The shade loving evergreen shrub called Birds Nest

The distinctive shape of a dwarf Eastern Hemlock

Here’s my ‘Jeddeloh in its second year living in our garden. The distinctively round shape with a central depression is easy to make out. Shot in September, 2016 in Cdn. zone 6b, Oakville, ON.

The first time you see Tsuga canadensis ‘Jeddeloh’, a shade-loving evergreen shrub, there’s only one thing that comes to mind–a bird’s nest. The arching branches of this dwarf eastern hemlock naturally grow into the shape of a roundish bun with a top that’s flat save for a depression right in the centre. In fact, one of its common names is Bird’s Nest Hemlock. I’m surprised a duck or a goose hasn’t tried our shrub on for size. Mind you, it is taking pride of place in the bed of our front garden so there isn’t a lot of privacy. Here are 6 reasons why this shrub will make a great addition to gardens in USDA zones 3 to 7 (which basically means most of Southern Ontario, too).

1. Bird’s Nest shrubs really love the shade. Eastern hemlocks in general are the most shade tolerant of all tree species. They’ll happily spend their entire lives in the shade of other trees. And so will this dwarf variety.

2. They tend to live a very long time. The tree form of Eastern hemlocks can live upwards of 900 years. Although I couldn’t find any information on the average lifespan of a Jeddeloh, suffice it to say that it’s got the right genes for outlasting you and several generations after you.

3. They are very slow growing. Both ‘Jeddeloh’ and the regular tree form of Eastern Hemlock will stay small for years. If you opt for the tree form, you can always prune it to maintain the size and shape you want. Eastern hemlocks don’t have a problem with being pruned and are often used for hedges because they fill in so nicely.

4. Cutie pie ‘Jeddeloh’ won’t ever get big. At all. At a maximum size of 3 ft/1m high by 4ft/1.2m wide, this little guy is perfect for those awkward spaces under another tree or as an evergreen specimen for the front of a shady bed or rock garden. As an added bonus, Jeddeloh’s tiny needles will lend a distinctively fine texture to a grouping (Eastern hemlocks have the smallest needles and cones of its genus).

A small shrub for full shade

My little Tsuga canadensis Jeddeloh during it’s first fall in our garden (zone 6a). Shot October, 2015 in Oakville, ON.

5. Tsuga canadensis is a native. No surprise given its name–Eastern hemlock is native in provinces from southern Ontario and southern Quebec right through to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as well as most of the eastern half of the U.S.

6. The dwarf variety ain’t from around here but it’s got a pretty cool heritage. Tsuga canadensis ‘Jeddeloh’ first appeared on the horticultural scene in 1950 thanks to one of the world’s leading conifer specialists, Johann Dietrich zu Jeddeloh, of the zu Jeddeloh Pflanzen nursery in Germany. It has since become a popular evergreen shrub here as a versatile problem solver for suburban gardens with little space.

Placing and planting your ‘Jeddeloh’

  • On the whole, eastern hemlocks (including Jeddeloh) are a bit picky about their soil. They’re not happy with nutrient-poor soil and wet or poorly drained soils. Having said that, mine seems to be quite happy in our heavy clay soil.
  • They are so happy in part or full shade that they can suffer from sun scorch in too sunny a location. If all you’ve got to offer is part shade, try a spot that gets sun only in the morning (see next point).
  • This shrub is not happy in drought or prolonged heat, situations most likely exacerbated by the fact that it has a shallow (though wide-spreading) root system. Again, placing the shrub in the shade or at least in part shade that gets only morning sun helps but it’s imperative that it be kept well watered, particularly seedlings or recently transplanted young shrubs.
  • They’re also not keen on wind so don’t go for an exposed location.
  • Last, but not least, eastern hemlocks aren’t good with some of the challenges of urban living. They have a low tolerance for air pollution and winter salt spray so placing your little Jeddeloh near the street or your driveway is not a good idea.

Yes, that is a long list of things this little shrub won’t tolerate. But, just keep telling yourself this shrub is happy, happy, happy in shade. For gardeners who, like me, who would rather swallow their trowel then resort to yet another yew, boxwood or holly for evergreen interest in shady parts of their garden, eastern hemlocks and the diminutive Jeddeloh can be forgiven their pickiness.

A small Eastern Hemlock in a rock garden setting.

This is a Tsuga canadensis ‘Albospica’, a compact Eastern Hemlock that’s also slow growing and very shade tolerant. I found this one at the Royal Horticultural Society near Hamilton, ON, in the new Rock Garden. Shot in September, 2016.

Who to invite to join your ‘Jeddeloh’

If you want your Tsuga canadensis to feel most at home in your garden, tuck it in with plants that are naturally occurring companions for it out in the wild. Here are some that are easily found in garden nurseries:

Canopy trees for casting shade:

White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)

Red Maple (Acer rebrum)

Shrubs and ferns:

Rhododendron spp.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Wood ferns (Dryopteris spp.)

If I’ve sold you on Tsuga canadensis ‘Jeddeloh’ and want more Easter hemlocks for your garden, take a look at Tsuga canadensis ‘Albospica’. The shrub form is cone-shaped, growing only to a maximum of 10 feet and spread of about 6 feet. Not to be outdone by Jeddeloh’s adorable nest impersonations, Albospica flaunts variegated needles in shades of dark green and white. If you’re also looking for a really small evergreen shrub for full sun, hop over to my post about a Teeny, weeny, evergreen-y shrub that’s not so shade loving but equally charming.

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