If you’re yearning for something to freshen up your winter containers, miniature conifers are a great solution.

They come in a wide array of colors and textures but grow so slowly that they can thrive for years in a pot. Some are tidy little buns, others are cones so small they may as well be gnome hats and a few have quirky irregular shapes that grab your attention.

The most important things to know about conifers when considering a purchase are growth rate and shape. Light conditions and needle color are also key factors.

Growth Rate

Conifers can grow very fast or very slow and since most gardeners are working with limited space, understanding growth rates is very important. The American Conifer Society has developed 4 categories for growth.

Classification Rate Size in 10 years
Miniature Less than 1"/yr 10-12"
Dwarf 1"-6"/yr 1’-6’
Semi-dwarf 6"-12"/yr 6’-15’
Large More than 12"/yr Over 15’

Most labels on conifer plants list a 10 year size, but conifers do not stop growing after 10 years. Assume the 20 year size to be double the 10 year size.

Cultural conditions (sun, rain, soil compaction, fertilizer, etc.) affect the growth rate of any given plant. It is worth noting that in Portland it rains a lot and the moisture often makes plants grow on the larger side of the growth spectrum.

Here are some of our favorites:


Silberperle Korean Fir: Abies koreana ‘Silberperle’

Short, soft & fat green needles with white reverse and white resinous buds at branch tips in winter make Silberperle a garden standout. It grows in a tight bun shape in youth, but given time it may develop into a pyramid form.

Grows 8” x 10” in 10 years, sun-part shade, Z4

Miniature Hinoki Cypress: Chamaecyparis obtusa

Hinoki Cypress is a huge category of conifers with varieties in every size and color. The miniature forms are particularly sweet and interesting.

mini rockery hinoki cypress

Chamaecyparis obutsa ‘Golden Sprite’

Chamaecyparis obutsa ‘Golden Sprite’ is shown in the foreground. It’s gold and green leaves hold their color all year round and it glows the brightest in winter. It grows in a tight congested form habit and develops a cool irregular bumpy texture over time.

Grows 8” x 10” in 10 years, thrives in moist well-drained soil, best with morning sun, Z5

*Also shown in the photo are dwarf conifers, Cedrus libani brevifolia ‘Kenwith’ and the last gold leaves of Larix gmelinii ‘Romberg Park’ on the left.

mini donnamini

Mugo Pines: Pinus mugo

Plant breeders have been hard at work developing truly dwarf Mugo pines. After years of testing, they’ve developed several that are truly miniature in habit as well.

‘Mitsch’s Mini’, ‘Donna’s Mini' and ‘Short Needle’

‘Mitsch’s Mini’, ‘Donna’s Mini’ and ‘Short Needle’ are all excellent selections. All are excellent choices for container gardens, accenting companion plants with dark green needles and low mounding shapes.

Growth varies by variety with some growing 4” tall x 10” wide and others creating a perfect ball shape, 10” x 10” in 10 years. Full sun is best. Mugo Pines are incredibly cold tolerant, hardy to Z2 (-40f).


Tom Thumb Spruce: Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’

This is a true garden standout. Short gold-brushed needles hug branches creating definition in the branching structure that is unique among miniature conifers. It develops a nest-like shape that can find a place in any garden or container.

Grows wider than tall, 6” x 10” in 10 years, best in sun, but can burn in the hottest areas. Hardy Z4

From left to right: Picea glauca ‘Blue Planet’, Cunninghamia konishii ‘Coolwyn Compact’ & Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’.

Find the best Trees for your Garden

We carry a wide variety of trees year-round. These represent only a fraction of what you will find and are some of our favorites. Note: Viewing a Native Plant will take you into our Native Plant section.