Conifer trees for shade

Most of our 22+ native conifers do well in the shade, because they tend to germinate and grow under the shade of earlier pioneer species. Here is a sampling of our favorite shade-loving species. The three trees listed here comprise the forest dominants of the rainy western Olympic Penninsula.

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Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)

Western hemlock, Washington’s state tree, has lovely, delicate needles and a “weeping” appearance, with the classic drooping top. It is the co-dominant tree species in most western Washington conifer forests (along with Douglas-fir). Western hemlock thrives in deep shade, and can also be succesfully established in partial sun, provided with adequate irrigation. They grow somewhat slowly and may eventually attain a height exceeding 200’. Western hemlock are deep rooted and provide excellent slope stabilization when combined with spreading woody shrubs.



Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)

Western red cedar is an iconic tree of the northwest, widely planted and beloved by settlers and revered by native peoples, who relied on it for shelter, clothing, basketry and boat building. The distinctive fibrous red bark, fluted base and drooping scaly leaves are unmistakeable. Western red cedar prefers moist-to-wet sites, and at least partial shade. They typically reach a mature height of about 150’ although huge behemoths exceeding 200′ occur in old growth forests of the north Cascades. Western red cedar have deep roots that work well for stabilization. When they are young, the saplings may be prone to deer browse.

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Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)

Sitka spruce dominates Washington’s Pacific coastline and rainforest river valleys, where it reaches heights up to 300′, equalling Douglas-fir. In the Puget Sound area, it occurs commonly as scattered individuals, especially in major river valleys where fog banks linger. In the landscape, Sitka spruce develop thick crowns and long drooping branches that reach to the ground. Sitka spruce has the classic sharp, bristly needles of all spruces, slightly bluish, stiff and flattened. People have long valued the light, strong wood for uses as varied as airplane manufacture, ship masts, and musical instruments. The trees prefer somewhat moist conditions, and tolerate a range of soils from fine silts to rocky, well-drained mineral soils.