It's a Big Job to Keep a Blue Spruce
We recently moved to a lovely condo. Our units have what
looks like blue spruce between the entrances. The units were built
in 1993, so these evergreens would be that age or a little more.
Ours is probably 25 feet tall.
Although it looks beautiful, we're wondering if we
should have it trimmed, if we could do it ourselves, how to do it
Any plant, even spruce, can be kept smaller than its potential.
I've made a study of this kind of pruning.
Such pruning starts before the plant becomes too big, is done
annually or bi-annually and can continue for centuries. For spruce,
arb, juniper and pine, which do not normally sprout from leafless
wood, starting small and cutting regularly is especially important.
That's because once those branches grow for three years beyond the
limits we set, pruning may leave woody stubs that can't produce new
foliage and may never be completely hidden by growth from other
A healthy spruce may add 18 inches to each branch every year and
reach over 60 feet in height. So to keep yours at its current size,
reduce its height and width every year by up to 18 inches --
whatever its growth rate dictates. I do this for several spruces in
clients' gardens and have found, as my European and Canadian
mentors have before me, that this kind of pruning is best done in
August when the cuts will not stimulate as much new growth.
The spruces I keep small are a size I call "Janet-plus-ladder."
I don't recommend that you tackle annual pruning of a 25-foot
spruce. Hire an arborist with a bucket truck or scaffolding. You'll
have to do some calling and interviewing to find the right person,
as this kind of pruning is not standard practice for most U.S.
I have an indoor Hibiscus, 3 or 4 years old. It lives in
a sun room with high light intensity (when the sun shines). Last
year it bloomed almost continuously from about February to July.
Since then, one branch has grown upward to an uncontrollable
height, four feet or so. The other branches remain more normal
height, 15 inches. It continues to form new leaves but no blossom
buds even though I have been feeding it a "bloom plus" fertilizer
Has it reverted to a wild state? Should I trim it back
to its original 15 inch height or would that kill it?
If it's not being cultivated -- grown in a regulated way -- then
it is indeed wild. Decide what you want from this plant and prune
accordingly. If you prefer it two feet tall, don't wait for a
branch to reach four feet before you cut. Clip it as soon as it
crosses the bounds you set.
Routine pruning doesn't kill plants. Catch-up pruning -- what
you'll do now -- won't hurt either, so long as it doesn't remove
more than about a third of the plant's foliage at one time. If it
will remove more than that, provide supplemental lighting to help
the plant maintain vigor while it replaces leaves. Or wait to cut
in late March so the plant recovers during the spring boom in
sunlight duration and intensity.
Keeping the highest point of a plant clipped back tends to
promote branching just below that point. So clip wayward growth at
a point where new branches are acceptable -- you may have to cut to
less than 15 inches to encourage branching within your framework
rather than at its outer edges.
Indoor hibiscuses grown without supplemental light often stop
flowering in winter. There is hardly enough sun during a Michigan
winter to keep a person healthy, let alone promote flowering in a
full sun plant like hibiscus. When the days lengthen, it should
Put away that fertilizer unless the plant is forming flower
buds. Fertilizer doesn't make a plant bloom or grow. Fertilizers
are to plants as vitamins are to people. Vitamins can round out the
nutritional needs of an otherwise well-fed person and might even be
critical for an actively-growing child but they can't do what
protein and carbohydrates do, which is to stimulate or fuel growth.
Plants use sunlight to make their own carbs and proteins from water
and air. We apply fertilizer to supplement growth spurts.
High phosphorus fertilizers -- those with the middle number
highest -- might help a plant in phosphorus-deficient soil to ripen
a heavy crop of flower buds or fruit but can't create buds. Most of
the time these fertilizers are a waste. They also produce
high-phosphate run-off water that often reaches streams and lakes
as an algae-promoting pollutant.
Green thumbs up
to an indoor bay tree and a local skunk, unlikely partners in
renewing my winter-gray spirits. The one has broken bud after a
winter rest, the other has begun to step out and break wind. Both
tell me that spring is near.
Green thumbs down
to those who refuse to see silver linings. It is creepy to deal
with certain bugs, terrible when a tree dies and frustrating to
keep replanting difficult spots. But opportunity is there, too, in
food for birds and chances to try new things.
Originally published 2/15/03