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Alberta spruce


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#1 Cantonian

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Posted 03 June 2020 - 04:55 PM

This spruce has outgrown its space. Its coming out on to the patio, and onto the lawn in front. Seems it doesn't belong here any more, but would like your opinion. Can it be trimmed? Should i trim it or pull it out? What would you replace it with? Its a vacation house in the Thumb, so i need low maintenance. Thank you!

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#2 Janet Macunovich

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Posted Yesterday, 08:05 PM

Like all spruces, dwarf Alberta spruce is best pruned  as it reaches maximum allowable height or width because it will not regenerate from needle-less wood. You can cut a spruce branch back to its furthest-back side branch that still has needles, then let that space fill in as that twig beefs up, branches and grows out. (Please note that sometimes the very last branch with needles is not productive enough, can't produce on its own enough sugar and starch to keep growing and also provide its branch with all the starch it needs -- leaves keep their branch alive and fed! So we should more accurately say you can cut back to the furthest-back vigorous side branch.)

 

So if you look inside the spruce to see how deep its foliage continues inside the outline, you will know how far you can cut it back.

Most dwarf Albertas (they are a dwarf form of white spruce, Picea glauca 'Conica') have foliage only 3 or 4 inches deep into the tree, so they can only be reduced by 2 to 3 inches. If we start pruning when the branch tips first reach their space limit, we can keep them pretty much indefinitely at that point. We just cannot go in reverse very successfully.

 

So your dwarf Alberta spruce should probably go - unless you want to start pruning it now and enlarge thebed on the lawn side. Prune it by shearing an inch off its exterior, then thinning to let light reach foliage even deeper into the plant. As you thin, cut back to side branches and be sure to remove stubby needle-less tips. It can be tedious or, like weeding a large bed, become a meditation.

 

If this is a summer home and you are looking to screen that window from outside eyes I would replace the spruce with something deciduous, faster, and simpler to keep small. Simpler but requiring pruning every year or two.

 

Rose of sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) comes first to mind. It's fast to grow, and summer blooming on new wood. Let it grow until it is the height the dwarf Alberta is now, then begin cutting it back by 3' every fall or spring as part of cottage close-up or opening. Within 3 or 4 weeks of spring budbreak it will be back up to screen the window. Choose a sterile (seedless) variety such as 'Diana', 'Aphrodite', 'Minerva' or 'Azurri Blue Satin' to avoid the #1 rose of sharon problem, which is its prodigious seed production that leads to hundreds of seedling rose of sharons coming up in beds and lawn all around. (However, if you plant for pollinators and hummingbirds, the sterile rose of sharons are not the best. Their nectar production is low and the configuration of the actual flower parts makes it difficult for pollinators to gather nectar.)

 

Sorry to be so long in replying. We have fallen behind this year because the pandemic lockdowns delayed April work. Spring work can never truly be made up, only compensated by lots of extra May-June work. At the same time we have been devoting the administrative time we have left to upgrading the website including a long-needed revision to this forum to make it simpler to use from cell phones. But as of this week we have spring work covered and are reaching back to catch up on all else!






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