This beautiful compact tree was found as a natural dwarf mutation in Alberta, Canada. Another name for this plant is Picea glauca Conica. Annual growth does not exceed 2-3 inches, which makes it very popular, especially for compact gardens. This variety is distributed around the world almost the most among all ornamental spruces.
During the years of cultivation, breeders have derived on the basis of this variety many other beautiful varieties with blue needles or with yellow tips. There are also super dwarfs varieties that grow less than one inch per year, such as Picea glauca Lilliput.
Several varieties of Dwarf Alberta Spruce have been growing in my collection for many years. I am most impressed by Picea glauca Rainbow’s End; it has the green color of last year’s needles, which contrasts with the yellow young growth; it looks just unique!
In this article, I will share with you all my experience of growing this spruce and its varieties. I will also show their photos and tell you some of the intricacies of growing.
Brief Care Information
|Name||Dwarf Alberta Spruce, Picea glauca Conica|
|Hardiness Zone (USDA)||2-7|
|Light||Sun, Partial Sun|
|Width||20 inches (0.5 m)|
|Height||30-40 inches (1 m)|
|Pests||Spider mites, Bagworms|
|Disease||Stigmina, Rhizosphaera, Cytospora Canker|
|Water||1-3 times per month|
|Soil||Drained, pH 5.0-7.0|
Only healthy plants will not bother you.
I do not tire of repeating that most of the problems with growing are associated with poor quality planting material. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous sellers or sellers who do not know how to grow plants properly. After buying spruce from them, sooner or later, you may have problems, so let’s determine what you need to pay attention to in the first place.
I recommend buying plants in person. You should go to the nursery and look at the plants with your own eyes. The first positive sign will be the situation in the nursery. If everything is neatly placed there, the pots with plants are sorted then this is a sign of a responsible attitude to their work.
Next, you need to inspect the spruce you want to buy. Choose larger plants with more lush needles. In this case, they will take root better in your garden. The needles should be clean of spots and other suspicious signs. There should also be no insect damage. The color of the needles should be green without any signs of browning.
The next stage is the inspection of the root system. Remove the plant from the pot and inspect the roots; there should be no traces of the fungus. The tips of the roots should be white with a transition to brown.
Also, the roots should not contain eggs or larvae of insects. This is a favorite place where insects breed. Therefore, if you notice any creatures between the roots, then it is better to abandon the purchase.
The roots should not be tangled. Some sellers save on pots and rarely transplant their plants into larger containers. As a result, the roots have nowhere to develop and become entangled in a ball. There may be problems with such a plant.
Suppose you inspect everything, and everything is fine, then you can buy a plant.
If you buy online, then you should read all the reviews about this nursery to avoid negative consequences.
A sunny place will be better.
This type of spruce prefers sunny locations. Unlike Norway Spruce, this spruce needs a lot of suns. It can be planted in front of the house on the south side. Almost all of my Alberta Spruces grow in full sun and have never had a problem with them; there is no excess sun for them.
If you plant them in full sun, the crown will be lush and thick, and the needles will have a bright green color and will also be lusher.
Also, these plants can tolerate partial shading. This means that you can plant them on the east or west side of the house, or part of the day they can be shaded by other plants. In this case, they should receive about six hours of direct sunlight.
Two of my Canadian spruces grow in partial shade and receive direct sunlight in the morning. So far, everything is fine with them. Although there may be cases when the sun is too little (2-4 hours), then the crown will not be so lush, and the color of the needles is light green.
In full shade without a single ray of sunshine, this spruce will not grow properly and, as a result, is likely to die. I saw Norway Spruces growing in full shade, it was a pathetic sight, they had very few branches, and the needles were small and this despite the fact that this species is more tolerant of shade.
In addition, the shade has higher humidity, and fungal diseases develop faster, so there will be more health problems for spruce.
The recommendation of this chapter is that you should plant Dwarf Alberta Spruce in full sun. But here it is necessary to make a clarification, often in the first years after planting this spruce can burn in late winter. This is because, in February, the sun is already shining quite strongly, but the sap flow has not yet begun. To fix this, you need to shade the plant for two months (January and February).
Because Dwarf Alberta Spruce is a compact plant, it can be planted quite close to other plants. A medium-sized flower bed or rock garden is ideal for this plant.
The soil should be drained and slightly acidic.
This spruce grows on a wide range of soils. This is due to the fact that its species is common in the mountains over a fairly large area, so its root system is well adapted to different soil types.
However, it is best to mix two-thirds of ordinary earth with a third of peat. Peat will make the soil lighter (loose); as a result, the plant will be able to more easily develop the root system. This is especially true in the first years after planting. In addition, peat will make the soil a little more acidic, which will also have a positive effect on this plant.
Also, if possible, you can add a little compost to reduce water stagnation. The amount of compost in the mixture should not exceed 10%. In the opposite case, the soil will dry out quickly, and you will have to water it more often.
One of the common substrates for growing Dwarf Alberta Spruce is a mixture of compost and soil. Many gardeners successfully grow these plants in such soil. However, I want to warn you that this is not always good. The fact is that the compost contains organic residues that could not rot, so you can damage the root system of your spruce.
If the compost is made exclusively from plant remains (without animal remains) that have rotted well, then a small part (10-15%) can be added to the soil.
It often happens that it is not always possible to prepare good soil, so the spruce can be planted in ordinary garden soil. It will also develop quite well.
If you have clay soil in the yard, then you should arrange good drainage before planting.
Plant Dwarf Alberta Spruce in the spring.
How well spruce will grow depends on when you plant it. I have planted spruces many times at different times of the year, and I can say that not always everything ends successfully, so let’s talk about it a bit.
It is best to plant spruce from a pot in the ground in early spring when the plant has not yet begun to grow. It could be early March or a little later, depending on which Hardiness Zone you live in. The main condition is that the soil thaws. It is also desirable that there were no spring frosts.
The beginning of spring is good because it is already warm enough, but the sun is not as hot as in summer. Also, at this time, the humidity of the air and soil is quite high, which is perfect for planting conifers.
If for some reason, you did not have time to plant in early spring, you can do it in the second half of spring. However, this will be more difficult for the plant as it will already begin to form young shoots by then.
The second favorable period is the first half of autumn. It can also be the end of August if you live in the northern United States. In autumn, as well as in spring, high humidity, and gentle sun, these are ideal conditions for planting. The main thing is to plant a spruce a month before the first frosts.
I do not recommend planting Dwarf Alberta Spruce in the summer, because at this time it is too hot and the plant may simply not survive. Many people claim that potted plants can be planted at any time, but this is not always true, believe me.
Also, do not plant spruce in winter. First of all, because the earth can be frozen, secondly, the plant will not start to take root at this time, so it makes no sense to plant in winter.
Plant spruce in cloudy weather.
Everything you needed to know before planting spruce in described above, now I will tell you how to properly plant spruce and how to further care for it.
The first thing I recommend is to plant spruce in cloudy weather when there is no strong sun, and the soil is quite moist. Such conditions will better promote the establishment of the plant in a new place.
If there was no rain before planting, then you should water the spruce for a few days to saturate it with moisture. It is not necessary to use a lot of water but to water at least 3-5 times.
It is better to start planting in the morning or in the evening. Dig a hole; it should be twice the size of the pot in which the spruce grows. This is necessary so that in the first year, the soil around the roots was loose, and rooting was better and faster.
If you have clay soil in the yard or a high level of groundwater, then pour drainage on the bottom of the pit. It is best to use expanded clay. If you do not have such an opportunity, then pour the usual stones.
Next, remove the spruce from the pot and place it in the pit. The surface of the pot should be on one level with the surface of your garden. In other words, do not bury the trunk in the ground; otherwise, it may rot.
Fill all the free space with prepared soil. Slightly compact the soil but do not overdo it so as not to damage the roots. Add more soil so that there are no holes around the plant.
After planting, you can water the plant with liquid fertilizer to give it a little energy, although this is not necessary. Also, if the weather is dry and sunny, I recommend shading the spruce for 3-4 weeks, it will make the rooting conditions more favorable.
For one or two months, water the spruce often enough, the soil around should always be moist. However, you do not need to form a swamp, do not water with plenty of water. You can mulch the plant with pine bark so that the soil does not dry out too quickly.
If you plant at the right time, then the spruce will take root within 30-40 days. After that, you can slightly reduce watering. Complete rooting in a new location can take up to two years.
Water Dwarf Alberta Spruce in drought once a week.
The first year after planting spruce needs more frequent irrigation, as I wrote above, the soil around needs to be kept moist. It will have to be watered about 1-2 times a week.
Next year and further watering will be needed only in drought. Mostly two or three times a month is enough to saturate the plant with moisture. If it is very hot in your area, then you need to water once a week. Droughts occur in the summer, so you need to be prepared for this. If you grow one or two spruces, then they can be easily watered from a hose. However, if there are more plants, then it makes sense to arrange automatic watering.
In my garden grows many different plants that need more frequent watering than spruce. Therefore, in the absence of rain, I water the whole garden with a sprayer. Sometimes I water twice a week in summer. At the same time, all my dwarf spruces receive water. So far, nothing bad has happened to them.
The only time I lost spruce from excessive moisture was a few years ago. It was spring, and it was raining heavily, with almost no sun. After a month of such weather, a few plants withered young shoots, and then they died.
I almost do not water the spruce in the spring; mostly, they have enough moisture from the rain. It is possible that in some climatic zones, there are periods of drought in the spring; if you have this, then you may need watering in the spring.
The same applies to autumn and winter. Mostly at these times of the year, there is enough moisture, and spruces do not need additional watering. This is especially true for winter. At this time, the plants are dormant, and excess water can only hurt. However, if your state is dry in the winter, then a little watering may not hurt.
Some of my dwarf spruces grow in pots. In this case, they need more frequent watering. Even in spring and autumn, I water them quite often.
Feeding is best given at the beginning of the season.
The advantage of Dwarf Alberta Spruce is its compact size, which allows you to grow this plant in a small area. If you give her fertilizer, then she will grow more vigorously and will be larger. However, a small amount of fertilizer will make it more lush and beautiful, while growth will not increase much.
I recommend fertilizing in early spring (March-April). For this, slow-release pellets with a balanced NPK formula for conifers are best. I use Osmocote fertilizer; their advantage is that they act during the season and provide the plant with extra energy all the time.
As a result, my plants feel very good, and I have no problems with them. And I give no more than 1.5 oz (50gr) of fertilizer for each plant. This is enough for a good view, while the growth rate does not increase.
If you want your dwarf spruce to grow more vigorously, you can give a little more fertilizer, somewhere around 2.6 oz (75 gr).
I do not advise you to give too much fertilizer, as this will lead to the rapid growth of young shoots. The plant will quickly increase in size. Young shoots may not have time to mature and will be brittle. Also, spruce will be more likely to be affected by the disease.
Do not feed the spruce in the fall; it can stimulate new growth that will not ripen until winter. As a result, the plant will be damaged by frost.
There are special autumn fertilizers, and many people use them. I have never used them. If you want to fertilize spruce in the fall, then you need to study well how these fertilizers work so as not to harm the plants.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce is best multiplied by cuttings.
Of all the spruces, Alberta Spruce is the easiest to propagate. This is best done by cuttings. You need to cut last year’s growth in early spring before the spruce begins to grow. Cut where they attach to the main branch.
Next, you need to prepare the soil. I recommend using sterile, purchased soil. It is better suited to this, it does not develop fungal diseases and rot, and it contains fertilizers.
Containers should be at least 8-10 inches deep with drainage holes. Fill them with soil and insert the cuttings with the lower tips into the soil. The lower part of the cuttings should be clean of needles.
I also recommend applying rooting gel to the bottom of the cuttings. With rooting gel, you will get a much higher percentage of rooted cuttings.
Water the cuttings often, the pot should always be moist.
Next, the container must be transferred to the greenhouse. Within a few months, the cuttings will take root. At the end of the second season of rooting, they can be planted in separate pots.
The second way is grafting. Dwarf Alberta Spruce and daughter varieties are rarely propagated this way. By grafting propagate spherical dwarf varieties of different colors of needles. For example, Picea glauca Dendrofarma Gold looks perfectly grafted on a 10-inch trunk (stam), so it looks like a miniature yellow tree.
Another way is by seed, and it is also rare because it is difficult to get new plants with varietal characteristics of the parent plant. This path is used by hybridizers to obtain new varieties.
Preventive spraying should be done every year.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce is rarely affected by the disease, but sometimes these plants can be damaged by some fungal bacteria. Let’s briefly consider the main ones.
Stigmina is one of the most common diseases of this species of spruce. Symptoms are small black spots on the needles, and as a result of the disease, the needles turn brown and fall off. If you do not start treating spruce in time, you may lose it.
This disease develops at high humidity and low temperatures. Shade also contributes to its development, i.e., if your spruce is shaded, there is a high chance that it may be affected by this disease.
At the first signs of infection, you need to remove all affected needles and branches. Also, clean everything around the plant, as fallen needles can store spores of this fungus.
It is also recommended to reduce watering the plants.
The second thing to do is spray the spruce with a fungicide. There are many good remedies on the market that are designed to treat this disease. Products containing chlorothalonil cope well with this disease.
The next common disease is Rhizosphaera. Spores of this fungus, as in the previous case, overwinter in fallen needles. When spring comes, the disease begins to develop on young shoots and needles. It is very similar to the previous disease, so they can be confused.
Treatment is to remove the affected parts of the plant. Next, you need to spray an aqueous solution of the fungicide. Usually, one treatment is not enough, so I recommend spraying several times during the season.
The third most common disease is Cytospora Canker. This disease affects the plant under the bark, so it is not visible from the outside. Symptoms are browning of needles and drying of branches. Usually, the lesion comes from the bottom.
This disease is almost incurable. You need to remove the infected branches and throw them away from your yard or burn them. If the infection was not significant, the plant should recover soon enough.
Some beetles can damage spruce.
Insects are a slightly bigger threat than the disease, especially in the spring when new growth is formed. Young shoots are a real delicacy for pests.
The biggest threat among pests is Spider mites. These are small inconspicuous beetles that parasitize on the spruce and extract juices from it. When their influence becomes noticeable, they still form a large colony on the plant.
Symptoms are browning of the needles and its fall. Also, gradually begin to die branches. If you notice something similar, take a closer look and look in the middle of the crown. If you notice a tiny cobweb, it could be Spider mites.
It is not easy to fight them; the usual insect repellents do not work on them. Some people recommend watering the plant because these pests do not like moisture. In fact, it is a useless way, and these insects will return soon enough.
The only effective way to defeat them is to spray the spruce with an aqueous solution of acaricide. This is a special type of pesticide that is designed to control Spider mites. For a reliable result, spray several times throughout the season.
Another fairly common pest is Bagworms. Fortunately, it is much easier to notice than the previous one. These insects form rather large boxes in which the larva is formed.
In case of a minor infection, just collect all the boxes and throw them away from the yard. If there are a lot of insects, then spray the plants with insecticides.
For the healthy growth of Dwarf Alberta Spruce, I recommend spraying them several times a year with a solution of systemic insecticide.