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Conifer Growth Sizes

To assist in garden design, the ACS has been instrumental in refining the definition of conifers in ornamental horticulture by creating four categories of sizes based on average growth characteristics over a 10-year period.

Landscape designers have only recently discovered dwarf conifers as housing prices climbed and lot sizes shrank. Virtually every major conifer species has a number of cultivars that defy their species by growing only a few inches a year – or less – thereby giving a small garden a palette of evergreen colors, textures and shapes that will hold together for many years, decades even.

There are some cultivars that grow less than an inch a year thereby ensuring a design scheme that can be effective in an urn on an outdoor patio or in a trough situated on a hardscape feature. Though not widely available in mass market garden centers these true dwarf conifers can be found in specialty nurseries, some of which ship mail order. ACS publications and meetings are a great way to tap into this network of suppliers.

ACS has established four size categories for conifers- Miniature, Dwarf, Intermediate and Large – to aid in landscape design. Once established, these plants’ growth may vary some due to cultural, climatic and geographical conditions but these registered cultivars have, through trials and succeeding generations, maintained their described size. The individual plant records in the ACS Conifer Database contain this information.

Unfortunately, not all nurseries and growers provide this data about annual growth and anticipated size at ten years on their plant tags – yet. Spread the word.

Category Abbreviation Growth per year1 Approx. size at 10 years2
Miniature M < 1″ <2.5 cm < 1′ <30 cm
Dwarf D >1″ to 6″ >2.5 cm to 15 cm >1′ to 6′ >30 cm to 1.8 m
Intermediate I >6″ to 12″ > 15 cm to 30 cm >6′ to 15′ >1.8 m to 4.5 m
Large L >12″ >30 cm >15′ >4.5 m

1: Size may vary due to cultural, climatic and geographical region
2: Refers to growth in any direction