Blue Spruce, Beautiful but Overwhelming

Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This text was originally published in the newspaper Le soleil on March 2, 1996.

It’s hard to believe, given its brilliance and majesty, but the Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) has a few flaws. First, it’s a very tall tree, reaching 100 feet or more. Also, the branches at its base grow longer over time, so they end up taking up a lot of space horizontally. Think “twice” before planting « two” in front of your house: in 15 years, you may not be able to see anything from your windows, and the entire north side of your front yard will be in “dense” shade where you will have trouble growing anything. Also, blue spruce (especially those grown from seedlings) are prone to losing their lower branches as they age, a phenomenon that is generally not very aesthetic. It is therefore preferable, in many cases, to obtain substitutes.

Go Small

For example, there are true Colorado blue spruce trees that are small in size. They are called “dwarf”, but this is a misnomer: they are very slow growing and should not take up too much space before 40 or 50 years. They are spherical, like the cultivar ‘Glauca Globosa’, creeping, like ‘Glauca Procumbens’ or pyramidal, but very wide, like ‘Fat Albert’.

There are also several other blue conifers. Our own white spruce, Picea glauca, so called because its foliage is covered with a bloom that makes it look whiter than the ordinary Quebec spruce, called by contrast black spruce (Picea mariana), is naturally slightly blue.

Very bluish selections have been made, such as ‘Coerulea’, ‘Arneson’s Blue’ and ‘Sanderson’s Blue’. They have the advantage of being even more cold-hardy than Colorado Blue Spruce, growing up to zone 1 (2 USDA).

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) is a high mountain variant of the famous West Coast conifer. Very similar to the blue spruce and also hardy (zone 3, 4 USDA), it deserves to be better known in Quebec.

Fir Trees Too

It’s not just Colorado spruce that are blue, fir trees are too! The Colorado Blue Fir (Abies concolor) makes a beautiful blue tree with long, soft-touch needles. It also does not tend to shed its lower branches and is therefore superior to the blue spruce. It is however of more limited hardiness (zone 4, 5 USDA).

There are also several blue pines, starting with our white pine (Pinus strobus, zone 3) which is already relatively blue in nature, and of which we have selected several varieties, most of them very blue, such as ‘Blue Shag’, a dwarf variety. If you look hard enough, you will find blue variants of almost every pine on the market, from Scots pine to dwarf Siberian pine.



But don’t overlook junipers (Juniperus), which offer hundreds of cultivars with bluish foliage. While none of them become as massive as a spruce (at most, the upright cultivars make small trees), their range of growth habits is impressive: from creeping to globular, spreading, pyramidal, upright and even weeping. Most are very hardy (zone 3 or 4, zone 4 or 5 USDA), but beware of their look-alikes the dwarf false cypresses (Chamaecyparis), many of whose cultivars are bluish, but whose hardiness is less (even with protection, they are often winter-damaged in zone 4).

So, you were looking for a little variety for your yard? You’ve just found it! It’s up to you to choose from the wide range of colors, habits and sizes that conifers offer.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

0 comments on “Blue Spruce, Beautiful but Overwhelming

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: