The origin of this plant is very interesting it was found by Alfred Rehder and J.G. Jack in Alberta, Canada as a natural seedling of very small size. The Latin 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.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce care tips
- Place Dwarf Alberta Spruce where it will receive direct sun for 6 hours.
- Water it when the top 2-3 inches of soil are dry
- Plant Dwarf Alberta Spruce in light, fast-draining soil with a pH of 5.0-7.0
- Trim the spruce in the spring or fall to give it the desired shape
- Fertilize Dwarf Alberta Spruce 1-2 times per year with a balanced fertilizer
- Spray the plant with neem oil if pests are present
Over the years, breeders have selected many other beautiful varieties with blue needles or yellow tips based on this variety. There are also super-dwarf varieties that grow less than an inch a year, such as Picea glauca Lilliput.
Several varieties of this spruce grow in my garden, including the original version. Today I will tell you everything you want to know about this wonderful plant.
|Care/requirements||Dwarf Alberta Spruce characteristics|
|Scientific name:||Picea glauca Conica (White spruce)|
|Hardiness:||USDA zone 2-7|
|Size:||Height 6-7 ft (2 m) and Width 3 ft (1 m)|
|Light requirements:||6-8 hours of direct sun per day. Full sun or partial shade.|
|Soil:||Loam or amended soil.|
|Soil pH:||6.0-6.8 Grow best in slightly acidic soil.|
|Water needs:||First 1-2 years after planting when the soil 1” dry.|
|Growth rate:||2-4 in. per year|
|Best time for planting:||Early spring or early fall.|
|Spacing:||3 feet apart (center to center).|
|Transplanting:||Early fall or early spring.|
|Fertilizer:||Balanced NPK, slow-release.|
To successfully grow Dwarf Alberta Spruce you have to choose a place without stagnant water. There should be at least a few hours of direct sunlight per day. Also, make sure that the air moves freely around the spruce.
The soil used for planting should be well-drained and light. It should also not dry out very quickly. To get the perfect potting soil, add some compost to the native soil. For more information, see Best Soil For Dwarf Alberta Spruce.
Place the spruce 3 feet away from other plants or buildings. It needs free space around it to grow properly and not get sick.
Choose a cloudy spring day for planting. Water the spruce for 1-2 days before planting if it hasn’t rained.
The planting hole should be at least twice the size of the root system. Place the plant so that only the roots are in the ground, not the trunk. Backfill the empty space with the prepared soil.
Sun or shade
Dwarf Alberta Spruce is the type of spruce that can tolerate full sun. The more sun it gets, the thicker its crown will be. So plant this spruce in a location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
It can also tolerate partial shade. For example, you can plant it on the east or west side of the house. In this case, it will only get half a day of direct sun, but it will grow well.
What you do not want to do is place Dwarf Alberta Spruce in the shade. In this case, the crown will be very loose and poor. The development will not be right and the tree will be sick. Eventually, you will lose it.
The only time this spruce can have light problems is the first year after planting. If you planted it in late spring and the summer was sunny and hot, the needles can burn. This happens because the roots are not yet developed and do not deliver enough water to the needles.
To avoid this, put a shade on the spruce. You can use an ordinary garden umbrella for this purpose. At the end of the summer, when the heat subsides, the umbrella can be removed.
You can read more about sunlight requirements here: Do Dwarf Alberta Spruce Need Full Sun?
Speaking of watering Dwarf Alberta Spruce, the first thing to mention here is the newly planted spruces. They need to be watered about once a week.
The best way to know if watering is needed is to check the moisture content of the soil. If the soil is about 1 inch dry at the top then you need to water the sprouts.
Newly planted spruces are most sensitive to soil dryness. So you need to keep an eye on them at all times.
Once the tree is rooted, watering can be reduced. Full rooting usually happens in the second or third year after planting. In this case, you should only water when there is a very severe drought.
At least two gallons of water should be used for each watering. The water should penetrate as deeply as possible. On the other hand, do not overwater a spruce tree because this will cause root rot. You can read more about this problem here: Overwatering A Dwarf Alberta Spruce (And How To Fix It)
Also, avoid watering in the late fall and winter since the spruce is dormant at this time of year and does not need a lot of water.
The frequency and amount of watering will vary slightly depending on the type of soil and the size of the plant.
For more information please check this watering guide How Often Should I Water My Dwarf Alberta Spruce?
Growing in pots
Growing Dwarf Alberta Spruce in a container is possible but it is a challenge. The fact is that it, like all plants, increases in size and requires more and more space each year.
The first thing you need to do to grow it successfully is to find the right pot. It should be a little larger than the root ball of the spruce and be sure to have drainage holes.
Plant in a pot the same way as in the garden, not deepening the trunk into the ground. Use a mixture of garden soil and compost as a substrate. There should be a 0.5 to 1-inch gap between the top edge of the pot and the surface of the soil in the pot.
Water the potted spruce often. During the hot summer months, sometimes you need to water every day since the soil in the container dries out very quickly. You need to keep the substrate moist and not let it dry out more than 1 inch from the top.
Keep an eye on the spruce roots from time to time. If you see them coming out of the drainage holes it is time to replant the spruce. Do not neglect to do this because otherwise root bound may occur and this will cause more problems.
For more information on how to grow this spruce in a pot please check: Can Dwarf Alberta Spruce Be Grown in a Container?
In general, Dwarf Alberta Spruce is able to grow well without additional nutrients if the soil is at least somewhat nutritious. In poor soil, growth will be slow but nothing bad will happen to the plant.
If you want your spruce to have a more lush crown and grow a little faster, fertilizing is a good solution. Choose one that has an equal proportion of the three basic elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Or you can use a fertilizer designed specifically for conifers.
The most suitable form of fertilizer is slow-release pellets. In this case, you need to apply them at the beginning of the growing season and that’s it. You can fertilize again in the middle of the summer, but only if it lasts no longer than three months.
Avoid fertilizing spruce in the fall and winter as this can lead to young shoots at the end of the season. Frosts in winter will destroy the young shoots.
In addition and mineral fertilizer, you can mulch Dwarf Alberta Spruce with high-quality compost. This is a good organic fertilizer and will also prevent the soil from drying out quickly.
A layer of compost should be no more than 1-2 inches thick. Also, avoid burying the trunk in mulch as this can lead to trunk rot.
I have described this topic in more detail here: How Do You Fertilize Dwarf Alberta Spruce?
Dwarf Alberta is slow-growing compact spruce so if you give it a few feet of space it won’t need pruning. It also has a fairly regular crown shape that requires almost no adjustments.
But if you’re aiming for perfection, you can still trim it. First of all these concerns the main central branch, very often it grows much faster than the rest of the branches. This will cause the spruce to stretch out and become candle-like.
Once a year you can shorten this branch. This is best done in early spring. You can also remove competing branches that tend to take the place of the main branch.
The second thing you can do with your spruce is to look at its silhouette and trim off those branches that protrude beyond it. This will give the tree a more regular shape and slow down its growth a bit.
Carry out the trimming with a sharp tool from a quality manufacturer. Otherwise, you may cause wounds to the tree that will take a long time to heal. Also, make sure to disinfect the tools.
Avoid watering the spruce for a few days after pruning so that the wounds will dry out and bacteria will not get into them with the water.
Detailed pruning guide here: How To Trim Dwarf Alberta Spruce?
Since Dwarf Alberta was found in Canada, it is reasonable to conclude that it is a very hardy plant. It is not afraid of frosts that can be in the USA.
But still, some winter care is recommended. It is very common that in the first few years after planting, this spruce turns brown in winter. This happens because the winter sun can be quite intense and it dries out the needles.
There is nothing tragic about this, it will just make the spruce look unattractive. But in the spring new branches with needles will emerge from the buds. After a few years, the tree will recover and will have a normal appearance.
To avoid damage to the needles you need to protect the Dwarf Alberta from the winter sun. The best way to do this is to install a screen on the south side of the spruce. This can be plywood or something similar. The screen should reflect the mid-day rays of the sun.
By protecting the spruce from the mid-day sun, you will keep the needles from drying out in the afternoon sun. Such protection should only be used if the spruce is browning in the winter.
In the spring, the screen should be removed so that the plant gets enough light for normal development.
More information about winterizing can be found here: How Do You Protect A Dwarf Alberta Spruce In The Winter?
The only effective way to propagate Dwarf Alberta Spruce is by cuttings. In this case, you can be sure that you will get a copy of the mother plant. By the way, Dwarf Alberta is better for cuttings than most other spruces.
If you want to propagate it the first thing you have to do is to select the right cuttings. It is important that the mother plant is big and well established. Simply tear off an annual branch from the middle part of the crown along with part of an older branch.
It is best to take cuttings in early spring before the spruce comes out of dormancy. Take at least a dozen cuttings since not all of them will take root.
Then fill the tray with sterile seedling substrate and moisten it well. The tray should have drainage holes.
Insert the cuttings into the substrate with feet down. Place the tray in a greenhouse with at least 80% humidity and a temperature of about 65 °F. It is important to keep the cuttings in the shade.
By fall, the first roots should appear, but do not transplant the cuttings. Let them grow in a tray for another year before transplanting them into individual pots.
The first problem that occurs with Dwarf Alberta Spruce is disease. In most cases, the diseases are of fungal origin. Symptoms are black spots on the needles, falling needles, and others.
To avoid the disease, provide spruce trees with enough direct sun and a few feet of free space for good air circulation.
The second problem is pests. These are usually insects that damage young needles in late spring or early summer. To get rid of them you need to spray the spruce with an aqueous solution of neem oil.
Separately, the issue of mites is worth mentioning here. These creatures are not insects and they are very small, so it is difficult to fight them. If you see small bugs and cobwebs on the needles, spray the spruce with acaricide.
This problem is described in more detail here: How To Treat Spider Mites On Dwarf Alberta Spruce?
Problems also include the browning of spruce needles. There are several reasons for this, respectively need to act differently in each case. All these cases are described here: Why Is Dwarf Alberta Spruce Turning Brown?
Many people wonder whether Dwarf Alberta Spruce is damaged by deer. In general, we can say no, because thorny needles are some kind of protection. But young soft branches can still be damaged by deer.
If your spruce has dropped its needles, please take a look at – Do Dwarf Alberta Spruce Drop Needles?
Dwarf Alberta Spruce must be transplanted with the utmost care, otherwise, you could lose the plant. Because Dwarf Alberta Spruce grows 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, transplanting is rarely necessary. But if you must do so, follow these guidelines.
First of all, choose the right time. Early spring or mid-autumn is the best time. It is best to choose a cloudy and humid day. Avoid transplanting in the afternoon when temperatures are highest.
Before transplanting, prepare a planting hole in the new location. It should be twice the size of the root ball of the plant to be dugout.
Dig the spruce out of the ground without damaging the roots. The root ball should have the same diameter as the crown. Don’t soak the roots in water – this will only make things worse.
Immediately move the dug-up spruce to its new location. Do not let the roots and soil dry out. Place the spruce in the hole without deepening the trunk. Backfill any empty space with soil.
Water the transplanted spruce with plenty of water. If necessary, add more soil around it. Avoid fertilizing the tree after transplanting, instead of shade it with a garden umbrella or netting.
More detailed transplanting guide you can find here: Can Dwarf Alberta Spruce Be Transplanted?
Over many years of cultivation, Dwarf Alberta Spruce has been the progenitor of a number of remarkable varieties. Of these, Jean’s Dilly is the first to stand out. It is more compact and grows up to 5 feet tall with a narrower crown. The color of the needles is darker with a slight silver tinge.
The second variety is Picea glauca ‘Rainbow’s End’. It differs in that the young growths are bright yellow in color while the old needles are green. Such a spring contrast looks wonderful. This variety grows a little slower than the mother variety.
Next up is Tiny Tower, which is a miniature version of Dwarf Alberta Spruce. It is usually no more than 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. It is an ideal variety for potted cultivation or for very small beds. The color of the needles is bright green. It tolerates both full sun and penumbra.
One of the more interesting versions of Dwarf Alberta Spruce is the Blue Wonder variety. It has bluish-green needles which still have a silvery sheen in the sun. The size of this variety is about the same as the mother variety, but it looks much better.
Last on this list is Daisy’s White Alberta Spruce. What sets this variety apart is that it turns completely yellow in the spring and green in the summer. It is a very interesting variety that gives bright colors to the garden.