University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Pines and Spruces for Landscape Use

December 23, 1999

Pine, spruce, and fir trees get lots of attention when decorating for the holiday season. In the landscape, they offer some contrast to the bleak winter landscape, in addition to the benefits of providing windbreaks and wildlife cover. While now is not a good time for actual planting, it is never too early to look ahead to next season and potential additions to the landscape.

When discussing evergreen trees, pines are usually the first species mentioned. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a graceful, natural-looking pine. Keep in mind it does not tolerate salt or air pollution very well, so avoid placing in sites prone to these types of problems. Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra) features long needles and is adaptable to urban conditions. Red pine (Pinus resinosa) is another long-needled pine with reddish bark and a yellow-green winter color. Scots or Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is fast growing but tends to be short-lived.

Perhaps the major concern when planting pines, in particular large plantings, is pine wilt disease, caused by the pinewood nematode. Austrian, Red, and Scots pine are most susceptible to this problem. White pine is not considered susceptible to pine wilt. If making a large planting, include a variety of pines, spruces, and fir to help avoid major problems with insects or disease.

If not a pine, then most people think of spruces when thinking evergreen trees. Probably the most widely used is Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens glauca), a large formal tree popular for the blue color. When planting, avoid areas subject to stress, such as near pavement and poorly drained soils. Also, as with most trees, give it plenty of room to grow.

Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is another large spruce, noted for dark green foliage, large cones, and drooping branches. White spruce (Picea glauca) has a light green color and prefers moist soil. Picea glauca var. densata, known as the Black Hills spruce, will tolerate dry soils and features a narrow, dense growth habit.

Similar to spruces in the fact they have short needles, firs can also be useful in the landscape. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) has flat, dark green needles and is an attractive evergreen for the landsape. Avoid poorly drained or compacted soils, as is suggested for the other trees mentioned here. White fir (Abies concolor) has gray-green needles and tolerates dry sites.

These are some of the more popular evergreen trees to consider for landscape use. This winter is a good time to make observations and do some research to determine which species would fit best in your landscape.


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