“Evergreens” that ain’t

You’d think a tree covered in pine needles in the middle of summer would A) be a pine tree and B) be evergreen. I’m learning how wrong I can be. And how un-evergreens are golden in the fall garden.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is indeed a pine tree–a beautiful, fast-growing native of Ontario with long, lush blue-green needles (see photo bottom left). As an ornamental tree in your backyard, this one would be striking. But you’ve got to have the room for it. White pines can grow up to 30 metres tall with a substantial girth to match. If you’ve got the space, you’ll love what one of these beauties can bring to your garden. Not only will you have a jaw-dropping giant (some day) but, each fall you’ll get a gorgeous show. An Eastern White Pine’s needle coverage is constantly rotating as some needles mature and others die. Each needle only lasts about two or three years, after which they turn a lovely warm yellow and then drop off. So every fall your tree will partially turn gold, creating a striking tie-dyed effect.

Tamaracks (Larix laricina) also grow soft green needles (though much shorter than those on a white pine) all summer long. But they’re not pines at all. They’re larches. Another gorgeous native of Ontario, these super hardy trees were seared into our collective Canadian unconscious thanks to Lawren Harris’ Tamarack Swamp. And therein lies the fascination with Tamaracks. Harris caught them in all their golden glory. Tamaracks turn brilliant yellow in the fall (see photo bottom right) because even though they’re conifers (producing cones), they’re not evergreen at all. They’re deciduous, meaning all their leaves (that would be the needles) turn colour in the fall and then drop off. Tamaracks aren’t the easiest trees to introduce into a suburban garden. They grow very tall, too. They’re happiest in very moist soil. They can’t handle shade of any sort and don’t like to be crowded. And their naked splendour all winter long may not be to everyone’s taste. But for pure drama with a Group of Seven vibe, this is the tree that will have you fascinated all year round.

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