Friday, August 14, 2020

Colorado Blue Spruce

The Tale of the Abused Colorado Blue Spruce
By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

My wife is from Colorado, and when we moved to the Detroit area of Michigan, she wanted a piece of Colorado near her. So we bought a 12-inch Colorado Blue Spruce for our backyard. It was not the azure blue but more of a deep blue green color. Of course, we did the research we could. At that time (35 years ago) the internet was in its infancy, so we discussed it with the local tree experts and spent time in the local library. Here some of the types of information we learned.

The names Colorado spruce, blue spruce and Colorado blue spruce tree all refer to the same magnificent tree—Pica pungens. Large specimens are imposing in the landscape because of their strong, architectural shape, in the form of a pyramid, and stiff, horizontal branches that form a dense canopy. The species grows up to 60 feet tall and looks best in open, arid landscapes. Smaller cultivars that grow 5 to 15 feet tall are right at home in lush gardens.

Colorado Blue Spruce
Picture Courtesy of Gurneys Nursery 
Blue spruce is a native tree that originated on stream banks and crags of the western United States. This sturdy tree is grown in farmlands, pastures and large landscapes as a windbreak and doubles as a nesting site for birds.

Short, sharp needles that are square in shape and very stiff and sharp attach to the tree singly, rather than in bunches, like pine needles. The tree produces 2- to 4-inch brown cones that fall to the ground in autumn. They are distinguished from other spruce trees by the bluish color of the needles, which can be quite striking on a sunny day.

Colorado blue spruce grows best in a sunny location with moist, well-drained, fertile soil. It tolerates dry wind and can adapt to dry soil. The tree is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 7.

A healthy normal Blue Spruce with proper shape
Picture courtesy of Garden Know How 
After all this research, we decided we could plant this tree in Detroit. The tale begins of the blue spruce: We dug the right size hole, put soil amendments in, and watered frequently the first year. It did well and was two and a half feet tall by the end of the first year. And then the unthinkable happened, we decided to move it to our backyard. The move slowed the growth. Next, something fell on the tree and it was topped. Now it was only 2 feet tall. We left the tree in place for 3 years. Something fell on it again and it was topped. Then we decided it would look better in the front yard and moved it again. I am sure if this tree had feelings it would have felt tortured. But it survived.

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