Spruce Trees for the Garden

Picea sp.

Black, white, blue and Dwarf Alberta types of spruce trees for sale. Planting and care info for Picea pungens, P. glauca, and P. mariana. Treating spruce diseases, pests and other problems. Growing spruce bonsai.

Conifers enhance a front yard landscape design.

Combined in a mixed shrub border, sited in a rock garden, or used as a lone specimen, an attractively planted spruce is an asset to your property.

Trees of the genus Picea are decidely ornamental; the larger types are functional, as well. When mature, they make excellent shade trees and when planted in rows, will protect more tender garden plants from damaging winds.

Their dense, evergreen foliage can be used to hide unpleasant landscape elements (chain link fences, busy roadways, etc.) from view.

Little Known Use for Spruce:

If your garden is too noisy to be comfortably enjoyed, a carefully placed row of spruce trees will dull the racket.

Colorado Blue Spruce

Colorado Blue Spruce Tree

Best Price on Blue Spruce Trees

Picea pungens is the Colorado Blue Spruce, a tall (75-100 feet at maturity) evergreen with vivid blue needles. A row of these makes a lovely hedge, but I think they look most stunning when planted in a mixed shrub border amongst other conifers with contrasting foliage.

Golden-leaved types pair especially well with them as do variegated varieties. For additional interest, vary the shapes of the shrubs as well.

Expect mature plants to drop their lower limbs. The blue spruce performs well as far north as zone 3.

White Spruce Tree

Fact: White spruce needles are so unpleasantly aromatic when crushed that they have earned the tree the name: Skunk Spruce.

Picea glauca is a Canadian tree which ranges from Newfoundland to the Youkon Territory and southward into Montana, New York, and New England in the U.S. A dense stand of these majestic trees which can reach 70-150 feet in height (depending on climate and soil conditions) and 4 feet in diameter, is awe inspiring.

The yellow wood of the white spruce, though sometimes used in construction, is mainly valued for its pulp which is used to make paper.

White spruce needles are four-sided, about 3/4 of an inch long, and slightly curved.

Mature white spruce trees cast a dense shade and make good specimen trees or windbreaks. In the natural garden, they provide good winter cover for birds. Dwarf forms are available which will serve as foundation shrubs. They are hardy into zone 2.

Black Hills (Picea glauca Var. densata) is a smaller form of the white spruce with soft, midnight green needles. It is one of the hardiest spruce trees. If you are concerned about winter injury, this is the variety to plant.

The Black Hills spruce is also one of the faster growing Piceas--though it is by no means a sprinter. With excellent care, it can push 8-10 inches of top growth per year.

Dwarf Spruce Trees

Blue Nest (Picea mariana 'Nana') is a black spruce shrub with teal foliage. It grows, ever so slowly, into a 2 foot tall rock-shaped bush which requires little pruning.

Picea glauca conica
Dwarf Alberta Spruce Tree

These bright green Alberta Spruce spirals come pre-trimmed, sparing you the trouble of training them. When grown naturally, this is a cone-shaped evergreen which will maintain its shape without pruning and which does not produce messy cones. Slow growing spruce topiaries will require just a little shaping up each spring.

This dwarf spruce grows to a height of 8 feet and is hardy into zone 5.

Spruce Tree Bonsai

Colorado Blue Spruce Bonsai Tree (picea pungens glauca)

Buy a Colorado Blue Spruce Bonsai Tree (Picea pungens glauca)

The spruce is one of the most popular evergreen trees for bonsai. Its short, needle-like leaves particularly suit it to this ancient Chinese art form.

The formal upright style of the tree depicted above is perfect for a spruce bonsai as this mimics the spruce tree's natural growth habit, and a bonsai is meant to capture the essence of a mature specimen.

This is not a houseplant. Spruces are cold hardy trees that need bright light and good air circulation; the miniature requires the same culture as the full-sized plant. Any sunny outdoor area in a gardening zone where the Colorado blue spruce could be planted in the ground will suit this little tree.

Bonsai Watering Instructions, Feeding Guide, Training Tips

Planting Spruce Trees

Serbian Spruce Tree
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Black Hills Spruce Tree
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Prepare bare-root trees for planting by trimming any broken roots away and setting the trees in a pail of water for 12-24 hours prior to installation.

Trees should be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Choose a planting site in full sun where the soil drains quickly.

A moisture-retentive soil is best as a young spruce needs constant moisture at its roots. You will rarely go wrong by amending your soil with well-rotted compost. Doing so will lighten heavy soils, improving their drainage and make sandy soils hold water and nutrients better.

The Planting Hole

Colorado Blue Spruce Tree
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Norway Spruce Tree
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

To insure good drainage, dig the hole 6 inches deeper than the height of the roots and wide enough to accommodate the root mass with a few inches to spare.

Do not add any fertilizer to the soil at this time, wait until the tree has settled in and started to grow.

Put some of the soil you have just removed back into the planting hole.

If your spruce is bare root, make a 6-8 inch high mound of soil in the bottom of the planting hole and set the tree on top of it with its roots spread around the sides.

If you tree is potted or balled-and-burlapped, the bottom of the hole should be flat. There is no need to remove the burlap.

In any case, you want the newly installed tree to sit slightly higher in the soil than it did previously. This is easiest to achieve with a potted tree as you just plant it so that half an inch of the root mass is above the soil line. Then, add just enough soil to cover the exposed roots, sloping it down to the surrounding soil.

When done correctly, this looks as if the tree is planted on a slight mound.

A bare-root tree will have a soil line on its trunk. Plant it so that this line is half an inch above the surface.

Firm the soil with your boot and water the trees well. The trees will settle a bit (this is why you planted them high). Add more soil to fill the planting hole and make a water-holding basin around the root zone.

Fill the basin with water and watch to make sure it soaks in within a few minutes. If it does not, you have a drainage problem.

Feed young spruce plants with a fertilizer formulated for conifers, and never exceed the recommended amount to avoid burning the tender, young roots.

Water is Critical to a Newly Planted Spruce

Water the trees frequently for the first few years after planting. This means weekly during dry weather, every other week when there is rain. Exposure to drought can kill young trees.

Supplemental watering is especially important during dry fall weather as going into winter well-hydrated greatly increases a tree's odds of survival.

Spruce Diseases, Pests, & Problems

Spruce gall on a blue spruce.

Spruce gall on a blue spruce.

Photo courtesy of: Eugene E. Nelson, Bugwood.org

Norway spruce trees suffering from bark beetle damage.

Bark beetle damage, Norway spruce

Photo courtesy of: Jan Liska, Forestry and Game Management Research Institute, Bugwood.org

Spruce Gall is caused by an aphid infestation. The galls look like tiny pineapples and cause the tree's tips to elongate. If left in place they will eventually open and free the insects inside them.

Solution: Remove the galls and burn them before they open in mid-summer. If you can't cut the galls out in time, spray the tree with a solution of nicotine sulfate and soap or a malathion spray after the galls open and the aphids are exposed.

If you had a problem during he previous season, spray the tree with a malathion solution in the spring before new growth begins.

Spruce needles turing brown and dropping can be caused by spider mites, which all Piceas are vulnerable to, or by moth larvae feeding on the leaves.

Solution: Control red spider with a dormant oil or summer oil spray (depending on the time of year). Control moths with a malathion solution.

Needle drop can also be caused by drought or waterlogged soil, so only spray if you see evidence of infestation. Otherwise, you could exacerbate the problem.

If you notice Canker or Die Back on the lower limbs of the tree, cut out the affected branches and burn them.

Bark Beetles bore into the trunks and leave white encrustations. The infested tree's needles will turn reddish or orange and begin to drop in windy weather.

Solution: Get a tree service out to confirm your diagnosis. If the tree is infested by spruce bark beetles, cut and burn it before the beetles spread to your other trees.

Pruning Spruce Trees

Pruning Tip:

Beware of heading Picea stems back into old or bare growth unless you see buds in the area from which new growth could sprout.

These are naturally symmetrical trees that do not need much maintenance. It is best not to prune a specimen spruce unless you have a good reason for doing so:

  • Wayward branches may be trimmed back to a lateral in spring after new growth has begun.
  • The stems of a spruce radiate out from the branches in a whorl pattern. Head stems back to a whorl when you want to encourage bushier growth.
  • Train your tree to one central leader and do not allow a second trunk to develop. If you notice a second leader developing, choose one--the stronger and straighter of the two--and remove the other.

    If, on the other hand, the tree's central leader becomes damaged, pick the most upright branch from the whorl below the injured leader and stake it to force straight growth. This will become the tree's new central leader.

If you want to grow a spruce topiary or hedge, feel free to shear the plants lightly. It is never a good idea to cut deeply into a spruce shrub. Give topiaries a haircut after new growth begins in the spring.

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