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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Spruce Trees Having Problems

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Spruce trees really seem to have taken a bigger hit from the summer drought than pines this summer. There are our usual suspects when it comes to needle diseases and now we can add yet another needle disease to our list. The newest disease is called Sudden Needle Drop or SNEED for short. Plant Pathologists are still determining if the fungus is causing the needle drop or isĀ it because the spruce tree is or has been under environmental stress. Spruce trees are readily available and several species work well in the landscape and out in the country as windbreak plantings. The more commonly found species include Colorado blue spruce with many cultivars, Norway spruce, and Green and White spruce in lesser amounts. Spruce planted in an ideal setting, one that has ample soil moisture and drainage, gets full sun, grows well and maintain good health easily.

Since we plant more Colorado blue and Norway spruce than the others, this is where we see more problems. Often times these problems are related to where the spruce is growing and the kind of soil they are growing in. Growing in the shade or more typical growing in the shade of other spruce such as seen in screen plantings do not provide enough sunlight to maintain all the needle growth possible and lower limbs. Spruce planted in heavier soils with less than ideal drainage will also create a growing problem. Stress can start the day the spruce is planted if they are planted too deep. This can lead to root rots which can later lead to the root girdling the trunk at the soil line. Even if the plant is not killed, lackluster growth and poor establish is likely. Garden Centers and Retail Nurseries will offer planting instructions to ensure the plant is properly installed. Follow up for two or three years while the spruce is getting established is also necessary. This will include proper watering, how often and how much, scouting for any insects or diseases.

I started talking about needle diseases and will finish with that. Our typical diseases include Rhizosphaera Needle cast Blight and Cytospora Canker. Both will cause limbs to brown and die over time. Rhizosphaera can been seen appearing randomly in the branches, while Cytospora Canker is common on older spruce and will often start at the bottom and work its way up. There can be a white resin showing on the trunk too. Cytospora Canker is more common on Colorado blue and Norway spruce. Rhizosphaera is more common on Colorado blue spruce. Tree vigor is important to prevent or postpone either disease. This is why planting in an ideal site is so important. Spruce also benefit from even soil temperatures, so leave the spruce needles underneath to act as mulch or if appropriate, apply at least a one inch deep layer of quality organic mulch beneath the spruce out as far as the lower branches go. Keeping your spruce in good health is easier than dealing with trying to recover a spruce that is stressed. That effort starts the day you plant.

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