Norway spruce growth rate

Why I Plant Norway spruce

By Gary Gilmore PA DCNR Service Forester

For over ten years, I have been planting trees on my Tree Farm to reforest a hilltop strip mined and reclaimed in the 1980s. I have also worked on a DCNR program to plant trees on strip mine sites in Clarion and Jefferson counties. These experiences have taught me that planting a tree is easy; getting it to survive is a challenge. There are many factors that will frustrate your attempts to grow trees on a strip mine site (as well as in fields). These may include a thick cover of grass that smothers tree seedlings. The soil may be so thin that it quickly dries out, killing the seedling. Every seedling you plant is potentially food for the voles, moles, mice, rabbits, and deer. The soil is usually so compacted it is difficult for a tree to put down roots. I’ve planted oaks, maples, pine, larch, chestnut, locust, and spruce. The only tree among these that is doing well is Norway spruce. This is now my tree of choice for reforesting a field. Let me tell you a little more about why I like it.

Norway spruce is native to northern Europe but for the past 100 years it has been extensively planted across Pennsylvania. It is fast growing and can put on two feet of height growth each year. At maturity they can be 100 feet tall and have a life span of centuries. It is not invasive and rarely starts new seedlings near established plantings.

Norway spruce requires no site preparation. It is a shade tolerant conifer that can survive dense grass cover. In other words, this tree can compete with grass and eventually win. If the grass is controlled by mowing or herbiciding, Norway spruce will just grow faster. It may take several years for it to become established and get above the grass, but given time, it will.

Norway spruce is not readily eaten. Deer mostly leave it alone. Every white pine I ever planted was nipped; not the spruce. Voles and mice love thick grass and eat the bark off hardwoods at ground level, but for the most part, leave the spruce alone.

Norway spruce is tolerant of drought. Conifers, better than the large leaf hardwoods, have the ability to shut down during a dry period. This gives Norway spruce the ability to survive a summer drought that kills recently planted hardwoods. On the other hand, Norway spruce is tolerant of wet conditions. Plant it in wet spots and it does well.

Norway spruce has few insect pests. My red pine were defoliated by an infestation of pine saw fly this year. Hardwood leaves are munched on by slugs, a variety of caterpillars, and deer. The only pest on Norway spruce is a gall and white pine weevil. Damage from these pests is relatively minor. When white pine weevil does attack Norway spruce the damage is not as severe because spruce has lateral buds along the leader and on its branches, not just on the end of the branch as is the case with white pine. This means another branch will quickly take over. Where nearly every open grown white pine will be attacked by the weevil, many Norway spruce will not.

Norway spruce can tolerate and grow in a variety of soil conditions. It does well on fertile soil and survives on poor soils. Soil pH can vary from acidic to alkaline. It can grow on compacted soil and over time the roots will penetrate and loosen soil structure.

Norway spruce makes for a good cover crop to prepare the soil and make it easier to grow hardwood trees in the future. Norway spruce will shade out grass and invasive plants such as bush honeysuckle, autumn olive, and multiflora rose. The needles will create a duff layer and allow beneficial fungi to become established.

Norway spruce can pack on the carbon. As an evergreen, it is able to photosynthesize any time the sun is shining and the temperature is above freezing. This causes it to grow tall and large in diameter in a relatively short time. This may mean you could harvest wood products from the trees you planted. The wood is not as dense as hardwoods; however, it makes good construction lumber. Most of the studs you buy are made from one of the spruce species.

Norway spruce has some wildlife value. Red squirrels love to feast on its seeds and you often find mounds of cone scales where they feed. The merlin falcon and green heron prefer to nest in Norway spruce. The dense evergreen foliage provides a wind break in winter and a dense shade in the summer.

Norway spruce is easy to control. If you no longer want it growing on your land, just cut it down. It does not root sucker, stump sprout or store seed to pop up later. No need to apply herbicides. The only thing left is the stump and an extensive root system that slowly rots away while providing organic matter to the soil.

Norway spruce is so fast growing that within ten years it is large enough to bring in the house for a Christmas tree. This makes it a rather quick return on the planting investment. While not the most ideal Christmas tree because of the sharp pointed needles, neither is it a bad choice. The stiff branches hold all the ornaments and the tree will retain its needles as long as it is well watered.

Planting trees takes time and money. Weather, animals, or competing plants can easily frustrate your dreams. Norway spruce is the one tree I’ve found that is adaptable enough to endure most of these challenges and thrive with minimal site preparation and maintenance. By using Norway spruce to turn a field into an evergreen forest, I have found I can shade out the grass, displace or exclude invasive plants, and prepare the soil for the planting hardwoods as the spruce are cut and used.

While not everyone may share my fondness for Norway spruce, it is worth serious consideration for those of you who want to turn a field into a forest and get it done quickly.

The Norway spruce is a large, fast-growing evergreen coniferous tree found throughout the forests of southern and eastern Norway.

I’m sure you saw the recent negative media coverage of the Norwegian tree gifted to London. The tree in question was a Norway spruce. It’s the most dominant tree in Norwegian forests, although hasn’t gained a foothold in the west.

Introducing the Norway spruce

The tree we are talking about is known as gran in Norwegian and picea abies to give it its scientific name.

The tree—part of the pine family—is common in northern Europe and certainly not unique to Norway. When the English to got to know the wood as a building material after the Great Fire of London in 1666, it became known in English as Norway spruce.

As I’ve just hinted at there, the tree is used as a building material, and also for paper and furniture. It’s also one of the most popular Christmas trees in Europe.

What does a Norwegian spruce look like?

The Norway spruce can grow up to 50 metres tall. They can grow fast when young. In fact, in the first 25 years under good conditions, it can grow up to one metre per year. Once the tree reaches around 20 metres, its growth-rate slows.

Spruces are known for their distinctive look. They have a narrowly tapered crown and branches that often hang and sway. The bark is either pure brown or a grayish-brown, with orange-brown hairless shoots. The leaves are dark green needles up to 10 mm long and 3 mm wide, with a slight shine to them.

The seed cones are the largest of any spruce. Typically measuring 9 to 17cm long, the cones have blunt-to-sharp triangular pointed scale tips. They mature around 5-7 months after pollination.

A fascinating fact about the Norway spruce is that although it can live for hundreds of years, its roots last even longer. The flat root doesn’t normally go into the ground for more than a metre, but it’s capable of lasting for tens of thousands of years and giving birth to new genetically identical trees.

This is one of the reasons the tree has survived highly-changeable climatic conditions. During cold periods, spruce roots produce low bushes, while in times of milder temperature they become tall, slender trees.

Where does the Norway spruce grow?

The Norway spruce grows in the forests of southern, eastern and parts of central Norway. But it also grows all across Scandinavia and parts of northern Europe.

Norway spruce distribution map (QGIC geographic information system)

As you can see from the above distribution map, the tree also grows in the Baltic states and parts of central Europe. This range is roughly southwest to the western end of the Alps, and southeast in the Carpathians and Balkans to the far north of Greece.

It is very closely related to the Siberian spruce (Picea obovata), which replaces it east of the Ural, a north-south mountain range in western Russia. Genetically, the two spruces are extremely similar. Some experts consider them to be two closely-related subspecies.

The Norway spruce as a Christmas tree

I mentioned earlier Norway’s Christmas gift to London. Well, that’s actually one of the reasons the Norway spruce is planted so much. Added to its use as a building material, the species is one of the most popular to use as Christmas trees.

A Norway Spruce Christmas tree stands in London’s Trafalgar Square every December

Reasons for its popularity include its dark green colour, conical shape and evergreen nature. In fact, so popular is the spruce that most artificial trees are made to resemble it! The main downside of using a Norway spruce as a Christmas tree is that it sheds its leaves fairly quick in a warm environment. This is a hardy northern species, after all!

In addition to Norway gifting a tree to London, the country sends trees to several other places too. In the case of London, it’s a thank you gift for the UK’s support during World War II. Gifts to other cities are ones of friendship.

Black Hills Spruce Tree

Popular for Dense, Pyramidal Growth

Why Black Hills Spruce Trees?

A superior spruce tree that’s popular for its dense, pyramidal shape, the Black Hills Spruce Tree is a favorite for its thick, uniform shape and amazing ornamental growth. A cousin of the White Spruce, the Black Hills shines with its ability to thrive despite poor soil and bad weather.

In fact, the Black Hills Spruce is the most tolerant of the worst conditions. Of course, every spruce can stand up to a rough winter, but this tree can survive unusually hot summers far better than other varieties. Tolerant of drought and rain exceeding 10 inches per year, the Black Hills Spruce can also grow in dry or wet soils.

And it can last a lifetime. Sometimes living more than 80 years and growing to heights of 60 feet, this majestic tree will stand out in your landscape. The dense, blue-green to dark green needles and full, thick branches of the Black Hills will bring distinction to your yard.

Why is Better

For starters, the density of the branches makes this tree a perfect privacy fence. By planting several in a row, you can create a grand and ornamental fence that serves two functions. But the best part? We’ve planted, grown and nurtured our Black Hills Spruce Trees for top results in your own landscape.

You won’t get the same experience at big box: From our planting process to shipment with care, you reap the rewards of our hard work at the nursery. And the Black Hills Spruce becomes more popular each year. So, see what all the hype’s about…get your own Black Hills Spruce today!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Plant your Black Hills Spruce in a spot in your yard that gets at least 4 hours of sun each day, and choose an area with well-drained soil.

To plant, spread 2 inches of organic fertilizer on the ground in an area that is two times as large as the root ball. Till the fertilizer into the ground. Be sure to go slightly deeper than the longest root and continue twice as wide as the canopy. Place the tree in the loose soil and press the soil down until the tree’s roots are completely covered.

2. Watering: Water the ground immediately after you plant your tree, but don’t oversaturate. Your tree will only need around 20 inches of water each year, so you may not need to ever water your tree unless there is a severe drought.

3. Fertilizing: If you notice stalled growth, add one inch of organic fertilizer under the entire tree canopy each spring to encourage faster growth. If you do, you’ll need to water the ground after you apply the fertilizer to ensure it reaches the roots.

4. Pruning: If you do see infested or diseased branches, you can prune them down to the trunk in the fall.

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Spruce Trees

A variety of colors, growth habits and shapes.

Ornamental greens, blues and beyonds in a variety of shapes: Spruce Trees make a classic, full statement. And with our wide variety of favorites, you’ll find the Spruce Tree that’s perfect for your landscape. From needle-like leaves to coniferous selections, these timeless woodland staples make an eye-catching, easy-growing impression.

How Big Do Spruce Trees Get?

Though it depends on the variety you select, our Spruce Trees vary from slow and steady to fast, thick and dense. Either way, you get an easy-growing specimen with iconic, timeless good looks for your landscape.

How to Plant Spruce Trees

Specific directions will vary, but knowing your growing zone is important. After you’ve determined your growing zone, keep sunlight and watering needs in mind for your Spruce Trees. Most will prefer full sun (anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day) and well-drained soil, but make sure you check your tree’s specific directions.

When to Prune Spruce Trees

Your fertilizing and pruning needs will vary as well, but most Spruces won’t require pruning.

When you’re ready to plant, select an area with well-drained soil, dig a hole large enough to accommodate your Spruce Tree’s root ball (along with some extra width for mature growth), place your tree and back fill the hole. Finish the planting process by watering the surrounding soil near your trees and mulching to conserve moisture.

When to Plant Spruce Trees

Generally, we recommend planting your Spruce Trees in early spring or in fall. Either season is fine, however, provided the ground is not frozen.

Also, it’s important to keep spacing in mind. Avoid planting your Spruce Trees too closely to sidewalks, structures and power lines, especially if the mature height and width are on the bigger side.

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Norway Spruce Tree

Cold Tolerant Evergreen Growth

Why Norway Spruce Trees?

For starters, the Norway Spruce Tree can grow to a large height in as little as three years. It will continue to grow rapidly to a mature height of 50 feet. And since it’s a dense tree that easily blocks out wind and neighbors, it’s ideal for use as a privacy barrier, windscreen, or even a traditional showpiece.

Plus, you’ll enjoy its deep green color year-round. Especially since it’s even drought tolerant, too. Believed to be the most cold hardy spruce available, the Norway truly thrives and will grow in any Northern state. Also, the Norway Spruce is the most disease resistant spruce you can find. Any serious disease or insect problems that kill other spruce trees do not affect the Norway Spruce.

Why is Better
First, a substantial wind barrier is just a click away. The Norway makes a solid statement and helps lower your winter heating bills. But the best part? Not only is it good-looking, adaptable to a variety of conditions and soils and very cold tolerant, but it’s also been planted, grown and nurtured for top benefits.

We’ve done the hard work at our nursery in growing your Norway Spruce long before shipping…now, you reap the rewards in your own landscape.

Don’t wait – get this tough evergreen for yourself. Get your Norway Spruce Tree today!

1. Planting: Avoid planting your Norway Spruce too close to sidewalks, buildings, or street right-of-ways. It’s best to plant the tree as soon as you bring it home from the nursery, but it’s important to avoid planting the tree during extremely dry weather and to give it at least six weeks to develop before the first frost of the season. If you need to wait to plant the tree, keep the roots constantly moist.

When you’re ready to plant, dig a large hole twice as wide as the size of the Norway Spruce root ball and just as deep. Dampen the roots in preparation for planting and set the root ball into the hole, being sure the trunk is straight. Back fill the hole with a mixture of your native soil and some gardening soil. Mulch around the base of the spruce to keep weeds and grasses from growing around the planting site.

2. Watering: The Norway Spruce tolerates acidic soils well, but does not do well on dry or deficient soils. During times of drought, additional watering may be needed. Generally, we recommend watering your Norway about once per week.

3. Fertilizing: Feed your Norway mild, slow-acting fertilizer tabs for the initial growing season and save stronger fertilizers for when the tree is established. Once the tree is established, feed it twice a month during early spring and once a month during the summer months.

4. Pruning: Prune Norway Spruce Trees in the late winter or early spring. For young trees, follow branch tips back until you find two branches growing to either side. Snip off the center branch growth. Doing this will encourage the side branches that remain to grow faster and to make the tree bushier. Cut the lowest rung of branches on the tree to force more height.

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Norway Spruce Tree Info: Care Of Norway Spruce Trees

Norway spruce (Picea abies) is a tough conifer that makes for an easy-care landscape tree in US Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 7. It is also planted extensively for forest restoration and windbreaks. Planting a Norway spruce is easy because it competes well with grass and weeds and requires no site preparation. Read on for more information about care of Norway spruce trees.

Norway Spruce Tree Info

The Norway spruce tree is native to Europe. However, for over a century it has been planted in this country for both ornamental and utilitarian purposes. The tree roots are strong and the trees can withstand high winds, making them excellent windbreaks.

The trees bear stiff evergreen needles up to an inch (2.5 cm.) long, colored a shiny forest green. The bark is a red-brown and furrowed. The seed cones are large and can grow 6 inches (15 cm.) long. They mature in the fall.

Norway Spruce Growth

Norway spruce growth is exceptional. The trees grow relatively fast – up to 2 feet (.6 m.) a year – and their crowns develop a pyramid shape. The branches may drupe slightly at the tips, giving the trees a graceful allure.

If you are thinking of planting a Norway spruce tree, it is important to understand that the tree can reach 100 feet (30.5 m.) or more in the wild and live for centuries. Although the tree stays shorter when cultivated, homeowners often underestimate the space the tree takes when mature.

Planting a Norway Spruce Tree

The more Norway spruce tree info you have, the more you will see that planting a Norway spruce tree is a good idea. The tree has many good attributes.

First, you won’t need to clear out grasses or work the land to prepare a site for planting a Norway spruce tree. This spruce competes against grasses and weeds, and wins.

In addition, the tree is drought tolerant. As a conifer, it can go into shut-down mode when irrigation is lacking. At the same time, it is one evergreen that tolerates wet soil. Plant it in marshy soil and it will thrive.

You can plant Norway spruce in sun, shade or partial shade and it grows just the same. It is tolerant of poor soil but also grows in rich, fertile soils. Pest resistant, the trees hardly ever fall victim to insect damage or disease. Deer and rodents leave Norway spruce alone.

Care of Norway Spruce Trees

Required Norway spruce care is minimal. If you plant the tree with sufficient elbow room, you may not have to lift a finger other than providing an occasional drink during dry periods.

Unlike many trees, the Norway spruce does not produce suckers. Because of this, the tree is not invasive. Digging out suckers is not part of Norway spruce care.

Norway Spruce: A Tree of Many Uses

Picea abies

The English resisted calling the Norway spruce by its name, instead referring to it as the “common spruce.” The Finnish claimed it as their own, calling it the Finn spruce, while others, the European spruce. Regardless of what you call it, the Norway spruce is a European staple. Best known for its durability and towering heights, the Norway spruce has spread its popularity across the Atlantic and into the U.S., becoming an American favorite.

What makes this tree even more likeable is its multiple uses. It is an important lumber crop in Europe, producing a strong light-weight wood with a straight grain, making it an ideal choice in construction. It’s a great landscape tree for its dense foliage and tall heights. The tree’s natural pyramidal shape and green color make it one of the most popular Christmas trees in the country.

Here are a few things to note if you’re considering adding a Norway spruce to your tree family.

Environmental Conditions:

  • Does well in acidic, clay, loamy, moist, sandy and well drained soils (hardiness zones 3-7).
  • Does well in full and partial sun.
  • Medium to fast growing tree, growing up to two feet a year and reaching 40-60 feet at maturity.

Physical Attributes:

  • Has dark green, one inch needles with squared tips, needles are retained for six to seven years before dropping.
  • Has a thin, reddish-brown bark that thickens and flakes off as the tree ages.
  • Cones start to form at age 30, with seeds dropping during the winter or early spring, providing food for wildlife.

Tag us in a photo with your Norway spruce!

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