All I Want For Christmas Is A Beautiful Blue Spruce

December 5, 2013 | By | Comments (8)
Blue spruce

A Colorado blue spruce — the most beautiful conifer of all. Photo: pixabay.com

Dear Santa, I have been an extra good boy this year. I did everything my wife told me to without sassing. I ate that turnip thing she made. I picked up my dirty undies and sealed them inside the toxic waste bin. I did not microwave our cat. So could you please send me something for my garden that I have coveted for 30 years? I want a Colorado blue spruce.

Why do I yearn, crave, desire, dream about, long for, and lust after this one particular tree with every fiber of my being? Two reasons. First, it is the most beautiful conifer I know. Behold its symmetrical, pyramidal form and icy blue needles. It evokes a hunger deep within my soul. Second — and more important — this tree native to the Rocky Mountains does not like growing in north-central Alabama where Grumpy lives. And it is a gardener’s nature to wish for most what you cannot grow.

Minnesotans ache for crepe myrtles and camellias. Floridians pine for lilacs and peonies. Rapacious plant geeks from Atlantic to Pacific sell their children to the gypsies for seeds of fabled Himalayan blue poppies that they will be slave to until the plants die or the geeks do.

Himalayan poppy

Would you want a Himalayan blue poppy even if you knew its life expectancy in your garden was about two weeks? Sure you would! Photo: brewbooks

I want a Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens). Even if it hates my yard.

Are You Listening, Santa?
I hope so, because not just any blue spruce will do. See, not all Colorado blue spruces are blue. Some of them have green needles. They are therefore worthless as a lust object. No, what I want is a blue spruce guaranteed to have needles as blue as the latest Miley Cyrus video. One favorite selection fills the bill. It’s called ‘Hoopsii.’ Here’s one about 10 feet tall planted in some lucky person’s yard. I’m guessing it started out as a live Christmas tree.

Blue spruce

Photo: johnstowngardencentre.ie

Look at how blue that is! That’s bluer than Miley Cyrus! Excuse me while I wipe off the drool from my computer screen. Want a closer look at the needles? Here you go.

Blue spruce

 Photo: swcoloradowildflowers.com

Wow. Just wow. Grumpy is having a moment.

‘Hoopsii’ is a dense, pyramidal tree with layered branches and slowly grows about a foot or so a year until it reaches 30 to 50 feet tall and around 20 feet wide. It’s readily available at garden centers where blue spruces grow (Zones 3 to 7 — that includes the Upper and Middle South). But if your yard won’t accommodate a tree that big, try a smaller version that’s just as pretty, but grows only about half the size — one called ‘Fat Albert.’

Blue spruce

‘Fat Albert’ blue spruce in the frozen tundra of Illinois. Photo: Christopher Tidrick

This beautiful specimen graces the garden of my friend, Chris Tidrick, who blogs about gardening in Champaign, Illinois, where it actually snows. In 2002, he planted a 4-5 foot ‘Fat Albert’ in the front yard to serve as a Christmas tree. Look at this beauty now. You can read more about how ‘Fat Albert’ was discovered on Chris’s blog, From The Soil.

How to Grow Colorado Blue Spruce
This tree’s native habitat in the Rocky Mountains gives you some clues. It likes sun, consistent but not abundant moisture, excellent drainage, and cold winters. Soil is very important. It hates goopy, heavy, wet clay.

Which is kinda like the conditions in my yard. However, there remains a glimmer of hope for people like me in Zone 8. Pearl Fryar, a nationally known topiary artist, lives outside of Columbia, South Carolina, smack in the middle of Zone 8 and one of the flattest, hottest places in the South. Yet, Pearl successfully grows all sorts of firs and spruces that should only grow high up in the cool mountains. How?

Pearl Fryar

Pearl Fryar busy sculpting his evergreen topiaries. Photo courtesy of Pearl Fryar.

He says it’s all because of the way he plants. First, he digs a big hole — 3-4 times the width of the root ball, but no deeper. He sets the root ball atop a mound of soil in the middle of the hole, so that the top of the ball is an inch above the soil surface and then fills in around it with soil, leaving that top inch exposed.

Then comes the critical step. He excavates a trench about a foot deep and wide around the outside of the hole. He fills this trench with pine straw and also covers the root ball with several inches of pine straw. He says the trench forces the roots to grow deeper where the soil is cooler. The inches of pine straw also cool the soil, retain moisture, reduce soil compaction, and improve soil aeration. He replenishes it every year. What can I say? It works.

Make It Happen, You Rotund Elf
Hey, if you can bring thousands of X-Boxes to rotten, little kids who get into food fights in school and smash pumpkins on Halloween, you can bring a blue spruce to the one Grump who has dedicated his life to helping other gardeners. You owe me, Santa. Make it happen.

COMMENTS

  1. BlueSpruceEnvy

    I would love a blue spruse too and I have been a good girl this year without even really trying. I’m going to give it a shot!!

    December 5, 2013 at 11:56 am
  2. VB

    “Oh I want a hippopotamus for Christmas”

    December 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm
  3. VB

    I heard that song in the background as I read this…

    Grumpy, I need help. I have bet my gardening friend from Huntsville that I can keep my ginormous Boston fern alive in the garage over winter. Now, I hate them and preach that they are for Boston, not the South, but was mesmerized by this huge, glorious beauty and had to have it. I have several other types that thrive here in NE MS where I live, and am taking extra good care of them for a niece who will use them in her wedding next year. I’ve actually kept hydrangeas alive for the past two winters due to unusually mild weather. However, we are really having winter this year. How can I win this bet? He made a contingency that just technically living doesn’t count. It has to be porch worthy.

    December 5, 2013 at 12:36 pm
  4. Steve Bender

    VB,
    First of all, just let me state that is virtually impossible to hide a hippo beneath the tree. And if you leave him outside wearing a big red ribbon, he will wander the neighborhood eating everybody’s plants and pooping all over. Rethink this Christmas wish.

    As for the Boston fern, sure, you can save it. In order to do so, you’ll need a place inside to keep it where it gets bright light and the temp doesn’t drop below 40 degrees. Be prepared for it to drop lots of foliage as it adjusts to the dimmer light indoors. You might want to give it a good trimming right now to head off the dropping foliage. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. When you take it outside next spring, give it a good drink of water-soluble fertilizer to get it growing vigorously again.

    December 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm
  5. Darren Green

    Maybe you should try a Deodar Cedar…it’s close enough.

    December 6, 2013 at 9:39 pm
  6. Dea

    I guess we all lust after that perfect plant that will not grow where we live. I have had lilac envy of my Yankee friends ever since I moved to the Texas Gulf Coast almost 40 years ago. But lilacs simply turn up their little heels and keel over down here in this heat and gumbo soil. When I was a child, my parents actually had a lilac TREE in our yard. It must have been well over a hundred years old, and had the most gorgeous fragrant flowers. (Wipes eyes, blows nose, comes up for air.) I have found that crepes are pretty close, if no cigar. Maybe you can do something similar?

    December 7, 2013 at 9:15 pm
  7. VB

    Thanks for the tips!!! I think I have the perfect spot indoors, for the fern not hippo. Good luck with that non-native spruce! Merry Christmas!!

    December 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm
  8. Colin M.

    My childhood home had a colorado blue spruce planted in the pride of place spot in the front yard. All the family milestone photos were taken in front of that tree. You can watch the family grow up as the tree matured in those photos. Sadly, it was planted too close to the house, and ended up with a funky bald side. When my mother sold the house to my baby brother, his wife (who had no sense of the importance of the tree in the family history) had my brother chop it down and replace it with something spindly and ornamental. The whole neighborhood looks different without it.
    Interestingly, that tree was planted in solid clay, which was the only soil type where I grew up.

    December 9, 2013 at 10:01 am