Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
February, 2005
Regional Report

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Colorado spruce are true regents of the landscape, spectacular in winter snow.

Spruce Up Your Landscape

There is nothing quite as majestic as a Colorado spruce, especially when clothed in a blanket of fresh snow. But did you know there are several other spruces that are as beautiful in their own right?

Colorado Blue
All spruces have stiff, sharply pointed needles that are four-sided. The color may vary according to species, and Colorado spruce (Picea pungens) is best known for its blue-colored selections.
Colorado spruce is pyramidal, dense, and broad, with stiff horizontal branches to the ground, very much what we think of as a classic Christmas-tree shape. It does tend to become somewhat open with age and will often lose its lower branches. The 2- to 4-inch-long cones are shiny and yellow-brown with puckered scales. It grows to about 30 to 60 feet in height. Colorado spruces are lovely as specimens or in groupings, and they blend especially nicely with other silver-blue plants.

Black Hills
A lovely alternative to Colorado spruce is the Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca var. densata). This spruce has a complementary shape to the Colorado spruce, and the needles are quite a bit shorter and dark gray-green, giving the tree a fine texture. The tiny cones are light chestnut brown and persist on the plant into the winter. As with the Colorado spruce, these large trees will grow 40 to 60 feet high. They also have a pyramidal shape but are much more dense and compact than the Colorado spruce. Their stiff branches may be straight or ascending, and they may have small branchlets that hang down. Black Hills spruces make lovely groupings and also function well as a screen or windbreak.

Another attractive spruce with an altogether different form is the Serbian spruce (Picea omorika). These trees have dark green, shiny needles that are white on the undersides. The bark is coffee brown, peeling off in long plates, which gives it a distinct look. Although a Serbian spruce can reach heights of 50 to 60 feet, it will only be about 20 feet wide. Its narrow, pyramidal form and weeping branchlets make it graceful and elegant, much like a lady holding up her skirts.

When choosing spruces for your landscape, keep in mind that they must be planted in full sun in order to maintain their lovely shapes. They perform best with well-drained soil, and although the ideal conditions are rich organic soil that retains some moisture, these trees are quite tolerant of drier conditions as well as urban situations.

Be sure to locate them in a spot that will accommodate their large height and girth; don't be tempted to put that cute little 1-foot Colorado spruce you can't resist at the garden center right next to the front porch. Spruces seldom, if ever, need pruning, and once-a-year fertilization after they are established will keep your trees looking good for many, many years.

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