Coniferous evergreens like firs (Abies spp.) can be a desirable plant to add to your landscape design given their stunning foliage and low maintenance. While most people think of Christmas trees when they hear the word fir, fir trees actually have a wide variety of landscape uses. They come in many sizes from small shrubs to massive trees and can have green, yellow-green, or blue-green foliage. You can use them to add year-round color to flower beds, create a privacy screen for the backyard, or even use them to accentuate water features. Let’s jump into the wonderful world of fir trees and discover a plethora of ideas for using them for your next landscaping project!
How To Grow And Care For Firs In Your Yard
Before you plant fir trees in your yard, you’ll want to know how to properly care for them so they stay looking healthy and beautiful for years to come. First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure you live in the correct place for the fir species you’re planting. Experts from the University of Massachusetts Amherst say “Even the best planting practices will not help a plant to thrive if it is poorly suited for a particular site.”
Where you live impacts how hot and cold it gets which directly impacts plant growth. Most fir trees can tolerate temperatures in USDA hardiness zones 5A through 7B. White firs (Abies concolor) can tolerate colder temperatures as low as zone 3A and Greek firs (Abies cephalonica) can tolerate warmer temperatures up to zone 8B.
Next, you’ll need to make sure you provide the right soil, water, and light conditions for your fir tree. The soil should be well-drained yet moisture-retentive. Too much water can cause root issues like root rot, while not enough water can lead to stunted growth and thinning. Fir trees should get water at least once every two weeks, even once they’re mature. Provide supplemental watering if you experience a dry spell or drought in your area. Firs will grow in full sun or partial shade conditions, but grow best when they get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
TIP: White fir trees are more drought tolerant than other fir species. If you regularly encounter drought conditions where you live, consider planting white fir.
After providing the right growing conditions for fir trees, you’ll want to make sure you select the right species and cultivar. Firs come in a wide variety of sizes from 3-foot shrubs to 70-foot tall trees. If you are looking for a shrub to add to a flower bed, you’ll want to select a dwarf species like Abies concolor ‘Compacta’ which reaches a maximum height of 4 feet. While firs can tolerate moderate pruning to maintain shape, excessive pruning can lead to a variety of issues in the long run. It’s best to choose a fir tree that will mature into the space you have with only minimal pruning needed.
When it comes to insect and disease issues, healthy fir trees typically don’t have any major concerns. In fact, if you’re worried about conifer insects and diseases, the plant pros at Virginia Tech suggest “Because of [white firs] greater insect and disease resistance, it may be preferable to blue spruce.”
10 Landscape Design Ideas with Firs
1. Plant Firs In Corner Gardens For Year Long Greenery
The corners of our backyards tend to go unnoticed and underutilized when it comes to landscaping. However, the corners of your yard can be the perfect spot for a focal plant or small seating area. Firs can be a wonderful addition with their pyramidal shape allowing them to fill in a corner beautifully as they grow. Here they’ve lined the fence with slim arborvitae trees and added a fir tree in the corner for more interest. Not only do these evergreen conifers help to soften the look of the privacy fence, but will also add even more backyard privacy as they grow.
Fir trees can also be used to add the perfect splash of color to a rustic landscape design. Mixing neutral colors like brown, black, and white with green creates the perfect rustic color pallet. This corner garden is surrounded by aged wood and brown bricks to give it that vintage look. The addition of the dwarf white fir (Abies concolor ‘Compacta’), also known as balsam fir, and ferns beautifies the space and prevents it from looking dull and drab.
2. Add Height And Dimension To Gardens With Fir Trees
A well-planned landscape design will not only incorporate a variety of colors and textures but will also use a variety of different size plants to give the layout dimension. Tall plants can draw your eye upward in the landscape, which is exactly what the large fir in the corner of this backyard landscape achieves. The silvery blue-green foliage of the fir complements the blue and purple flowers in the backyard garden beautifully. It will also retain its foliage and color through winter when most of the other herbaceous plants fade.
In this landscape design, they’ve used a fir tree (left) and a pine tree (right) on either side of the grassy walkway to add height to the design. I’m a huge fan of using conifers as landscaping trees instead of hardwoods. They’re low-maintenance in the fall since they won’t lose their leaves. That means less time raking up and disposing of leaves, and more time relaxing your yard enjoying the changing seasons.
This larger Korean fir (Abies koreana) bordering the brick walkway is a great choice for adding height along the garden walkway. Firs can tolerate pruning which allows these homeowners to keep their fir from spilling over onto the walkway. The height of the tree also complements the height of the house, helping to intertwine the home with the surrounding landscaping which improves front yard curb appeal.
3. Use Firs As The Foundation For Mixed Gardens
Mixed gardens combine annuals, perennials, and shrubs to create a stunning layered landscape design. Shrubs serve as the foundation, while perennials and annuals provide colorful flowers throughout the year. Dwarf firs can be fantastic additions to any mixed garden. Here they’ve used a dwarf balsam fir (Abies balsamea ‘Nana’) along with red and purple rhododendrons in the foreground while maples and Leyland cypresses create a backdrop of greenery behind. The resulting garden is a magical combination of colors and textures that will look breathtaking during every season in your front yard or backyard.
This idea features a dwarf balsam fir along a sandy walkway surrounded by annual flowers. They’ve used a mixture of mulch as ground cover on one side and gravel on the other. Notice how the bright green needles of the fir pop against the dark brown mulch background. Using a variety of different mulches in backyard flower beds can add an extra element of interest to your mixed garden landscape design.
A mixed garden of conifers is super low-maintenance due to the slow growth of conifers and their evergreen short needles. If you don’t enjoy gardening, this is a brilliant idea you can incorporate in your front yard landscape to limit the amount of time you spend making it look pristine. Here they’ve mixed balsam fir ‘Nana’, flaky juniper ‘Blue Star’, Japanese juniper ‘Nana’, and arborvitae ‘Danica’, to create a magnificent mixture of textures and subtle colors.
TIP: Make sure to spread 3 to 4 inches of mulch beneath your conifers to reduce weeds and further reduce the amount of maintenance needed to keep the garden beautiful.
This mixed garden is surrounded by a circular walkway so it can be enjoyed from every angle. The dwarf juniper, spruce, and fir shrubs will provide greenery year-round while the perennial hostas and rhododendrons will add more texture and color from spring to fall. I love how the stepping stones of the walkway match the shed house siding helping enhance the overall design.
4. Boost Backyard Shade With Fir Trees
As with any tree, firs can be planted in the front yard or backyard to provide extra shade for you to enjoy. This large yard is ideal for pets, kids, or large get-togethers, and during the summer months, everyone will enjoy the shade the large fir tree provides. You could even add a patio with seating or a fire pit for even more ways to utilize this backyard oasis.
5. Install Fir Trees As Focal Plants
Firs and other evergreen trees are preferred focal plants for landscaping. Focal plants are used to draw attention to various features in your front yard or backyard, so they should retain their foliage year-round. This large white fir (Abies concolor) is a terrific centerpiece to this circular backyard feature. Though the surrounding crepe myrtles will fade during the winter, the fir will keep its color and foliage.
TIP: If you’re considering planting white fir trees, the specialists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison note “This is a very desirable tree in the landscape but may need some protection on very windy, exposed sites.” Make sure you consider the topography of your yard and the location of buildings when planting these trees in your yard.
Here’s another circular garden that features two giant firs. No matter where you stand in the backyard, the tall firs will draw your attention to this amazing garden design. This is a prime example of how to utilize focal plants to make sure the hard work you put into your backyard garden won’t go unnoticed.
6. Fill In Flower Beds With Dwarf Fir Shrubs
While large firs make great focal plants, dwarf fir shrubs work great for filling in empty space in your front yard flower bed. Here they’ve used dwarf white firs to add greenery to the space in a way that won’t require a ton of upkeep. I love how they’ve paired the fir shrubs with chunky pine bark mulch which adds even more texture to this landscape design.
7. Create A Patio Privacy Screen With Firs
If you live in an urban area, you know that privacy and greenery in your backyard can be hard to come by. Firs are perfect for creating a privacy screen between you and your neighbors if you live in a condo, townhouse, or apartment. In this space, the firs are also helping to brighten the space and partially hide the concrete wall of the neighboring building. Even in a yard with limited space, a row of firs can make your urban backyard feel like a nature retreat.
If you have a bit more space, you can even use firs to create a private dining area in your backyard. The firs surrounding this small patio hangout provide seclusion and shade and also help delineate the space from the rest of the backyard. What a great setup for enjoying a cozy dinner with family or a handful of friends!
8. Grow Firs In Containers To Liven Up Porches
Dwarf firs are hardy enough to be planted in a container and thrive on your front porch or backyard patio. Adding a few plants to your patio is a splendid way to enhance your backyard décor. Consider placing two firs on either side of your door to highlight your entryway. You can also decorate them during the holiday season to add more holiday cheer to your yard!
9. Enhance The Look Of Fences With Firs
While privacy fences are terrific for creating a backyard haven, they can often look a little flat and dull. Adding a row of firs or even one fir in front of them can help incorporate some color and dimension into the composition. Here they’ve used a fir tree inside the fence to improve the outdoor appeal.
Just because you’re planting a row of trees, doesn’t mean they all have to be the same. Mixing different species and varieties of firs and other conifers can add even more color to the design. Here they’ve mixed different fir and spruce trees, combining green, yellow-green, and blue-green foliage to create a colorful disguise for the fence behind them.
10. Improve Backyard Water Features With Fir Trees
There’s nothing better than conifers to use around your front or backyard water features. Unlike hardwoods and flowering plants, conifers won’t shed leaves and dead flowers into the water which will help keep it cleaner with less maintenance. They’ve placed a large fir to the right of this lovely pond which will also help create shade on the water. Having a shady area on ponds is critical if you have fish since it helps regulate the water temperature on hot days.
This stunning waterfall feature has several firs growing throughout to create an alpine rockery. Their green foliage contrasts gorgeously with the dark slate and will look great all year. The greenery also helps make the waterfall blend in with the yard for a more cohesive vibe.
Clark, R., & Swanson, D. (2011, August). “Right Plant, Right Place” – A Plant Selection Guide for Managed Landscapes. University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Mahr, S. (n.d.). Concolor Fir, Abies concolor. Wisconsin Horticulture Division of Extension, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Relf, D., & Appleton, B. (2009). Selecting Landscape Plants: Conifers. Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech.