Questions on: Spruce

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: Four years ago, we transplanted spruce trees from a farm. They where planted very close together on the farm. We planted them with more spacing, but are noticing their growth is heavier on the top and have not thickened up. The only advice we were given about fertilizing was to use additional lawn fertilizer around the trees when fertilizing the lawn. These trees now are top heavy and I feel they will break off. Is there anything we can do to save these trees? I have considered cutting the tops off and letting new growth begin. (e-mail reference)

A: That would be an acceptable alternative, if you don't mind trees that are not the typical symmetrical form.


Q: We planted a Colorado blue spruce a couple of years ago. This is its second season of new growth. This year, the upper part of the tree is producing an incredible amount of cones. Nearly everywhere there should be a new branch forming, there is a cone instead. There are so many cones that the branches are hanging down because of the weight. The tree looks healthy otherwise. Is it safe to pluck the cones off or what else can we do? We are afraid the branches might break. (e-mail reference)

A: Picking the cones off may cause more damage than just allowing them to drop on their own. Generally, heavy cone production is a sign of tree stress, but usually it occurs on much older trees. You might assess your tree for planting depth, water needs or any other possible environmental stressors that may be causing heavy cone production.


Q: We moved into a house about a year ago that had been landscaped about a year before that. In the front of the house, about a foot away, is a blue spruce. The spruce seems to be growing nicely. Do I need to be concerned about the roots of this tree affecting the foundation of my house? Do I need to be concerned that its proximity to the house may affect its ability to grow? Thank you for your advice. (e-mail reference)

A: The roots won't be a problem, but the distance from the house will. These trees have the potential to grow to 60 feet or more with a spread of 15 to 20 feet.


Q: We have a blue spruce that my children planted about 18 years ago. We moved two years ago and brought it with us. It was doing great, but the tree got hit with salt from the water softener because of a problem. As soon as we saw this, we fixed the softener, but the tree is almost completely brown. We are watering periodically to flush the roots. Please help! (e-mail reference)

A: Check to see if the buds are green under the scales. If they are, there is a chance the tree will come out of this. If they are brown and dry, don't waste your time and consider the tree dead.


Q: Our neighbors plan to cut down an apparently healthy, gorgeous, mature blue spruce. We would like to transplant it to our yard. We would need to hire professionals to move the tree. Does the tree have a good chance of surviving or would this most likely be a waste of time and money? Thank you very much for your time. (e-mail reference)

A: With just a move from one yard to the other, the chance of survival is very high. Be sure you hire someone who knows what he or she is doing and who can give you some possible references of past successes.


Q: I just came across your online information about spruces, so I think you can help me. I had two blue spruce trees planted two years ago. They had a small area that seemed to have a discolored and fungus type of material on the branches. I asked the landscaper about it and he said to water them weekly and it would go away. Well, it seems to have turned into a wilt that has moved around the bottom of the tree. I can't see any spider mites or discoloration. However, there are quite a few branches that have lost needles. Any ideas or help would be appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: Shame on the landscaper for giving you a blow-off response! You shouldn't have accepted any plants that were not perfect. I can't accurately tell you what the problem is. It could be a fungal canker of some sort, but to control it effectively, an accurate diagnosis needs to be made. If you can, contact an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist in your region who is competent at disease diagnosis and control.


Q: We live in Canada. I am thinking of planting three Norway spruce trees to give my city lot a natural look and add privacy. Where we live is very windy. The soil is sandy and relatively dry. I think I can get around the dry soil by making sure I add a lot of rich earth and peat moss, but what I'm confused about is whether the Norway spruce can handle a windy area. Some Web sites say it is good as a windbreak, but other Web sites say that the roots do not go deep enough, so the trees might tip over. Any light you can shine on this subject would really be appreciated. (e-mail reference)
A: Norway spruce are indeed very good windbreaks, but also subject to windfall due to their magnificent size, spreading branches and shallow root system. If you can establish a drip irrigation system around the trees, the water would percolate down nice and deep because of the sandy soil. The developing roots would follow, so I encourage you to plant these trees. Most evergreens are subject to windfall due to the resistance the aerial part of their growth presents to these forces.

Q: Our office purchased several dozen Black Hills spruce in containers for Christmas. Because I live on a 40-acre parcel, I have inherited about a dozen plants. I plan to line my dirt driveway which runs north to south. The drive curves a bit and runs about 1,200 feet. From reading the Extension Web site that you have, I believe I need to plant the spruce about 15 feet apart. How far away from the driveway should they be planted? Will 10 feet work? My house is north of Laurel, Mont. The elevation is 3,400 feet. The land is somewhat broken and has numerous pines growing on it, but I'm not sure of the varieties. The drive itself runs through a fairly bare stretch of ground with lots of grasses, but no trees. I will have to carry water to the trees, so I am wondering how many gallons I should apply at a time. Finally, do I need to protect the young trees from animal grazing? We have an abundance of deer and turkeys on the property, but I don’t know if these trees are or could be a part of a deer's diet. (e-mail reference)
A: Planting the spruce trees 15 feet apart is good. Also, use 15 feet as a guide to planting the trees from the edge of your driveway. At 10 feet from the drive, you would be all right for about 10 to 12 years, depending on the rate of growth in your region. Addressing your concern about deer and other nibblers, spruce trees generally are not bothered. However, I have seen some cases where animals did become a problem. There are several good products on the market, such as Liquid Fence for deer and rabbits or a material called Plantskydd. If you are hauling water, the chance of you overwatering is not very high, which is good. However, I would suggest that you prewater the holes before planting. This will keep the dry soil from pulling the water away from the moist rootball. When you water, make it very thorough and complete. Keep in mind that the roots will follow the percolating water through the soil. The first year is the most important for keeping the roots in active pursuit of the moving water. Another point is that evergreens are susceptible to spider mite damage during extended heat and drought conditions. One of the best controls is to spray the trees with water a couple of times a week. Do a hard spray because spider mites don't do well under that kind of treatment.

Q: We have 16 Norway spruce trees lining our driveway. Some, but not all, are dying from the top down. The same problem is happening to other spruce tress on our street and area. All the dying trees seem to be really old, big Norway spruce. One is completely dead, so we will have it removed. We will be using a tree removal service. Should I have them, while they are here, cut off the dead tops of the affected trees? Can the trees be treated systemically or sprayed? I had planned to buy 10 more Norway spruce trees this spring to replace gaps where trees must have been removed years ago. I will be spending more than $2,000 for these trees, but I do not want to waste my money if the trees will get infected with whatever is killing the trees. If I treat my trees, will it be all in vain since other trees in the area have the same problem? Should our state or county be notified? Is there another spruce or pine I could plant that would be similar in shape and size to the Norway, but would not be susceptible to the same infestation? Thank you for your attention to my long-winded question. (e-mail reference)

A: You need to have an accurate diagnosis of what is killing your spruce trees. While you are having the dead tree removed, have the arborist cut the dead top out and save some live material. In other words, have a sample that shows where the dead or dying needles begin. You need to make contact with a local International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist. Go to http://www.isa-arbor.com/findArborist/findarborist.aspx. Follow the instructions to find a local certified arborist. Everyone has differing skills, so be sure the person you select is certified, has good diagnostic skills or knows someone who does and can advise you accordingly.


Q: We have a blue spruce we planted more than 30 years ago. It was a beautiful tree until this year. In the past few months, the spruce has started leaning to the east at a drastic angle. It almost looks like the tree is lacking afternoon sun. The west side of tree looks like it's dying because there is no green foliage except at the very top. The east, north and south sides of the tree look OK. We also have had a major mole problem this summer. We have sprayed and set out poisoned peanuts, but those solutions didn’t work. The whole yard looks like an underground turnpike. This has been the driest summer we have had in years. I root watered all of our trees except the large spruce and apple trees. I didn’t root water them because I figured they were well-established and didn’t need it. (e-mail reference)

A: Just as the biggest football players need water to keep going, so do large, well-established trees during extended periods of drought. There is probably nothing you can do about the dead side of the tree. Once that happens, it stays that way. You can save the rest of the tree by deep-root watering at least once a month. I would suspect that the soil is not frozen in your part of the country, so I would suggest laying a hose around the outer edge of the evergreen in at least three to four locations and allow the water to slowly soak into the soil. Soak the soil down to at least 12 inches. As winter departs and new growth begins, the trees will have some water to pull from the soil to supply the growth surge. As for the moles, they eat grubs and earthworms for the most part. They do not eat roots, but their burrowing activity can cause a lot of damage to the root systems of lawns and other plants. The poisoned peanuts you attempted to use are not effective against moles, but they are good against voles. In North Dakota, what some people have been blaming moles for actually is caused by voles. There is a big difference in the treatments to eliminate the two. For moles, use a product known as Thiram. It should be available at your local farm supply store. Now would be a good time to take action because they usually bear their young in a single litter in late April or May.


Q: I have a spruce tree that I took home from kindergarten on Arbor Day in 1971. It grew into a beautiful tree at my parents’ house, but had to be cut several times because it was growing into telephone and power lines. I have the sad task of cutting the tree down. I want to save the cones and maybe cuttings to try to create a new tree or trees. Can you tell me how to do it or refer me to someone who can? (e-mail reference)

A: That is some treasure to have to lose. Unfortunately, the cones already have dispersed their seed or have been consumed by wildlife. Growing spruce using cuttings is not easy, even for professional growers. For a good keepsake, I might suggest taking some branches and having them plasticized for preservation.


Q: I have a Colorado blue spruce that was planted this spring. The bottom branches turned brown, so I had it replaced, but the same thing happened. It gets plenty of water. Ever heard of this problem? (e-mail reference)

A: The tree could be overwatered, planted too deeply or both. This is a common problem when either situation exists.


Q: My big spruce trees have some brittle, dead branches near the bottom. When would be a good time to trim these branches off? (e-mail reference)

A: If they are unsightly to the point of distraction, remove them now. Dead is dead, so it wouldn't make any difference if you took them off now or early spring. Now would be easier.


Q: I have a couple of questions about digging out some blue spruce trees. How deep should I dig? What tools should I use so I don't harm the trees? (e-mail reference)

A: Generally, the roots spread wider than they go deep. For digging, hand tools are the best, but that is a lot of work. It is best to use a straightedge shovel. You can cut through the roots cleanly and get good leverage for going under the trees to further cut some roots and lift the trees. Any roots too thick to cut that way should be cut cleanly with a handsaw.


Q: I have a Black Hills spruce that is loaded with cones, but a third of the needles have turned reddish brown. There are 12 other Black Hills and Colorado blues in this cluster. I'm considering cutting the tree down to prevent the disease from spreading to my other trees. Can you tell me what disease I'm dealing with? Is there a systemic cure for this condition or do I need to remove the tree? I could easily remove it because it sits at the periphery of the tree group. (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: Based on what you have told me, I doubt this is a biotic disease. It’s probably a reaction to environmental extremes from this past summer. It’s a common problem around the state this fall. Based on the samples our lab has received thus far, there is no evidence of a pathogen causing the problem. The absence of a pathogenic disease does not remove the threat of the continued decline and eventual death of the tree. The heavy cone set you mentioned is symptomatic of a tree that is about to die. You might feel better taking the tree down at this point.


Q: I planted 10 blue spruce trees this spring. I followed the planting instructions and tips given by the salesperson. I mixed peat moss in with the loose soil, planted them with the ball even with the ground and put a layer of mulch around them. After planting the trees, I watered thoroughly and have been watering the trees once a week. Four trees are doing great and developed new buds. However, four have turned brown and lost their needles from the ground to the middle of the tree. Are they dead? Can they be saved or do I dig them up and start over? I have a one year warranty on them, if I can just find my receipt. What did I do wrong? (e-mail reference)

A: From your description, you have done nothing wrong. I suggest going back to the nursery where the purchase was made and see if you can find the clerk who waited on you. Hopefully, some replacement arrangements can be made.


Q: I just noticed that the new buds on my Colorado blue spruce trees have black around them. I planted them two weeks ago. There was a hard frost two days ago, but I didn't notice the black until yesterday. Are the trees suffering from frostbite? I also am wondering if I am watering them too much. I watered the trees a lot the day I planted them, the next day and twice since then. Is this it for my spruce trees? (e-mail reference)

A: Your spruce trees have been damaged by frost, which likely killed off new growth. They should be fine and bounce back. Water your spruce trees about once per week.


Q: I have three large spruce trees in my front yard that have been diagnosed with spider mites. I also have a blue spruce and another spruce tree in the side yard. We love these trees for the privacy they provide. The three large trees were planted in the 1950s. We would hate to lose these trees because there's no way they could be replaced. I'm guessing they are 50 to 60 feet tall. We were given an estimate from the company to apply a commercial insecticide. The insecticide would be applied twice, 14 days apart. What is the appropriate treatment for spruce spider mites? Is this something we can purchase and apply ourselves? The problem is getting access to the tops of the trees. Also, should I be concerned about these pests migrating to other trees? What is the life expectancy of these trees? I'm hoping they will be around long after I'm gone. (e-mail reference)

A: Actually, a strong spray of water will keep the spider mites in check. If you can get a high pressure hose that will reach the top of the tree and give it a thorough spraying with just water, it would be about as effective as using a miticide. Also, mites cannot build resistance to water as they can to a miticide! Unless the trees have some other deadly affliction that is undetected, the tree should outlast you easily.


Q: I know someone who has problems with spruce trees. The trees have pine needle scale, winter damage and drought stress. However, the trees that appeared to be dead are budding new needles, so I am wondering if the problem is needle cast. Is there any hope for these trees? The owners have been watering the heck out of the trees because they don't want to lose them. Does the needle scale pose a threat to tree health? Is there a spray to prevent it? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: These trees are under a lot of stress and probably will not make it. I would love to be wrong, but when a combination of factors that you describe come together, usually it spells doom. Horticultural oil will help control scale and watering can help offset drought. They probably don't know it, but their spruce trees very likely have spider mite infestations, which periodic hard sprays with water will help control. As for what sounds like needle cast, spraying with Bravo (chlorothalonil) now and again in early July might do the trick at arresting the progression of this disease. It needs to be done at least two years in a row to be effective. I wish them luck in their efforts. Sorry to be such a pessimist!


Q: I have gall on my Colorado spruce. I'm impressed with your knowledge and look forward to your helpful response. Thank you. (Saint Paul, Minn.)

A: Thank you. I'm glad somebody is impressed! It comes from living so long and enjoying the subject matter. Those growths are probably cooley gall aphid galls, which in reality are adelgids. These are pin-head size insects that hide on the underside of the branch near buds. When the new growth begins in the spring, these insects swell upon feeding on the new growth by sucking the sap out of the needles. At the same time, they inject in their saliva a substance that behaves like a growth regulator. This causes plant cells to swell and enclose the insects, which gives them protection from predators and any sprays. At the end of the spring season, the galls dry and then crack, which allows the aphids to crawl out onto the needles. The insects then go through another molt. Wings appear and the aphid flies off to another tree. This time it is a Douglas fir, where no galls are formed when the insects feed on the fir’s foliage. The damage is mostly cosmetic, so no controls are necessary. Cutting the galls off will not control the insects because they already have departed. Removing the galls by pruning is a choice the homeowner makes for aesthetic concerns. If control is desired, spray the underside of the branches with dormant or horticultural oil prior to bud growth.


Q: I have Colorado blue spruce that I planted along with another one about 20 feet away last spring. One of the trees looks very ill. Many of the needles at the ends of the branches are brittle and falling off. The other tree is fine. Both have the same exposure. I have started watering the trees every two weeks. Could it be that I am watering too much? What is the best watering plan for these trees? (e-mail reference)

A: The problem could be that the tree is planted too deeply, has too much mulch around the base, suffering from borer activity or the rootball dried out at planting time and never recovered.
You are about right on with your watering plan, but don't make the soil continually soggy.


Q: A homeowner has roots from his blue spruce invading his garden. What is the best treatment for this problem other than taking out the trees or moving his garden? (e-mail reference)

A: Well, without the obvious choices, the only other solution is a root barrier. The roots have to be cut back and a barrier installed. This barrier can be a strip of plastic edging, treated lumber or a material called Biobarrier.


Q: What variety of blue spruce stays blue after it has fully matured? I have noticed that many blue spruce trees seem to take on an almost totally green color as they get older. Can you give me any information on this subject? Also, where can the trees be purchased? (e-mail reference)

A: Local garden centers are the best choice for blue spruce clones. A clone is a vegetatively propagated plant, so it retains the same characteristics of the parent. Look for the clones with names (cultivar) such as Hoopsii, Mission Blue and Thompson (or Thompsonii). These cultivars provide a continuous blue color throughout the life of the tree.


Q: I have four very large blue spruce trees that take up a lot of my backyard. The trees were planted as a windbreak before my block was populated with houses. I am worried that the trees will start to die because they will run out of room. Will I eventually have to pay to have these trees removed? Can the trees be pruned or will they die if I do that? (Hawley, Minn.)

A: Everything eventually dies, but more often than not, they live a lot longer than expected. If the trees become a hazard to you or the public, you may be required to pay for their removal. Most evergreens do not tolerate severe pruning, especially blue spruce. If you decide to have some pruning done, be sure to get someone who has credentials, such as an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist, and knows what he or she is doing when it comes to cosmetic pruning. Go to www.isa-arbor.com/home.aspx and click "Find a Certified Arborist." Follow the links to your area of the state to find a certified arborist.


Q: I am getting ready to plant some Colorado blue spruce trees. I am planning on using some Miracle-Gro for trees and shrubs around the plants. The type I will be using is supposed to last three months. I used this fertilizer around some arborvitae that I planted and it seemed to help.
Will this Miracle-Gro fertilizer be OK for blue spruce? I heard there is something I can put around the trees to make sure they keep their blue tint. (e-mail reference)

A: Any fertilizer that will aid arborvitae likewise will help Colorado spruce. As to the blue tint, I don't know of anything that can be used, unless it is an acid-based fertilizer.


Q: When choosing between Colorado or Black Hills spruce, what do you suggest? When selecting height of the conifer, is there a maximum that you would recommend for transplanting? We would like to go as large as possible without significantly decreasing our success rate. (e-mail reference)

A: I favor Black Hills spruce because of its softer needles, uniqueness in landscapes for the area and its uncharacteristic growth into maturity. Balled-in-burlap plants about 5 to 6 feet tall have, in my experience, turned out to be the easiest to establish. Coming from a nursery, the plants should have been root-pruned (check this out to be sure) every year before being harvested. That way, most of the roots the trees developed would be present at transplanting.


Q: I live in northwestern Montana and have a few Colorado spruce trees. The tops on some of the trees have died. I took my fingernail and peeled the bark and found little white grubs or worms. Do you know what the grubs are and what I can do to get rid of them? (e-mail reference)

A: They sound like the larval stage of the white pine weevil or the pine shoot moth. There should be some small holes that the adults emerge through. Cut off and destroy (literally burn them!) all the parts of the tree that are infested. Check with the Montana Extension Service in your county to see what insecticides it recommends for controlling the adult female. There may be pheromone traps available for this species. Once the spruce trees get more than 15 feet tall, this pest usually becomes less of a problem. Possibly avoiding a monoculture is one of the ways to foil their activity in the future. We have the same overplanting problem in North Dakota.


Q: I thought you might be able to help me with a little spruce seedling I am starting in an indoor pot. I planted it in vermicompost. The spruce did well at first, producing some new growth. Then the new growth wilted and dropped off. I've just started to see some needle drop and browning of the needles. The pot is one of those you put water in the bottom and it soaks up through the soil as needed. The plant is in a north-facing window. Do you think this could be related to overwatering, lack of room for the roots or has the tree used all the nutrients in the compost? (e-mail reference)

A: Spruce seedlings do not make good indoor plants. They are a temperate zone plant, which means they need to experience the vagaries of Mother Nature, not the artificially heated environment that is maintained at a constant 70 degrees with low humidity. The plant is probably a lost cause. The vermicompost is a good idea, but should be used in seedling beds outdoors. Vermicompost allows the seedlings to germinate when conditions are favorable and to "toughen up" to local weather conditions.


Q: We have a very large Norway spruce in our front yard. We have a tarred driveway that covers a lot of the area around the base of the tree, so there is not a big area where we can water the root system. The tarred street also cuts off the fertilizer supply. For the first time, some of the needles are falling off the tree. If we had not collected the needles on occasion, they would have completely covered the driveway and small area of lawn under the tree. There does not seem to be any sign of disease and we really haven't tried to fertilize the tree. (Richfield, Minn.)

A: Whatever this is, it doesn't sound good! Since you live near the Twin Cities, I suggest looking in your phone book or go to www.isa-arbor.com/home.aspx to locate a certified International Society of Arboriculture arborist to examine your tree. It sounds like a needle cast disease, which can be controlled by timely spraying. Try to get the arborist as soon as possible to make the diagnosis and set up a spraying schedule, if that is the problem. Be sure to check credentials and references.


Q: My Black Hills spruce trees are covered halfway up with snow. Is this a problem? Should arborvitae be watered midwinter if temperatures are at 32 degrees? (e-mail reference)

A: No to both questions.


Q: I have several blue spruce trees with 18 to 24 inches of new growth on top. Can I prune the new growth back to 12 to14 inches so the tree doesn't look out of shape or is it better to leave the new growth alone? (e-mail reference)

A: Go ahead and trim the trees this spring. Glad they are growing so well for you. The blue spruce obviously love the site where you have them.


Q: I live in the tri-state area and want to top a Norwegian spruce that is about 80 feet tall. I want to take off about 6 to 10 feet. Some people say I should not because the tree will die. Some say it will survive. (e-mail reference)

A: Taking that much off an 80-foot Norway spruce that is healthy will not kill it. What will happen, is that one or more of the lateral branches will bend up to take over the terminal growth of the tree. It might look weird, but it will not hurt the tree.


Q: We received about 6 inches of rain last night and expect about 3 more today. My spruce trees are under water. Should I be concerned or will they make it through once this all dries up? They do sit in a low-lying area next to a culvert. (Saint Paul, Minn.)

A: According to references, spruce trees do not like to be stuck in standing water. That said, I have been caring for the three football fields at NDSU for the last dozen years or so and many times have seen the blue spruce at the south end of the field standing in water for a week or more. When it first happened, I assumed it was all over for these trees, but after so many events like this, they are still standing and looking as majestic as ever. My anecdotal observations would lead me to say that in all probability, the trees will be all right!


Q: How do I get a pine cone to grow off my spruce tree? (e-mail reference)

A: First of all, you don't get pine cones off spruce trees, you get spruce cones. Either way, it is not the cones you need, but the seed within. You need to put a paper bag securely over the cones while they are still closed, but have been fertilized by the male cones. When they are ripe, the cones open and disperse the seed. You then can collect the seed and plant it where you want, allowing the winter weather to break the dormancy for you.


Q: You appear to be an expert on blue spruce. My sixth-grade students want to know why blue spruce trees blow over in big winds. (e-mail reference)

A: Two things make them vulnerable to high wind. The huge surface area they present to the wind's force acts as a sail that catches it almost perfectly. High-wind events usually are accompanied by heavy rains, which soften the soil and allow the trees to be more prone to toppling. Keep in mind that the rain adds weight to the already top-heavy part of the tree, which contributes to toppling susceptibility. Good question and thanks for asking.


Q: This winter, ice from a storm snapped in half my Colorado blue spruce. If possible, I’d like to save the tree by grafting branches from the same tree to the point where the tree snapped. Does my spruce have a good chance of surviving? Is grafting wishful thinking or would it be better to replace the tree? (e-mail reference)

A: It would be easier to replace the tree. If grafting were easy, everybody would be doing it. It takes years to develop good grafting skills, especially on evergreens.


Q: I have a 21-year-old blue spruce. The lower limbs have died, so I removed them last summer. This spring I noticed a growth on the outside of the tree trunk. The growth was soft and gooey and about the size of a small Frisbee. I started to remove the growth and found a borehole underneath with a white worm in it. The worm was fat and about 3/4 inch long. I removed the worm. Does the growth I removed contain baby worms? Please let me know what I should do. Thank you. (e-mail reference)

A: I only can guess that what you saw was the larval stage of the spruce bark beetle because they tend to attack mature trees. Mature trees tend to be more stressed than their younger counterparts are. The gooey stuff you removed did not contain any larvae. It probably was the sap from the feeding larvae. I would suggest getting in touch with someone who is an International Society of Arboriculture certified tree-care specialist. The specialist can inspect the tree and discuss various treatments.


Q: In early October 2002, we hired a local nursery to plant five Norway spruce and five blue spruce. We’ve had a tree service take care of the trees for the past two. Last fall, the nursery expert advised us to water each tree once a week for about 20 minutes until the ground froze. The tree expert said we should water three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes until the ground froze. We took the tree expert’s advice. We purchased a root-watering wand and faithfully watered the trees. The blue spruce trees are doing fairly well, but the Norway spruce are showing signs of stress. There is some browning of the branches near the ground and some browning halfway up. Both experts said we should not put up burlap to protect the trees against wind damage. The brown areas are on all sides of the trees, but mostly on the southwest side, the main direction of the wind. When can we begin watering and how much should we give the trees? Should we use the root-watering device? When and how do we fertilize? Since we’ve been given differing opinions, I don’t know which expert to believe. We have $12,000 invested in these trees. (e-mail reference)

A: Both spruce varieties need water to become established, but they shouldn’t be watered for 20 minutes each week for two years. Adjustments have to be made for weather conditions and attention needs to be paid to each tree’s response to the watering regime. At this point, examining the buds is important. If they are plump and firm, you have nothing to worry about. If they crumble and fall apart, there is a problem. I am surprised that your tree service did not offer to spray the trees with Wilt-Pruf prior to winter. That would have provided some protection against desiccation. When the ground thaws, don’t be too quick to begin watering. As the soil warms and dries, the roots will tend to follow the moving moisture line to a depth determined by the air/water balance existing in the soil. Applying water too soon will cause the roots to stay near the surface, causing a saturated soil condition where the roots suffer from anaerobic conditions. I would get the nursery personnel back out to your place, since you have made such a sizeable investment, and ask them to interpret the situation. They should provide expert advice because they want you back as a customer.


Q: We inherited a little tree farm that has about 20 acres of blue spruce. The trees are 3 to 5 feet tall and quite healthy. An occasional tree has a double leader. I have noticed that by the end of the summer, one leader will take over. Should I still go ahead and prune all double leaders? When is the best time? (e-mail reference)

A: The best time to prune the trees is prior to new growth emerging.


Q: We have several blue spruce trees. Some of them have the very top bending over as if the wind is making them grow sideways. The others are fine. Can we somehow support the top to promote upward growth? (e-mail reference)

A: This characteristic is a possible indication of high salts in the area. Since the trees are most likely seedling selections and not vegetative cultivars, there will be differences in individual tree response. You can take an oak stake and tie it to the main trunk and top of the tree to see if that helps.


Q: A friend of mine planted spruce trees around her entire back yard perimeter. The trees on the east side are turning a copper color. The only difference in the yard is a large sinkhole on that end. Are the trees possibly drowning? (e-mail reference)

A: Very possibly. Nutrient deficiencies and diseases also could mimic a flooded soil situation. If that were the case, the other trees would be showing similar symptoms.


Q: I am concerned about some spruce trees in the front of our house. I am aware that spruce trees grow cones in order to reproduce in case of a fire. If a spruce tree grows a ton of cones, does this mean it is about to die? I’m concerned about a tree falling on my house. (e-mail reference)

A: Evergreens will produce cones at maturity and vary the production rate based on the environment. Most landscape trees are grown under stressful conditions so, depending on the year, this could result in greater than average cone production. Cone production is often overwhelming if the tree is losing its vigor. If the tree is otherwise healthy and has produced decent new growth for the season, then the tree is in no danger of collapsing. Have the tree checked by an International Society of Arboriculture arborist to be on the safe side.


Q: I have a couple of mature spruce trees in my yard. I think they are Norwegian spruce. The bark became scaly on the outside and this week my seven-year-old grandson began to peel the bark off of one tree. I stopped him and explained the function of bark. Unfortunately, he later returned to the scene of the crime and proceeded to peel quite a bit of bark from the tree. He did not break the inside layer. Will this damage the tree? (e-mail reference)

A: Tar and feather your grandson! I’m kidding because what he did won’t harm the tree. I suggest telling your grandson that the tree is helping us stay alive by providing air for us to breathe and that thanks to all the trees in the world, he could be born and enjoy his parents, grandparents, friends and pets. Even if the tree doesn’t complain, it makes the tree sad to have its outer skin peeled off. An approach like that may work better than telling him not to peel the bark.


Q: We planted 25 Colorado blue spruce trees and are noticing that when the buds opened, they immediately turned brown. About six trees are the most affected with at least one side of the tree full of brown buds. They also have a yellowish look. We have had soil tests done and they came back fine. The trees are planted in a corner intersecting an alfalfa field and a corn field. We water them from a sand point well. We don't want to use chemicals unless it's absolutely necessary and would really like to use organic or natural methods if possible. Can we prune off the brown buds now or should we wait for fall? Our local nursery said it could be frost damage. Could this be possible? (Parker, S.D.)

A: Your nursery could be right. If the symptoms do not appear to be getting worse, then that is very likely what happened. Examine some of the dead buds to be sure there isn’t borer or other insect damage taking place. If frost did hit the trees, the damage shouldn’t be permanent, but it may add a little character to the trees.


Q: We have more than two dozen healthy, mature blue spruce trees in our yard. This spring the new growth at the top of one of the trees is very bright red, but it looks very healthy. What caused the color change and is it something to be concerned about? (e-mail reference)

A: Red growth could be a reaction to cold temperatures, a phosphorus deficiency or maturation of this particular plant. If you are concerned, have the soil tested for phosphorus at its base or around the root system.


Q: I recently decided I would like to move some spruce trees in a shelter belt to another area. They are six to eight feet tall. Is it too late in the season to have a tree mover do it? (Barney, N.D.)

A: I would suggest waiting until early September to move them. That way, you will still have root activity that will help establish the trees without any competition from the top growth.


Q: I have a question for you on planting Alberta blue spruce. I recently purchased two of them from a garden store. They are five to six feet tall with a two year warranty. I followed the instructions that came with the tree. Each pot is about a foot and a half to two feet in diameter. I dug a hole adding another foot and a half on the radius of the pot, which translates into holes approximately five to six feet in diameter. I dug down just a little over the depth of the pot. Because we have a lot of compacted clay on our property, I mixed in about five bags of the recommended soil for each tree. I compacted the soil around the root ball of both trees. I left about two to three inches extra height for the level of the trunk of the tree. I was told not to plant below the level of the soil otherwise the trees would suffocate and die. I planted them just over a month ago and have been giving them plenty of water when it doesn’t rain. They told me I should water them until November. I planted them the second week in April. Is there anything else I should be doing? (e-mail reference)

A: It sounds good, but I would stop watering. Watering is crucial on the first day or two after planting, but then you can cut back. The soil usually has enough water for trees and constantly watering can lead to several problems. The soil becomes too wet and the roots get no oxygen, fungal diseases can become more common and the tree doesn't develop a wide-spreading root system, instead it will only form roots where there is easily-available water. If you're in the middle of a dry spell, then add additional water about every 10 days. Regarding planting depth, I’m not quite sure what you meant by “leaving about two to three inches height extra for the level of the trunk of the tree, as I was told not to plant this below the level of the soil otherwise the trees would suffocate and die." The first big flare root should be just below the surface of the soil. Planting too deep is one of the biggest causes of tree failure. (JZ)


Q: I have started watering spruce trees that I planted last fall. Is this going to be beneficial to the trees even though the frost isn’t completely out of the ground? (E-mail reference)

A: Frozen ground cannot take up water. By keeping the upper region of soil saturated with water, you are essentially creating a condition which encourages surface rooting. For woody plants, herbaceous plants and turfgrass, I recommend that water be applied as the soil dries. This encourages the roots to penetrate deeper following the receding water. In a perfect world, all plants should be watered just before they undergo drought or water stress.


Q: Our ailing blue spruce was planted in 1957. It is 15 feet from our house, 15 feet from the corner of the neighbor's house and about 9 feet from the neighbor's downspout. It is alongside our concrete driveway. The problem is massive needle drop with dead or dying branches. Some years I have sprayed with Malathion but it is so tall now that such spraying seems pointless. What shall we do to save it? Is it doomed? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: Call James Danielson at (701) 729-7208, or Kelly Melquist at (701) 729-6899. Both are International Society of Arboriculture certified arborists. They can give you an accurate diagnosis and course of action. It may turn out that the tree has lived beyond its ecological and genetic limits based on the location you describe. When spruce trees get to be that size and age in suburban environments, they become very susceptible to diseases and become difficult to sustain. Trees at this stage commonly suffer from cytospora canker or rhizosphaera needle cast. Hope this is the information you are looking for.


Q: Some of the blue spruce I planted last fall are getting reddish brown needles. The problem is on the south and southwest sides of the tree. I purchased some Wilt-Pruf to spray on them. Is it advantageous to spray them now? What temperature is the minimum at which you can apply Wilt-Pruf? Will mulching at this time of the year do any good? (E-mail reference)

A: Spraying Wilt-Pruf at this time of year will help as long as the air temperature during the day is in the upper 30s or lower 40s. Mulching will not do any good at this time of year. Even though we have had a very cold winter, with lots of snow, we have also had some very high light intensity days with light reflection coming from the snow. This raises the internal temperature of the needles on the south and southwest side of the evergreens to the point where they begin losing moisture. Because the needles are still frozen, the moisture can’t be replaced, resulting in discolored needles. Wilt-Pruf now will prevent that from happening further.


Q: I was given several 4-foot blue spruce trees. They have been sitting outside for several weeks and the root ball and fiber containers are frozen. Do I stand a chance of planting them successfully or should I cut up them for firewood? (E-mail reference)

A: Don't cut them up for wood. Mulch the root balls to keep them from drying out through the winter. Straw piled up and held in place with boards or burlap tied around them would do the trick. Don't worry about getting the mulch too thick. When spring comes and the soil thaws, remove the mulch (the root balls may still be frozen) and plant them at the right depth where you want them to mature. Keep in mind that a mature spruce, white or Colorado, will eventually have a 15 to 20 foot or more spread at the base so don't plant them too close together.


Q: Any idea what might cause a cut spruce tree to smell like rotten eggs? I received a call from a lady saying her tree smelled foul about 24 hours after they set it up. She said they cut the bottom off and placed it in water. (Bowman, N.D.)

A: It could be that some miscreant sprayed it with a sulfur based solution to spoil someone's Christmas. Or, perhaps the tree was harvested without permission and this is the owner's revenge for having illegally taken the tree. Illegal harvesting of shapely spruce and pine is not uncommon around this time of year. Hope that isn't the case in your situation!


Q: We have problems with our blue and black hills spruce. We have been planting trees for about five years and most were doing great until two years ago. The trees that are not looking good are in various parts of the yard. The first tree that died was a blue spruce that we transplanted with a tree spade. The tree did well the first year after moving, but the second year it developed brown needles mostly on the bottom. I cut off all the dead branches back to the trunk thinking I would try to save the tree. The next spring more branches needed to be trimmed so we took it down. This spring other blue spruces in the yard looked great until March or April when they began to lose their new growth. The largest was planted about 5 years earlier and couldn't have looked healthier in March. My husband fertilized with a slow release fertilizer in March and then it rained a lot. About three weeks later green needles began to fall. Some entire branches lost their needles. The branches that did not loose their needles did fine throughout the season. We had our ph tested and it is neutral so I put miracid on them. We have about 15 Black Hills spruce in our yard as well which also do not look very good. We watered and mulched the trees during the drought this year. The trees still seem to be developing brown branches that die all the way back to the trunk. We know that some of the trees had gall aphid disease so we sprayed and picked off the galls. All of the trees were bought and planted by a very reputable nursery in town. Our neighbors have many black hills spruce that look great. We do not know what we are doing wrong. (Rochester, Minn.)

A: I would go back to the nursery and ask for an opinion. It could be any number of things that are causing the problem, environmental, soil toxicity, insects, diseases or a combination.


Q: A week or so or go I noticed that one of my spruce trees had branches where the needles were turning yellow or brown. Most of the damage was on the north side of the tree, which does not get water from the lawn sprinkler. Now I see the problem developing on all the spruce trees in my yard. I assume it is drought-related and plan to start my fall deep-watering program early this year. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: It could be spider mite damage. They go after evergreens and other shrubs when rainfall or overhead irrigation is lacking. You might try to "wash" the foliage with a blast of water this fall prior to freeze up to keep them from settling in for the winter and causing problems next year.


Q: Can I prune blue spruce at this time of year? I have always been told to snip back new growth in the spring while the new growth is still soft. I have also heard that pruning while in the dormancy stage is good. I would like to do some this fall. Also, we have a new lawn that is two years old and am wondering if we can give it a weed treatment this fall. (Madison, S.D.)

A: Pruning should take place during early spring or late winter dormancy, not now. Do the weed treatment on your lawn if you can do it within the next week.


Q: We have four, 7 to 9 year-old white spruce planted in our yard. The one on the side of the house and the one in the back yard are doing well. The two in the front yard are not doing well. They have all been watered and fertilized the same. Do you have any ideas? (E-mail reference)

A: Genetic variation, water run off from the roof, difference in planting depth, variations in soil structure, snow accumulation, salt spray from the road, herbicide residue from lawn care operations, migration of pesticides from subsurface drainage and exposure to the elements, especially during winter months. Enough ideas?


Q: My neighbor has been replanting a portion of his spruce trees for six years. The trees are planted in a row next to Chinese elm stumps. One side of the stumps he has pine trees that are doing great. The other side is in spruce. One end of the row has died five years in a row and this year looks like it might make six. The year the elms were taken out he sprayed with Banvel, then burned down with Round up. Every year the trees look great until about the last week of July and then within a week they are all dead. One year he attributed it to grasshoppers, one year to drought and so on. This year he has drip irrigation on the trees, has sprayed for hoppers and fungus and is watering but since Saturday the trees have taken a turn for the worse. Could there be any residual in the soil from the Banvel he used six years ago? (Amidon, N.D.)

A: You were smart to ask about chemical residue. It’s the only thing that would cause that sudden a decline in the trees. I would suggest that he get the soil tested for salts. He should do a little bioassay using tomato plants and soil from around the dead trees. They are good indicators of any herbicides present in the soil that could affect dicot plants.


Q: I am having a problem with several spruce trees. They are developing brown needles in some cases while others are developing bare spots where the needles have dropped off. Someone told me it is natural for spruce trees to lose needles and that they would be replaced. However two trees, both about 10 feet tall, lost all their needles and died. I have two trees that are about 40 feet tall and about 25 years old that are looking quite rough with sparse needle coverage. I have used a water-soluble fertilizer that is recommended for acid loving plants like azaleas and evergreens which I applied using a hose. They are in various locations in my yard and receive varying amounts of sunlight. (Eureka, S.D.)

A: Some needle drop is normal but a bare branch on an evergreen will always be a bare branch, it will not grow new needles. It sounds like you are dealing with a needle cast disease. Purchase some Bravo (chlorothalonil) to spray on the trees and do it as soon as possible. Spray again next year in June and again in July. This will help to control the disease. In the mean time, try not to spray the trees with irrigation water. That will only cause splash spreading of the disease organism resulting in further tree decline. If you want to fertilize, use Miracle Gro around the tree, spraying it into the root zone and not on the foliage.


Q: I have a 7-year-old Colorado spruce that started to turn brown in the inside a year ago but the needles, for the most part, stayed on the branches. Now it's spreading to the next tree plus this spring a number of my pines began losing their new growth on the tips. They turn brown and fall off. Would spraying with Malathion take care of both problems? (Onaka, S.D.)

A: The first thing is to get the malady correctly diagnosed. Spraying with an insecticide will not help if the problem is a disease. Contact the South Dakota State University Extension Plant Pathology lab and send a sample to Marty Drapper for diagnosis. Describe to him, as accurately as possible, what you see happening


Q: I would like to try to grow some spruce trees from seed. What provides the seed, the male cone or the female growth? When should I harvest the seed? (Gann Valley S.D.)

A: Find some female cones that are still closed at the terminal ends of the lower branches (the male cones would no longer exist as they would have shed their pollen) and tie a small brown paper bag around a few until mid-September. Open one to see if the seeds have been shed. Plant the seeds where you want them to grow. They do not need to go through any cold pretreatment. The normal practice is to sow them into cold ground and wait for what next spring brings forth! If the cone has not opened, reseal the bag and wait a few more weeks. If the cone has opened and there are no seeds, then the pollen missed the mark which would be unusual or you covered them too soon.


Q: Over the years we have planted several spruce varieties and have become educated on needle cast. Normally we treat with a spray composed of copper sulfate. Now we cannot seem to find a source. Do you have any suggestions? (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: Use Bravo (chlorothalonil) instead copper sulfate. Bravo it is the better treatment for such maladies on conifers.


Q: The college here in Devils Lake is spraying their spruce for Rhizosphaera. They are wondering if the white pines need to also be sprayed. The white pines are not close to the spruce. (Devils Lake, N.D.)

A: It wouldn’t hurt to spray the pine trees as well.


Q: I bought 20 Colorado blue spruce to plant at my new home on land which adjoins my current home. But after reading your column I'm thinking maybe I should have purchased Black Hills spruce instead. You don't explain in the article why you don't recommend blue spruce. Is there a high mortality for blue spruce? What can I do to help them survive? They're probably already shipped so I don't think I can change my order. What advice can you give me for growing healthy, fast-growing blue spruce? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: It is partially a bias on my part and the fact that they have been grossly over-planted. Go ahead and plant them when they arrive and give them normal TLC and I am sure they will do very well. As a member of a landscape crew when I was a lot younger, I grew to hate those plants because of their hypodermic needles that pierced even long sleeved shirts. We were of course planting 6 foot tall specimens at the time not the small seedlings you will be getting.


Q: We have some very small spruce trees. They are approximately one and a half to three feet tall. What should we do as far as trimming to help optimize growth and shape? (E-mail reference)

A: Very little with trees that small and young. They generally retain a decent shape throughout development. Simply prune back anything that is distracting from the uniformity desired. Always cut back to where needles exist on the branches. Never cut back to a bare branch. Christmas tree growers will take pines, firs and some spruce and cut them right after new growth has emerged to thicken them up. That's good for growing Christmas trees but not for landscape trees.


Q: Last year I planted numerous blue spruce throughout the yard on my farm. All of those planted in the existing tree rows and other rather shady areas thrived but those planted in direct sunlight died even though I watered them weekly. The needles turned brown and dried out by mid summer. I am planning on planting again in the same locations. Should I plant something to shelter them from the sun and/or wind? (McClusky, N.D.)

A: Probably wouldn't be a bad idea, although I am surprised at what you told me. They are usually as tough as steel girders at the young stage.


Q: I'm a little puzzled about one of my Colorado spruce. Why would all the budding needles be a rose pink in color? The top and bottom of the tree have normal budding. I think it's about eight years old. (Onaka, S.D.)

A: I believe you are looking at bud scales which have reacted to sun exposure. It’s nothing to worry about, they will fall off and the new growth will be normal.


Q: Are the purple cone like structures coming out of the ends of my Black Hills spruce actually new cones? I've always had blue spruce but I’m not familiar with Black Hills spruce. These trees are relatively young and have not produced a lot of cones. (E-mail reference)

A: Most likely they are the male cones. The female cones will follow a little later while the pollen is being disbursed.


Q: Is there anything I can do to increase the survival chances of a single Colorado blue spruce planting? What should I do as far as soil prep, watering and fertilizer? (Amidon, N.D.)

A: Do not plant another Colorado blue. Instead, plant a Black Hills spruce. When digging the hole, make it wider than deep. Also, make sure the top of the root ball is covered with about 1-2 inches of soil and then create a "saucer" around the tree to collect water when it rains. Add about 3 inches of bark mulch and make sure it is well-hydrated before winter. Do not fertilize because it isn’t needed at this point. In October before freeze-up, spray the tree with Wilt-Pruf, and again in late winter or early spring during a thaw period. If this one dies, I'd suggest going for something else. Has the soil been tested?


Q: I just looked at a farm shelterbelt with 2-3 foot high blue spruce showing fairly severe winter burn. The area they are planted in is black summerfallow. Would there be an advantage to these people to keep some type of mulch around those trees, especially in the colder months? I would guess that if some mulch, stubble or whatever was out there catching a lot of snow, the soils wouldn't get as cold so the trees would be less susceptible to injury problems. (E-mail reference)

A: Definitely mulch! The black dirt and high light intensity days can do an excellent job of frying the needles. I would also advise spraying with an anti-desiccant before freeze-up and again in late winter or early spring.


Q: We are having trouble with our green spruce pine trees. They are approximately 30 feet tall and about 40 years old. They have lost their deep green color, as well as being pale, droopy and losing needles. We did keep them well watered and fertilized with slow release fertilizer spikes following the label instructions. We did go through a drought last year so we watered them well again before freeze-up. Do you have any recommendations? We really want to save these trees for many reasons. (Napoleon, N.D.)

A: It could be a number of problems, either singly or in multiples. Spider mites, needle cast disease or high soil salts from a rising water table I suggest sending a sample to our plant diagnosis clinic to the attention of: Cheryl Biller, plant diagnostician, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, Box 5012, Fargo, N.D. 58105-5012. Be sure to send a representative sample showing healthy and diseased or stressed plant tissue and give her as much background information as possible. There will be nominal charges depending on the tests carried out. I am definitely not an advocate of fertilizer spikes, so I would recommend not pursuing that path any longer.


Q: I would appreciate some advice concerning a windbreak we are planting this spring. We live in rural Hawley, Minn. and our house is on a hill where the wind pounds us in the winter. I've contacted the Soil Conservation department in Clay county and have a plan for a windbreak using redosier dogwood, Black Hills spruce, and amur maple. The two rows of dogwood are 4 feet apart within and between the rows as per the recommendations on living snow fences. The dogwoods will be on the far northwest side to serve as a snowfence for our driveway. How far apart should I space the spruce trees within the rows? I'm tentatively set for 15 feet but am a bit concerned. I just read that trees used as windbreaks are most effective if they branch all the way to the ground and are spaced at a distance about one-half their mature width. I believe Black Hills spruce have a crown width of 15-25 feet. Do I risk irritating the Soil Conservation people and have them adjust the spruce trees back to a 10-foot spacing within the rows? (Hawley, Minn.)

A: No, you are fine. Most decline in windbreaks is due to planting too close. When the Black Hills spruce mature, they will be just about the right distance apart. Ten feet apart would be too close and could lead to disease problems.


Q: I’m looking for information on bag worms. We have two beautiful blue spruce but this fall we noticed they had bag worms. We pulled off as many as possible but could not get them all. We would like to spray to eradicate these pests. (E-mail reference)

A: I wish email addresses came with some kind of zip code so I could tell where you are writing from! Your hand picking during winter is one of the best, least toxic, and least expensive ways to control this interesting pest. For those you cannot reach, or to be sure you have taken care of all of them, spray from mid-spring (May) to early summer (July) with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organically accepted method, or with Orthene or Sevin. Spray again in 10 days if activity is still noted.


Q: I have 1,000 Colorado spruce trees I planted a few years ago. They are 10 feet apart and are now 3 to 6 feet tall. Are they likely to die off at that spacing? Is there a formula, when transplanting, for the amount of dirt and depth that should be moved with the roots going by the diameter or height of the tree? (E-mail reference)

A: According to the American Standard for Nursery Stock, put out by the American Association of Nurserymen, 1996 issue, the ball size should be 14 inches diameter for the 3 foot tall trees, and 22 inches diameter for those that are 6 feet tall. These are minimum sizes and assume cultural practices up to the point of digging that would have encouraged the development of a well-branched root system. If this is not your case, then I would tend to make the ball size larger. The depth size should be not less than 75 percent of the diameter for the 3 foot tall trees, and not less than 66 percent of the diameter for the 6 foot trees. As far as spacing, I would recommend every other one be removed or cut out before the trees become too crowded. Overcrowding will encourage disease problems and competition for limited resources like water and nutrients.


Q: We have a Black Hills spruce that we planted last year. It is now about six feet tall. We want to eventually keep it down to around 10 feet or so if practical. What is the proper method and timing for trimming the top and side branches? It has a good leader on it now and is doing well. (Horace, N.D.)

A: You will have to seasonally shear the tree, which is best done with a machete. In the spring, cut the soft new shoots that have just elongated to one-half their length. This is not a practical or recommended practice. It’s just what we used to do when we intended them to be cut trees for Christmas. Spruce and pine trees should rarely be pruned.


Q: We have a blue spruce that is about 80 feet tall. It seems generally healthy but we have noticed moths that look like spruce bud worm moths. We don't want to lose the tree so would like to know what to spray the tree with in order to kill the bud worms. (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada)

A: Acephate, carbaryl, and chlorpyrifos are commonly used. You can also use a horticultural oil, if the temperature is below 20 degrees celsius. Good luck on getting a spray to reach 80 feet!


Q: What causes needles on our blue spruce to turn a shade of pink? Also, the leaves on 12 beautiful tomato plants curled and died. Is this from the neighbors having sprayed their yard for weeds? (Aberdeen, S.D.)

A: It could be from environmental conditions, a needle cast disease getting started, and depending on the extent of discoloration, spray drift from a pesticide - not necessarily a weed killer. With the tomatoes it could very well be herbicide drift, but it could also be a disease. The symptoms would have to be observed.


Q: Recently you answered someone who had their evergreens die. You recommended they be replaced with Black Hills spruce or ponderosa pine. Do you feel they are a hardier tree than Colorado blue spruce? (Conde, S.D.)

A: As beautiful as Colorado spruce are to look at, they are over-planted in our region. Using either the ponderosa pine or Black Hills spruce would vary the population, and give a little diversity to our landscape. Both are hardy and well adapted to our northern plains.


Q: I have three beautiful blue spruces. I noticed that the needles are starting to fall off, and when we looked closer there are cocoons hanging all over the tree and these worm-like insects are using the needles to make their cocoons. We sprayed Sevin a few times but they keep spreading. It started on one tree and now it’s on all of them. I removed one of the cocoons and placed it in a bowl with holes in the lid to see what exactly these things become. Is there something else we should be doing? And can these kill the trees? (E-mail reference)

A: It has been quite some time since anyone has written me about bagworms. I was beginning to think they might have become extinct......no such luck! Anyway, if there are just a few that you can reach, cut them off and dump them into kerosine or into a campfire, and do so at your earliest convenience. If there are too many, spray the tree with an insecticide like malathion, which will control them as they continue to feed. Pupation of this species takes place in early September, and several days later the adult winged males emerge and mate with the wingless females at the lower tip of the case or bag they are carrying. The male dies, and after the female deposits her eggs in the old pupal case, she also dies. The eggs overwinter, and new larvae emerge the following spring to take up where their parents left off, building a new bag out of silk and the foliage they are consuming.


Q: I had 4-foot spruce trees transplanted this spring in the shelter belt behind our buildings. They have been doing very well with the new growth in spite of our weather conditions (heat and drought). They were fertilized in June. Also at that time I sprayed them with Malathion. I didn't find any bugs, I sprayed them just in case. They have been watered three times since they were transplanted and are looking healthy with good growth. Now after last weeks extreme heat four of them have a section facing the west where the needles are red-brown. It appears to be the needles just behind the new growth and primarily on the west. This row runs east to west; their mates in a north to south row that have some old trees to shade them don't yet show anything like this. Is this related to the heat and drought? I also have a 12- to 15-foot fir tree that is showing some brown dried branches in an area the sun shines on. It is crowded between a big spruce tree and a bunch of lilacs. Is this also drought and heat related? I have been watering these trees. Is there anything else I should be doing? (Hettinger, N.D.)

A: It could be a combination of factors: severance of the root system from transplanting limits the tree's ability to uptake adequate moisture; the residue of Malathion, an oil-oil base insecticide, could cause the symptoms, and finally the heat/drought combination. All I can suggest at this point is to try to keep the plants watered as you have been, and hope for an improvement in the weather conditions.


Q: Some friends of ours have taken up the practice of removing the main leaders on all of their 2- to 4-year-old blue spruces with the assumption that they are creating a fuller, bushier tree. I can find no information anywhere that supports this idea. What do you think about topping trees? (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: Your friends are right. It will create a bush, not a tree. The leader is something that provides the vertical growth to the tree, and when it is removed or cut back without any other action taken, the tree will become shrub-form. Christmas tree growers follow a regular pruning practice on spruce, fir and pine that creates bushier trees than Mother Nature intended. Typically, the spruce make a nice cone shape anyway. The mistake they are making in doing that to the spruce is sooner or later they are going to stop, and what will the tree look like then? I wish I had photos of trees that had been "topped" for a decade or so, then let go. They turn out to look freakish.


Q: How far apart should I plant blue spruce? (E-mail reference)

A: Fifteen to 20 feet apart.


Q: I have some 7-foot Colorado blue spruces that have developed needle cast disease. I just applied Daconil 2787. In the meantime I have planted more Colorado blue spruces 7 feet tall and some Norway spruce 5 feet tall. Would it be safe to spray Daconil 2787 on the newly planted trees? (E-mail reference)

A: Yes, in June and again in July, until the symptoms on the affected trees are gone.


Q: I had a few questions about planting some Colorado blue spruce evergreens. I was planning on ordering the 5-year-old transplants out of Pennsylvania. I was just wondering how late I could plant the trees, and how well they would grow in North Dakota after being raised in Pennsylvania. Also I was wondering how late the growing season lasts. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: If they are containerized or balled and burlaped, anytime the soil isn't frozen; otherwise you are too late for this year. I would also suggest that you look locally, within our region, as the stock would likely be from some of our hardy specimens and would be sure to survive our weather conditions better.


Q: I am sending you a branch from the top of one of our spruce trees, which is getting more brown by the day and spreading downward. The trees near this one are okay so far. What could be causing the problem? Can we arrest it in time to save the tree, and what about the contagion possibility to the nearby trees?

A: There was no evidence of a pathogen or insect damage on the sample you sent. It is evident the tree is under stress of some kind in its environment: salts accumulating in the rootzone, compaction, planted too deep, over-zealous cultivation, drought/heat, insufficient water, or any combination of the above. I suggest making sure the plants have sufficient moisture throughout the growing season, that they are protected from salt spray, and that they are not planted too deep or kept too wet. I know this is not a "nailed-down" answer for you, but lacking any pest evidence, we have to examine the growing conditions.


Q: I have 10- foot tall Colorado blue spruce trees and I am wondering, when is the right time to prune these trees? Should I prune the branches that are next to the ground and, if so, how high? (Lehr, N.D.)

A: Generally Colorado blue spruce need very little pruning. Consequently, I wouldn't prune unless there were diseased, damaged, or dead branches. The lower branch can also be left alone unless it is getting damaged by lawn mowing activity. If you still think pruning is needed, do so this spring after new growth has stopped elongating but before it hardens off. Remove only half the length of the new growth.


Q: When is the appropriate time to shape a spruce tree? (Logan County, N.D.)

A: The best time is right after the new growth has finished elongating, then cutting that back about half-way. Generally, spruce need very little pruning, so I advise not doing so unless it is poorly shaped, diseased, or has damaged branches.


Q: I am concerned about our blue spruce evergreens. They are up to 25 feet tall, but we are starting to lose some of them. They are dying from the top down. The needles turn brown, then die, about a quarter of the tree at a time. The trees are not all in the same place in our yard. We have tried spraying the trees and also water spraying, none of which seemed to help. Any help that you can give us would be greatly appreciated. (New England, N.D.)

A: Usually a top-down death of spruce is more likely to be an insect-related problem than a disease or environmental problem. I suggest cutting the affected trees back to the second or third whorl of healthy branches and examine what you remove carefully. It could be damage from either the spruce budworm or the yellowheaded spruce sawfly. I suspect the latter. Or there could be a borer that is causing the damage. Rather than guessing, I suggest sending a sample of the damaged area along with some of the unaffected plant to either me or Cheryl Biller of NDSU’s plant diagnostic clinic. That way we can more accurately advise you on a course of action.


Q: I have an odd question, which has been debated within my family during the last week or so. It sounds dumb, but here goes. Is a blue spruce considered a pine tree? We have actually looked it up in various places and not found an answer. Hope you can help settle our debate. (E-mail reference)

A: Your question is not as odd as you might think. Spruce and pines are both evergreen conifers. That is they keep their needles or leaves for more than one growing season, and their seeds are produced in cones. That's where the similarity ends. Many people call both spruce and pine trees "pines" when they are two entirely different genera and are usually found in two entirely different ecosystems. Spruce will be found in the northernmost range of our earth's ecosystem, while pines can be found both in the south and temperate zones of North America. Pines have longer needles, usually in bundles of two, three or five. Spruce needles are much shorter, and in the case of Colorado spruce, much sharper and more difficult to work with. The genus for spruce is Picea, while for pines it is Pinus. Both species have proven to be quite adaptable to the man-made landscape, with spruce generally being grossly overplanted in the northern regions of our country.

I hope this answers the question adequately and brings peace to your household. If you need any further information, let me know. This is just the tip of the iceberg!


Q: We bought an 18-inch dwarf Alberta spruce from the Boy Scouts. The tag said to keep inside with no fertilizer over the winter and then plant outside in the spring. Will this tree live if we plant it outside? Are there any specific care instructions? Any special planting instructions? Or should we just let it grow indoors? (Dickinson, N.D.)

A: I would be really surprised if it survived outdoors in North Dakota. The conundrum is that it probably will not survive for too long indoors either. Since Dickinson is close to being the "banana belt" of North Dakota, I would suggest planting it in a protected location outdoors this spring. Then, when autumn arrives, and before the snow flies, protect it with a burlap wrap or screen. Be sure it is planted in a modified soil that is rich with organic matter.


Q: I have a spruce that is about 4 feet tall. It has a space of about 18 inches on one side where there are no branches. If I keep the top cut off and do not allow vertical growth, will new branches develop in this bare space? (E-mail reference)

A: No! But as a matter of practicality, those 18 inches will be of less significance as the tree continues to grow and mature. The branches above will droop down with age, and you will likely be taking off the bottom 18 inches anyway. Cutting the top off a spruce is never a good idea!


Q: I have three new Norway spruce trees. I have noticed several shoots that have been "deneedled." I saw one wormlike critter, which I removed. Also, on a lower branch, is a black substance that looks like motor oil. I suspect that the "worm" has eaten the needles, but I doubt that there was only one. How can I care for the trees? Is the oil slick related to the worm? (E-mail reference)

A: It sounds like spruce sawfly larvae are the problem; they can be controlled with a spray of Sevin insecticide, or simply pick off the larvae as you see them. The other sounds like a canker of some kind. I would suggest contacting a forester or horticulturist locally for a visual diagnosis, or send a sample into the plant diagnostic lab at your state university for positive ID.


Q: I have a question from my 80-year-old aunt who was born and raised among the pines and now lives in an apartment in Fargo with an enclosed patio. She wishes to overwinter some 1-foot Norway spruce in 1-gallon pots in her patio (not heated, it does freeze). She likes them as a potted semi-indoor plant to bring back the good ol' days. Is it possible? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: In horticulture almost anything is possible. It depends on the willingness of the person to solve the problems. Your aunt needs to insulate the root ball and spray the foliage with Wilt-Pruf before freeze-up in the fall. This may be more work than she is willing to do or have done for her. The bottom, sides, and top need to be wrapped in insulation material completely and moved as close to a heat source–like a window--as possible. If she can keep the sun mostly off the plant, that will help too.


Q: We are planting a small black hills spruce. My question is, should we fertilize it when we plant? I read someplace we shouldn't do this, especially the first year. A friend said maybe we should use some gro-stakes fertilizer that are l0-10-10. Should we? (Grand Forks, N.D.)

A: Definitely do not fertilize now, and especially never fertilize with the fertilizer spikes. They concentrate the fertilizer in certain areas and have not proven to be superior in any way for fertilization of trees. It is simply a marketing gimmick, I'm sorry to say, that gets consumers to spend money for fertilizer that is usually not needed. This fertilizer is the most expensive form to purchase and does very little good, if any.


Q: I have enclosed two samples. One is a cotoneaster found in a hedge. There is about a 12-foot section that has not gotten leaves this spring and appears dead. What are your suggestions? The other sample is from a 12-foot spruce tree in a shelterbelt near the house. Some of the needles on it seem dry and brown. A few of the trees are this way. Is that normal? If it isn’t, what can be done? (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: The cotoneaster was covered with oyster shell scale, which was likely a major contributor to its death. The spruce buds appear healthy and the new growth seems vigorous. From the sample you sent, the damage appears to be mostly environmental, rather than pathogen caused. Unfortunately, this problem is widespread across the region which, could technically make it normal, but not desirable. Since nothing can be done about it, be happy that the new growth looks so good.


Q: Yesterday we had two 16-foot Colorado blue spruce trees planted. They were in the midst of new growth, and that growth has drooped down. We watered them well after planting, and our soil is mostly clay. The temperature last night was in the 50s F. This morning some of the new growth had stood back up, but it drooped back down during the day today. Any suggestions? Should we water them more? (E-mail reference, Illinois)

A: No, don't water them any more, but don't let them dry out either. I suggest getting some Wilt-Pruf, an anti-desiccant, and spraying the trees to cut down on mid-day moisture loss. What you are seeing is normal with transplants. Unless you get some blistering hot, windy weather, they should make it. If that should happen, syringe (spray) the foliage during the hottest parts of the day.


Q: I am hoping you can give me some information about my Scotch pines. Several have needles which are turning red, or complete trees which are red. I have also noticed during my commute other Scotch pines looking the same. Is it hopeless for these trees, or is there something we can do? (E-mail reference, Enderlin, N.D.)

A: There is nothing you can do but wait at this point. The damage has already been done, and it now depends on how extensive it is and the vigor of the tree prior to the damage. If by the first of June no new growth has shown up then the tree(s) is likely dead and should be removed.


Q: My spruce trees’ (about 2 feet high) needles are turning brown. The needles fall off when I run my hand along them. They were watered well last fall and had some snow cover this winter, but I've noticed more and more are turning brown. Here in Dickinson we have been getting some 40-50 degree days with about 20 degree nights. I dug up some soil around them and it appears to have plenty of moisture. Thanks. (E-mail reference, Dickinson, N.D.)

A: My best advice is to wait and see what happens when spring arrives in full bloom. Often the last season's growth and the current season's growth (which are still in the bud stage) will recover and the tree will green up decently. If it doesn't, then classify it as finished. I'd suggest giving it until mid May, or when the candles (new growth) start to grow on the pines. You should begin seeing similar action on your spruce. The damage could have been done months ago with the symptoms showing up just now. In the fall, recommendations are for vulnerable evergreens to be sprayed with an anti-desiccant prior to freeze-up.


Q: I am having a problem with spruce trees in a shelter belt. Every year the needles on the bottom fall off a little farther up the trees. This started on one tree and now it has spread to two others. I am afraid that it will spread to more. Is there some kind of spray I could use to stop it from spreading? (New Salem, N.D.)

A: This could likely be one of two diseases; Cytospora canker or Rhizosphaera needle cast. The former malady causes individual branch total die-back, usually with lower branches first. The needles turn a purplish-brown before dropping off. If this fits the symptoms of your trees, remove the affected branches before spring arrives. There is no spray remedy. The latter disease works its way from the interior needles right out to where only the current season’s growth is not discolored. Where the disease has been around for years, entire branches could be killed. With this disease, spraying with Bravo (chlorothalonil) or Bordeau mixture when the needles are partially elongated, then again within 30 days, for at least two growing seasons will halt the progression of the disease.


Q: A lady called me today and said she attended the juneberry session at Marketplace in Bismarck. During the session it was brought up that you should not plant spruce by juneberries. Why would that be? I know of the problems with junipers and apples, but have not heard of the spruce and juneberry dilemma. (E-mail reference, Minot, N.D.)

A: Your client is confused or mistaken. There is no problem with juneberries and spruce that I am aware of. There is cedar-apple rust where the alternate hosts are juneberries and junipers, but not spruce.


Q: I would like to move a 4- to 5-foot-tall blue spruce to my yard. The top 6 to 8 inches of soil where I intend to plant it is good black dirt, but under that is gravel--fill type dirt. There is an old driveway and an old foundation also covered with black dirt. Will the spruce grow in this type of soil? Would a mound or berm work? (Carrington, N.D., e-mail)

A: As long as weeds of all kinds are growing, I see no reason why the spruce shouldn't grow. Try to keep the spruce oriented in the same compass direction. That is, put a ribbon on a north side branch, and attempt to relocate the tree with that ribbon still facing north. Be sure to water it in well upon transplanting.


Q: We have a field windbreak of blue spruce, and the needles on some of the trees are turning yellow. Some appear to be dying. Can you tell me what to do to save these trees? The sick trees are mixed in with the healthy trees, with no apparent pattern. (Kensal, N.D.)

A: I suspect either a root problem or a nutrient deficiency. One concern can be put to rest easily: have the soil tested. Collect a pint of soil from around the affected trees, and a pint from the normal trees. Send both into our soil testing lab at: NDSU Soil Test Lab, Waldron Hall, Box 5575, Fargo, ND 58105. Request a pH, organic matter content, soluble salts, and N,P and K test. The cost should be about $24 per sample. If the soil test results don't show a significant difference, then suspect root decay or damage of some sort.


Q: Can you tell me what is wrong with my blue spruce? It had a lot of healthy new growth, but then when the weather was over 100 F, the new growth started turning brown. It moved from the bottom of the tree upward. (Watauga, S.D.)

A: I think your tree will be OK, as long as the same weather pattern doesn't repeat itself!


Q: Can you tell me what is the matter with our apple tree? There is a heavy brown web on the branches and the foliage has died on those particular branches. Something also has been spinning a web around the apples and eating the fruit.

Also, our 30-year-old spruce trees are losing their needles this summer. Do we have some type of mineral deficiencies? (Page, N.D.)

A: You must be seeing the work of the fall webworm. If it makes the nest of webs over branch ends, that's what it is. Apples are high on its culinary list! The best control is to cut off the branch ends that have the webbing and burn them. Next spring, initiate a spray program as if you were controlling codling moth, using products containing carbaryl, diazinon or malathion. That will take care of any new interlopers!

It sounds like the spruce have a disease known as needlecast. You can control the further decline of the trees with a spray program using Bravo in June and July.


Q: Can you tell me what is wrong with my spruce tree? I think it might be needle cast, but I am not sure. (Pollock, S.D.)

A: Your spruce does indeed have needle cast. I suggest trying Black Hills spruce instead of Colorado, and perhaps planting some pines, like Ponderosa, Scotch or limber. It is a sound ecological practice to diversify plant material to prevent disease breakouts.


Q: Can you tell me what is wrong with my spruce trees? Someone told it might be needle cast, and that it would take two applications of Bravo, which can be very expensive. They are part of a farm shelterbelt, and we really want to save them. (Carrington, N.D.)

A: I'm afraid you have little choice if you want to save the trees, as it is needle cast. Spraying with Bravo is the only way. 


Q: Can you tell me what is wrong with my juniper and my spruce? The juniper is more yellow than the rest of them that I have. (Pollock, N.D.)

A: I could find nothing wrong with your juniper sample; no spider mites, no environmental damage and no pathogens. I suspect that you may be looking at individual differences between plants or perhaps even a difference in species. Unless plants are cloned, differences in color, texture, rate of growth etc. are likely to exist.

The spruce has a bad case of needle cast. If the entire tree (or most of it) is in this state, there is little you can do, except remove the tree. If this disease is just starting, then there may be some hope of arresting the disease spreading any further. You can make twice-a-year applications of a product known as Bravo (chlorothalonil)--in May and again in June.


Q: Enclosed are four samples from my Colorado blue spruce that is losing needles and is a strange color. Can you tell me how I can save my trees? (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: Thank you for the good samples. Unfortunately, the news is not good. It looks like your trees are being hit by Rhizosparea needle cast, a fungal disease that can totally debilitate spruce trees.

Begin a spray program immediately with Bravo (chlorothalonil) and repeat every 14 days until September. Begin again next spring in May and repeat in June. Badly afflicted trees should be removed.


Q: Can you tell me what to do with spruce trees that are bleeding milky sap? (Cando, N.D.)

A: It is likely that your spruce has a progressive canker disease known as cytospora. All you can do is prune out affected branches and remove any trees that are overcrowded. Do all you can to promote vigor, fertilize, and don't cultivate under the trees.


Q: Enclosed is a picture of my 4-year-old Colorado blue spruce. It seems to have about three or four leaders and I am wondering if I should cut all but one of them off? (Eureka, S.D.)

A: Judging from the good photo you sent me, I would say just leave it alone. A leader will emerge naturally -- in fact it appears as if one already has. Enjoy the natural growth of this tree. It will increase in beauty with age!


Q: Can you tell me what is wrong with my trees? The needles are turning rust colored, mostly closer to the trunk, and moving outward. Is there something we can spray them with ourselves? (Martin, S.D.)

A: There is no way I can tell whether or not your spruce had needlecast without examining a sample.

The trees can be sprayed with Bravo (chlorothalonil) in June and July with any sprayers that have not had herbicides used in them earlier. Doing this for a couple of years will usually arrest the spread of the disease.


Q: What do you recommend to spray for needlecast on spruce trees and anthracnose on green ash? (e-mail)

A: Needlecast on spruce and anthracnose on ash can be sprayed with the same materialchlorothalonil (Bravo) or bordeaux mixture. The timing is very important.

The spruce, infected with Rhizosphaera needlecast, should be sprayed twice in a single growing season, in early June and again in early July. This should be done for a period of two years to restore the tree to full foliage health.

With ash, spray the trees as soon as the buds start to swell, and again 10 to 14 days later. The disease is most virulent when the spring weather is cloudy and rainy. This treatment should be combined with selective pruning of dead branch tips that were cankered from this fungus.


Q: Can you tell my why Colorado blue spruce trees only have cones on the topmost branches? Also, what does a person do about little white worms in the black walnut husks? (Canova, S.D.)

A: Your observation of spruce cones only forming on the topmost branches has got to be a local or isolated phenomenon. Most that I have seen will form the cones all over the tree. Balsam fir form their cones only on the top part of the tree—a genetic characterization.

Spray the black walnut with Sevin or malathion when the tree is in full flower. Do so when the bees are not active.


Q: Can you tell me why my spruce trees are losing their needles? They seem to be turning brown and falling off from the inside out. (Mitchell, S.D., e-mail)

A: Since your comment centered around spruce and not pines, I assume that was the species you are concerned about. Making an accurate diagnosis through the mail is difficult, if not impossible. It could be needle cast fungi (a pathogen of spruce and pines) or some other pathogen that is getting started in your planting. It could be any number of insect problems, an environmental (pollution) problem, or a mechanical one. Unfortunately, the outward symptoms often closely resemble each other.

I would encourage you to send a sample to our plant diagnosis lab, where our plant pest diagnostician, Cheryl Ruby, can look it over. The address is: Plant Diagnosis Lab, NDSU Waldron Hall #206, Fargo, ND 58105-5012. There is a $20 charge for this. Her e-mail address is ruby@plains.nodak.edu.


Q: Enclosed are some needles from my spruce tree that are turning brown. I have sprayed for mites, but I'm not sure if I used the right spray. I was given some Kelthane, but I don't know how to use it. Also, is the other enclosed sample a weed or a flower, and will Poast kill Kentucky bluegrass? Is it OK to transplant in the fall, and when is the best time to sow poppy seeds? (Winner, S.D.)

A: Some mite damage was noted on the sample needles you sent. The best, most effective material to use is a hard spray of plain water once or twice a week. Folks in the business to sell miticides don't like hearing that, but it is true!

A weed—member of the buckwheat family—get rid of it before it goes to seed. Poast is a grass herbicide; therefore it will kill Kentucky bluegrass. The oil concentrate can be obtained from your local elevator or pesticide supplier.

Transplanting of trees and shrubs can take place up until the soil freezes. The earlier the better. Perennial flowers are transplanted after they have been blackened by frost. Best to do it early too.

You can dormant sow poppy seeds in October, around the 10th through the 15th, or early in the spring as soon as soil can be worked.


Q: When is the best time of year to thin out spruce trees? (Wing, N.D.)

A: Early fall or late summer is the best time. The soil is warm for root regrowth and the days cooler for less transpirational stress. If you choose to plant in the spring, get it done before the new growth starts. Either time, be sure to supply adequate water at the time of transplanting.


Q. Would appreciate it very much if you can tell me what to do for my Black Hills spruce, planted in 1994, 52 inches tall, and if there is a good chance that it can be saved. I  discovered today that a rodent has dug a hole by the trunk and directly under it. I poured in water until it did not go down for some time--about eight gallons. I will pack dirt under it and water it well. Seems like the rodent may have been a gopher. There were moles nearby early in the summer, but no fresh runs since.

The tree has looked allright, but seemed rather sparse at the top. However, I do think the damage has been done quite recently. Have several younger tees that I carry water to every week, but the bigger ones get watered less often.

Could I put Mole Tox near, but not under? Would it harm the roots? I do not know if the rodents are around as I never see any.

Thank you very much for any help you can give. (Garretson, S.D.)

A. There is every reason your Black Hills spruce can be saved, as it doesn't sound like any extensive damage has taken place.

While gophers have been known to gnaw an occasional root, they do not go after Black Hills spruce as part of their diet. There are better things to eat! Moles are primarily grub feeders, not root eaters, so other than the shock of seeing a hole at the base of the tree, little damage was likely done.

The top thinning could be insect activity or needle cast. What you have done to date should help. If you feel better placing some rodent bait, do so. It won't hurt the tree.


Q. I get the Steele Ozone just for your column.

I planted Colorado Spruce trees in 1992. They are now getting 3 to 4 feet tall. They were planted 7 feet apart, and are starting to look close together. Should every other tree be removed even if the rows are 20 feet part?

If I get someone with a tree spade to move them, will they grow in virgin sod or does the ground need to be worked?

Thank you. (Wing, N.D.)

A. Thanks for writing.

Yes, you can move the spruce and every other one with a tree spade. They will establish in grass, but I would suggest a killed-off area (via Round-Up or Finale) around each tree to cut down on moisture competition from the grasses. I would not advise working the soil, as the resulting weed invasion could be horriffic.


Q. I look forward to your column every week. Thanks for the great information!

I am wanting to plant a couple of trees in our front yard (south side), such as a spruce or pine. However, I don't want them to get more than 7 to 8 feet tall. I also want ones that will not winter burn (I've had bad luck with this as my two dwarf Alberta spruces are beyond saving). Can you recommend a good, hardy, not-too-tall tree that will survive our tough winters?

Also, we planted an oak tree from a sapling about eight years ago. It is now about 10 feet tall, but there are actually three trees coming up from the ground. We are now realizing that we should have removed the other two long ago, and are wondering can we still do this? Will the largest one branch out to fill in where the others were?

Your help is much appreciated. (Moorhead, Minn.)

A. Thank you for the compliment about the column.

Sorry, but there are no guarantees on our evergreens surviving without winter burn in our part of the country. Even the toughest will be subject to some injury--sometime.

The best suggestion I can come up with is a Siberian Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis `Wareana.' This will get about 10 to 18 feet tall, as close as I can come to your height request. It is commonly used in shelterbelt plantings, so it has to be tough.

Why not leave your "oak tree cluster" as is and have something different? There are "clump birches," why not "clump oaks"? Could be you would start a new trend. Honestly though, you are likely to cause more problems at this stage with an attempted removal of the other two trees--to the point of possibly losing the one you want.

Stay with what you have and work on creating an attractive landscape specimen.

Thanks for writing.


Q. Enclosed is a branch from a spruce. The whole tree turned orange except at the very bottom. We would like to know what is wrong. (Ray, N.D.)

A. Severe winter drying. Bottom part was protected by snow cover.


Q: What happens if a blue spruce is sprayed with dormant oil? (Long Island, N.Y., e-mail)

A: The oil sprays will cause the Colorado blue spruce to lose its color, but the oils will not be phytotoxic to the tree--but that's assuming the temperature at the time of application was between 40 F and 90 F.


Q: We have several trees around our acreage, from maples to spruce trees. My husband started some plants several months ago from seeds he gathered among our trees, but they seem to be at a standstill. Moss has grown around the soil, and the sprouts look a bit weepy and aren't growing any more. We have them in the south window and covered with a plastic breathable lid. I would like to know what type of tree it may be. The cones are about 3.5 inches long and very puffy, and the width is about 1.5 inches. The sections are very jagged on the tips and sides.(Alberta, Canada, e-mail)

A: From your description, it sounds as if you are attempting to grow some spruce seedlings. I suggest that you get them outdoors after the frost danger has passed. Be sure to provide hardware cloth or something similar around them to protect them from mice, rabbits etc., and be sure to place them in full sunshine. These plants have what is known as determinate growth. This means that they will put on a flush of growth and stop for the season. The following season they will break dormancy, grow again, and stop at particular point, depending on the conditions they are growing in.


Q: I have two green spruce trees that are dying from the bottom up. The needles turn rusty-brown, dry up and fall off. Is there anything we can do to save these trees? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Sounds like it could be needlecast, a fungus disease common to spruce. You might want to try spraying with Bravo in June and July to arrest the spread of the disease.


Q: I have several blue spruces that I planted two years ago. They are about 7 feet tall and healthy but they have lost most of their blue! What can I do to get back the blue? I have heard that phosphate makes them become bluer. If so, how much? (Wichita, Kan., e-mail)

A: The "blue" of a blue spruce comes on in the spring with new growth. There are trees that are grafted to be "true blue" and are known as cultivars, such as Hoopsi and Kosteri. As far as I know, there is nothing you can spray on the tree to re-blue it. If your trees are tending toward green coloration, then they are likely seedling selections that would have normal species variability.


Q: My spruce trees, which were planted as seedlings in 1992, are doing fine. Can they be fertilized this year? If so, should I use Mir-acid or Miracle Grow? Also, I planted a mixture of Buffalo grass and Bad river blue gramma between the rows. Wormwood and some other weeds are showing up. Can this grass mixture be fertilized? If so, is it safe to use weed and feed? What brand do you recommend? (Wing, N.D.)

A: If your trees are not showing any deficiency symptoms, leave well enough alone. Generally they get along fine with the normal nutrient reserves in our soil. And yes, the grass mixture can be fertilized--but not with weed and feed. Using that will be ineffective on the wormwood, and could possibly damage the trees. I suggest a fertilizer application on the grass stand, followed by spot treatments on the wormwood with Trimec. This takes care of most broadleaf weeds.


Q: Could you tell me what is the best thing to do for a Colorado blue spruce tree that has a fair size spot damaged on the trunk? A piece of bark has been scratched off. Should this be painted, wrapped, or what? (e-mail)

A: Take a sharp pocket knife and cut back to attached bark in as even a manner as possible, attempting to create a symmetrical wound. Apply no wound dressing, just keep the tree healthy with regular watering and occasional fertilizing.


Q: The old spruce trees on our farm are dying. They were planted between 1915 and 1925, so they are very large. We have always lost a few to high winds, but this year they look really sick. Could the very high water table be the problem? The ones near a new "lake" that has grown in our yard are the worst. Also, there are a few pine trees planted within the groves that don't seem as affected. I have noticed some sap "bleeding" on the trunks. Could insect pests be part of the problem? They are large for spraying easily, but it would be worth the effort to save them. (Kathryn, N.D., e-mail)

A: It sounds like a combination of problems hitting your spruce trees. The high water table would stress spruce worse than the pines, although pines don't take too well to water crowding their roots either. Sap oozing from the trees could be a number of problems: sapsuckers making the holes to attract insects to the sap, cankers or just plain physical stress from living so long. I will not recommend any spraying at this point without more information as to what the cause is. I feel quite strongly, however, that the rising water table is the major problem.


Q: When is the best time to transplant blue spruce and red cedar trees? These trees are anywhere from 2 inches to 1 foot tall. Are there any other hints to get them growing where I want them to grow? (Northville, S.D., e-mail)

A: When the trees are about 1 foot high seems to be the best time. They are large enough and are easily handled. You can, of course, plant them larger, as it is done successfully all the time. But if you know now where you want them to be permanently, the longer they can sit undisturbed in that site, the better the overall growth will most likely be. The timing is either early spring (March/April) or early fall (September/October).


Q: I’ve got questions regarding the Colorado blue spruce trees I planted two years ago. The trees are now about 2 feet high. Expecting a few not to make, I planted them about 4 feet apart in a row about 90 feet long. The soil is clay-loam mixture (Parshall, I believe). All the trees look healthy but are growing slowly. I would like to thin them out, at least every other one. Is it OK to do that now or should I wait for fall/spring? Also, should I prune them to encourage faster growth? (Dickinson, N.D., e-mail)

A: Early spring or fall after a couple of good frosts would be the better times to move the trees. Pruning them is unnecessary and not recommended, unless a double leader needs to be corrected. As they establish more, their growth rate should improve somewhat. If you are going to have someone move the trees for you, make sure you get someone who knows what they are doing. If you do it yourself, have the new holes pre-dug before digging up the trees. Water them in well.


Q: Our blue spruce, which is about 2 1/2 feet tall, has some black worms on it coming out of brownish things attached to the end of several branches. What are these worms, how do we get rid of them and can our tree be saved? (E-mail reference)

A: Those are bagworms, with a Latin name bigger than they are - Thyridopteryx ephemeracformis. They can be controlled with Orthene, Bt, or Sevin. Or, simply hand pick and destroy.


Q: I planted two spruce last year. Both trees went into shock, and only new growth appeared on the top part of the tree. Next year will new growth appear only on th e previous years growth, or will it be everywhere? (E-mail reference, Ontario)

A: Actually the way to predict that is to examine the buds on the branches. If they are plump and green, you will likely get new growth emerging all over; if they are dry, brittle and brown, then it isn't very likely they will send out new growth from those areas. If they don't grow in the form you want, I'd suggest starting over with some new plantings, or else you'll end up with some interesting looking distortions that may not compliment your landscape!


Q: I planted my blue spruce Pine trees too close to my house; now I need to move them. My question is how to go about moving them. One tree is 5 feet tall and the other is e feet tall. Is this possible? Everyone is telling me bits and pieces of information of what too do. Do I have to stake them down? Do I wrap them in burlap before replanting? Please Help me!! (E-mail reference, Fair Haven, Mich.)

A: Spruce the size you are referring to are transplanted by the thousands every day in this country. Here's what to do to assure a good chance of survival:
1.water the trees well one day before you want to dig them. 
2.dig holes where you want to plant them. Water the holes. 
3.with a straight edge shovel, dig a trench around the trees making a "ball" as big as you, or you and someone else, can handle. 
4.get a strip of burlap and roll it under the ball of each tree, pulling it up on each side to create a "hammock" to carry the tree in to place it in the new planting hole. 
5.set the tree in the hole, burlap and all, and backfill to the same depth the tree was originally planted at 
6.give the transplants a shot of Miracle-Gro as you are watering them in. 
7.if the trees are located in a wind-prone area, stake them, but for ONLY ONE GROWING SEASON. Too many people leave the staking material on until it girdles the tree, killing or badly disfiguring it. 
That is it. They should thrive and do well in their new location. I'd suggest getting on with the transplanting ASAP to give the roots a chance to re-establish in the new location. 


Q: Our blue spruce has these sac-like needles that hang off the branches, and they have a worm in them. We've been picking them off. Do you know what they are and how to keep the tree free of them? (E-mail reference)

A: Yes, they are known quite descriptively as bagworms. Picking off is the best way to control them if your tree isn't too big and you don't have too many. Generally, natural control from parasites keeps their numbers in check, so sprays are not recommended. Getting as many of the bags as possible collected and destroyed at this time will prevent emergence of the male moth in September, which will mate with the wingless female and perpetuate the problem.


Q: We planted Colorado blue spruce in the spring of 1999 and in the fall of 1999 and we had no luck with them. Out of the 20 we planted there are only six alive. In the spring of 2000 we planted white fir, and none of them survived. What did we do wrong? Should we have used sand, mulching, or potting soil when we planted them? What kind of fertilizer should be used for these kinds of trees? How often do they need to be watered? (E-mail reference, Lehr, N.D.)

A: I don't know what you did wrong in the planting, but you did plant a species that is not hardy in our area -- the white fir. They will not survive no matter how much attention you pay to them. You didn't state what size tree you planted. Small plants, 1 to 5 years old, ranging in size from 1 to 3 or 4 tall, have the greatest opportunity to survive. As the size goes up, the chance for root damage and non-adaptability to the site increases. Generally, we suggest nothing more than planting at the proper depth in native soil, and watering in well. Literally millions of trees have been planted that way and survived to live to a ripe old age.


Q: I have a number of Norwegian spruce that are growing tall and somewhat spindly. I have been told to cut the end growth of the branches and the tip to encourage branch growth, etc. Do you have information on this? (E-mail reference)

A: Yes, regular pruning will help to thicken up the form of these evergreens. It is best done in the early spring, clipping off soft new shoots to half their length to shape the growth. Spruce have multiple buds on their branches so the pruning doesn't have to be an exact science, as it is often done with a machete by commercial Christmas tree growers. Just be sure to NOT cut where there are no needles attached, as no new growth will result.


Q: I moved several Black Hills spruce and several Colorado blue spruce into my yard from a farm-planted tree row. They were about 10 feet tall and in great shape. It was a little over a year ago that we moved them. They have done real well. Recently I noticed brown needles in all of the trees. These brown needles are up and down the trunk from top to bottom starting from the center of the trunk out about a foot. Enclosed is a sample for you to look at. (Wimbledon, N.D.)

A: There is no evidence of pathogen or insect damage you sent. Black Hills spruce are quite tough, adapted to the dry Badlands of our state. I suggest backing off on the watering and see if they improve over the next year. It probably wouldn’t hurt to give them a shot of Miracle-Gro or Miracid next spring as the new growth emerges.


Q: My spruce tree is diseased. After reading NDSU Extension Service pamphlet PP-789, "Diseases and Related Problems of Evergreens," I believe it has Rhozosphaera needle cast, as the symptoms match including the presence of pycnidia on the needles. The pamphlet says that the disease "can be controlled by two properly timed applications of fungicide in each of two consecutive years" and "fungicide sprays may help but timing is critical." My question is, which fungicide and what are the proper/critical times to apply it? Also, should the dead branches be removed (some of the affected branches are totally dead; others are missing needles from the trunk out to the last foot or two from the tips)? The tree is 30-35 feet tall with the diameter of the lowest branches about 12-15 feet. The tree is partially covered on the diseased side by the uppermost branches of an much taller ash tree about 20-25 feet away (possibly the cause of the problem). (E-mail reference, Hatton, N.D.)

A: Our circular needs to be updated a little. The ID information is correct, we just need to put in what the current treatments are. The chemical to use is one called Bravo (chlorothalonil) mixed with Bordeaux mixture, making applications in early June and again in early July. Do this each year, until the progress of the disease is evident. Spray any other spruce trees on your property at the same time to give them protection. Remove any branches that have been heavily damaged by the disease. They are not going to releaf for you.


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