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.
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.
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.
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.’
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?
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.