Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
Spruce of the North
White spruce is just about the hardiest conifer commonly grown by gardeners. It is native across the northern U.S. and far into Canada where it is hardy in Zone 3 or Zone 2. In its native range it is slow growing and may reach 50 feet tall. In less testing climates it can grow 100 feet tall. It has short, stiff needles that spiral around the twigs, and it grows in a naturally dense pyramid. It is susceptible to pests and diseases in the warmest parts of its range.
There are many variations of the species. The most common at nurseries is Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) which has short needles, slender twigs and a soft-looking texture. It stays fully sheathed with needles in a sunny site but rapidly loses needles in shade or on the side shaded by a too-close neighbor. One good use is as an exclamation point in a small garden. Another: plant two flanking a gate or the start of a path as charming sentinels.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce has its own variations. One is ‘Alberta Globe,’ small and round and very dense. Another is ‘Alberta Blue,’ with needles that are more blue than green.
There are a few more notable variations of the species. One, Pendula, has an upright trunk and sagging branches that curve upward at the tip. Another, Echinoformis, looks like a sleeping hedgehog. It has many short twigs packed together and short gray-green needles. By the way, “echino” means spiny (sea urchins are in the echinoderm family).
As with all variations, sometime a branch will poke out of the silhouette and mar the symmetry of Dwarf Alberta and its kin. Just prune off the offender.
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