Summer 2013-Got the Colorado Blues'?

Summer 2013-Got the Colorado Blues'?

by:Bill Reichenbach Certified Arborist WI-0188A

Over the past few years we have been seeing hundreds of Colorado spruce succumbing to various fungal disease organisms. White spruce and its variety ‘Black Hills’ are also problematic. Additionally, Austrian pine and Scots pine are suffering from disease and insect pressure. Though we can have a positive impact in managing many of these issues with timely pesticide sprays and fertilization programs, that is not the intent with this article.

Rather the emphasis here is to suggest that we have other evergreens to consider planting. In some cases planting a new different tree, is better than treating an old one.

One important point to make is that often we are putting these evergreens (conifers) in a bad position when we plant them. For the most part, spruce and pine perform best when planted in full sun with good air movement and good soil drainage. Too often they are planted in part shade near the canopies of other trees. Another typical problem is that conifers are planted too close to each other. As they grow and begin to mature they shade and conflict with each other for space and light. This only encourages the fungal disease issue, making it difficult to have a good looking, ‘full’, healthy conifer. We should space trees further apart from one another when planting. In many cases pruning of nearby deciduous trees can be helpful in growing a better conifer.

A few good alternatives to the above are Norway spruce and Serbian spruce. Though any tree can suffer from pest issues, Norway spruce is typically more trouble free as is Serbian spruce. Keep in mind Norway spruce is ‘large’ at maturity so it may not fit in every landscape. Serbian spruce has a smaller foot print and can fit in smaller landscape spaces. Both of these species have a lot of ‘cultivars’ (cultivated varieties) that offer various sizes and growth habit choices and can expand their usefulness in the landscape. I am having success with 3 different selections of Oriental spruce, in my own yard. Beautiful, dense plants with very dark green foliage.

Among the pines, a great choice is Swiss stone pine, which is winter hardy and beautiful. Though not a fast grower it does have a dense upright growth habit, that lends itself to screening when properly placed in the landscape. Other pines to look for are the many varieties of Japanese white pine, Macedonian pine and Korean pine. Our native white pine can be a great performer in our area if given good soil conditions.

Two ‘true’ Firs - Abies species can be good choices. White fir is beautiful when well grown, many have the ‘blue’ foliage color that rivals any Colorado blue spruce. White fir demands soils with good drainage, in fact, poorly drained heavy clay soils can be troublesome for most conifers. Compact Rocky Mountain fir is another good performer when placed in the right situation.

Upright junipers are useful conifers for many reasons. Choose varieties from Juniperus chinensis and Juniperus virginiana. They are generally trouble free, given full sun and adequate drainage. Avoid ‘Sky Rocket’ Juniper as it is very subject to foliar fungal disease. Yes, J. virginiana will get cedar apple rust, however it is rarely a debilitating problem. Junipers are tough and drought tolerant once established. Deer will seldom feed upon junipers.

Weeping false cypress - Chamaecyparis species offer some good alternatives as well. Stick with the selections from C. pisifera and C. nootkatensis. False cypress offer a variety of form and foliage color. One of the best attributes of this group of plants is that deer leave them alone!

Not all nurseries have many of these choice conifers. You will need to do some searching. Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls has a good selection. Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, just over the border in Woodstock Illinois has an amazing inventory and is worth the trip. Other local nurseries will have some of these selections as well. Much of the conifer plant material is grown on the west coast and shipped container grown, they are generally tagged well so that you can be sure you are getting the right species and varieties.

Consult with your Wachtel Certified Arborist, to help with your planting choices. We always want to put ‘the right tree, in the right place’.


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