvenile this conifer’s appearance borders on the bizarre. But I can assure you that patience will reward you with a stunningly beautiful weeping cedar. In addition to being a unique stand-alone plant, it can be beautifully espaliered on an exterior wall. Just make sure it gets lots of sun. The most unique use of this shrub [in my experience] was one that had been trained along the top of a tall straight-line series of posts and beams at the entrance to the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver, BC. Visitors stroll down a walk paralleling the posts & beams, then turn and enter the garden by walking under this magnificent specimen. Full sun and good, well-drained soil is important to this conifer’s health & well-being. Give it some room… that small plant you installed will someday be a specimen plant 6-12 feet in diameter and about half as tall. This is a highly desirable ornamental plant that is beginning to be used in numerous Oklahoma City gardens.
Cephalotaxus harringtonia
Japanese plum yew
Needled evergreen

You might have to search a bit to find this needle evergreen. Nonetheless, It is worth the effort. Plum Yew is very shade tolerant. It is also proving to be more moisture tolerant than the Yew [Taxus cuspidata ‘Densiformis’] most Oklahomans grow. Having said that, I will also say reasonable drainage is important. Plum Yews will not tolerate sopping wet soil for long periods of time. Plum Yews have a relaxed, mounding habit…and pleasantly soft-to-the-touch foliage. Mature needles are very dark green….new foliage is soft, apple green…giving the plant a distinct two-toned appearance in spring to early summer. As the plant matures in your garden, it will begin displaying large bright red fruit in fall & winter…..hence the name ‘Plum Yew.’
Chamaecyparis obtusa
hinoki cypress
Needled evergreen

The key to growing this cypress successfully in Oklahoma is light and moisture. Supply it with some light summer afternoon shade. Give it good soil that drains satisfactorily… not heavy clay. Don’t let it get bone dry, but don’t keep it wet. Yes, they are a challenge to grow out here on the great plains. This is a beautiful and graceful conifer, and a pleasure to see in a garden. It should certainly be planted in our area, but perhaps beginning gardeners should look for a conifer a little less demanding.
Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea'
Japanese falsecypress
Needled evergreen

I sincerely wish I could say “plant it… and it will grow for you.” The truth is that the “False Cypresses”, comprising the genus Chamaecyparis, are not all that easy to grow here. The trouble, of course, isn’t our winters…. it’s our summers. Having said that…. I will say you can successfully grow these beautiful conifers if you follow the rules. First, counteract our alkaline soil & water by mixing lots of peat into the soil and applying sulfur in early winter. Second, pay attention to soil moisture in periods of high heat. Do not let this plant completely dry out… but DO NOT keep the soil wet. Root rot will kill them just as readily as high heat. There are many specimens of this conifer in local gardens. One of the finest is in the Meinders portion of the Myriad Gardens.
Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific'
shore juniper
Needled evergreen

This Juniper’s frosted needles make it an excellent low standout in the winter garden. Junipers like this one achieve their greatest beauty when they can cascade over the edge of a raised bed or a sandstone rock. Their height makes them an excellent groundcover under roses, hollies, grasses and other needle evergreens. It combines beautifully with ‘Crimson Pygmy’ or ‘William Penn’ barberries. It is also a particularly strong plant along the banks of water gardens. Combine it with Japanese Rock Garden Juniper [ Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ ] for an interesting textural contrast. It makes an excellent edging plant for daylily & Iris beds. Full sun and well drained soil is necessary for best results.
Juniperus procumbens 'Nana'
Japanese garden juniper
Needled evergreen

Japanese garden juniper is a handsome choice for cascading over the edge of a large boulder or a retaining wall. Their apple green needles offer a nice contrast to the darker green foliage of adjacent plants. The compact form will spread 4-5 feet, with a mature height of less than 18 inches. Give them full sun and well drained soils. Debris, leaves, or neighboring plants can sometimes cover the prostrate stems & needles. This can smother entire branches of this relatively slow-growing conifer. So plan on doing a little occasional cleaning & maintenance to keep them looking their best.
Picea abies 'Pendula'
Norway spruce
Needled evergreen

A good location, good yet well-drained soil, and good watering habits are key to growing norway spruce this far out on the great plains. Even then, I would be lying if I told you there are ancient specimens of norway spruce growing in Oklahoma County. Here are some helpful suggestions for those who are going to grow them here: [1] Plant in a location that gets shade from 12-4pm on summer afternoons and is protected from southwest summer winds. [2] DO NOT plant against a building or fence. The heat bouncing off the hard surface will only make this plant suffer. [3] Plant in good, but well drained soil. If your soils are heavy clay, plant this specimen on a berm or in a built up area. [4] Provide supplemental water during the heat of summer. Keep the soil lightly moist, but certainly not wet. I know this seems like a lot of stringent rules, but then you paid a lot of money for this plant…. why not give it the best effort you can to see it succeed.
Picea glauca JEAN'S DILLY
white spruce

Needled evergreen

I’ve linked to the dwarf form called ‘Jean’s Dilly’ because this is the one “Dwarf Alberta Spruce” mentioned on PlantFinder. This tear-drop shaped conifer likes Oklahoma City growing conditions more than you might think. Give it well amended soil that is well drained… and it can even thrive in full sun here. But that is pushing the envelope…. it would far prefer a little shade on summer afternoons. Two notes of caution. All survival bets are off when you put these in pots on either side of your door. Any number of things can kill them in pots. And… please don’t shear this plant. No matter what they say on HGTV. This plant’s shape is genetically determined…. and you don’t have to do a thing to help its shape. One design idea: The nicest planting I have seen in Oklahoma City is a “grove” of about nine different sized Dwarf Alberta Spruce…. with heights varying from 1 to 4 feet. One additional thought: There is a brand new cultivar on the market called ‘Haal’, with VERY blue needles. It is well worth investigating… then planting.
Picea pungens 'Montgomery'
Colorado spruce
Needled evergreen

Sometimes Oklahoma gardeners buy Blue Spruce and then, in late summer, exclaim “It’s not blue!” This compact form, along with a few other cultivars, should alleviate their problem. Why? Because species blue spruce are really only a good blue on new needles. As the needles mature they turn medium blue-green. The cultivars I mentioned, ‘Montgomery’ among them, were selected in part because they hold a good blue foliage color throughout the year. Another advantage to ‘Montgomery’ is a mature size that permits planting in small spaces. In central and western Oklahoma you are well advised to give spruce excellent drainage and some shade on summer afternoons. PlantFinder suggests pruning is possible. Please don’t…. there really is no need with this cultivar and you can severely damage it if you don’t know how to properly prune conifers. Shearing should be avoided at all costs.
No image Pinus mugo 'Valley Cushion'
dwarf mountain pine
Needled evergreen

I’m linking to ‘Valley Cushion’ because sometimes gardeners think they are getting a dwarf conifer when they simply buy mugo pine. The species can, and sometimes does, get 10-15 feet tall and wide in our area. ‘Valley Cushion’ will mature at a much more usable size for most gardeners. It is vitally important this conifer be planted in well-drained soil. It does not tolerate wet feet in Oklahoma. Good light is also important… it will not tolerate much shade. Given what it needs, this conifer is a charming and attractive addition to the garden.
Pinus thunbergii
Japanese black pine
Needled evergreen

I’m linking to Japanese Black Pine in the Shrub article because I want to discuss compact to dwarf forms of this plant that qualify for use as shrubbery in the mixed border. The first is a compact form called ‘Angelica’s Thunderhead.’ So named because its candles in winter & early spring are snow white. I’ve never seen two alike…. you are assured of a unique, highly windswept, densely foliaged conifer with bright green needles. The second is named ‘Pygmaea’ because it is, quite simply, dwarf in size and interestingly shaped. The third is much harder to find but well worth the effort. ‘Mount Hood’ is a cultivar that only grows to about 18 inches in height but spreads to about 8 feet. Each is a singular plant for the garden…. and all take almost exactly the care and siting of their parent.
Taxus x media 'Densiformis'
yew
Needled evergreen

Yews thrive in Oklahoma City as long as they receive afternoon summer shade and are planted in well-drained soils. This particular hybrid is noted for its dense foliage, dark green needles, and relatively compact form. It’s dark coloration doesn’t “brighten” shady areas, but it does provide year-round greenery in otherwise difficult planting sites. It is a superb “backdrop” for more colorful plants.
Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold'
American arborvitae
Needled evergreen

This species of conifer confuses some gardeners. They cannot get used to a conifer that likes moisture. That can be fatal for eastern arborvitae in Oklahoma. The soil does need to be well-drained, but the plant should not be allowed to go bone dry. It simply isn’t that drought tolerant in our area. Given the moisture it needs it is an attractive needle evergreen for our gardens. It will also benefit from very light summer afternoon shade. ‘Rheingold’ is a particularly appealing cultivar because the needles have a distinct orange-gold cast through the growing season.