Some of the most highly sought-after conifers are those with bright golden or yellow foliage for a portion of the year or throughout the seasons. While these varieties can literally glow in the garden, they tend to require some special care or have special siting requirements to ensure they look their best.
Since these are such a popular group of conifers, in this three-week series of blog posts we will discuss which varieties perform best under which conditions. But before we mention all the varieties, let’s first determine how climate and sun exposure affect their coloration.
One of the most important factors to consider is the amount of light these colorful varieties should receive. In many cases, too much sun can burn the foliage and cause the upper, more exposed branches to turn brown. Just as fair-skinned people are more susceptible to sunburn, the same applies to light-colored conifers. However, many varieties require some sun exposure to show the golden color at all.
This difficult balance of sun and shade is largely dependent upon the climate. Drier climates with more overhead sun exposure tend to cause golden and variegated varieties to burn much more quickly. By contrast, growing yellow conifers in more humid or more northern locations or those that are further north, will allow them to be sited in full sun with minimal to no sunburn. Sun exposure must be evaluated year-round. Winter sun can burn foliage as well. Care must be taken when planting in an area shaded by deciduous trees as full sun exposure during the winter can cause sunburn and foliage desiccation. Often times this burn is temporary, meaning that the existing foliage will be partially to fully burnt, but the buds (active growing points) are fully viable. This will cause the brown foliage to look poor until the spring buds explode with healthy foliage.
Also, light-colored conifers have a greater tendency to burn when they are grown in containers. After having been established in the ground for a few years, most varieties will outgrow the sun burning and develop the desired coloration as they mature. Sometimes providing shade for a few years while the plant is developing will help it outgrow the scalding more quickly, and in other cases, patience is important to wait for the roots to acclimate to their new home and soil type. Once the trees fully mature, it is common for them to outgrow burning altogether, even in sunnier, drier locations.
In our December blog posts, we will discuss some particular varieties and what conditions they prefer to look their best in each climate.