6 Simple Steps To Keeping A Blue Spruce Tree Small

Dwarf slow-growing blue spruce (picea pungens) variety glauca globosa - beautiful decorative evergreen coniferous plant for gardening and landscape design, close up. Blue fir tree

In recent times, the idea of smaller trees has gotten more and more popular. With this, most trees prefer to grow very large if they are allowed to, so how can you keep a blue spruce tree small? 

Typical Blue spruce trees grow 12 inches or less per year. To keep your blue spruce tree small, you’ll want to prune the tree each year during the late winter/early spring. You can also choose a small blue spruce variety, like the baby blue eyes spruce, which grows 2-3 inches per year.

While their are dwarf blue spruce varieties, read on to learn more about what a blue spruce needs, how it grows, and steps you can take to keep it small and manageable!

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Blue Spruce Tree Basics

As mentioned, to know how to keep your blue spruce small, you first need to know the wants and needs of your tree, so that you can provide and alter them to affect the tree. 

Requirements Of Blue Spruce Trees

To start, blue spruce trees need full sun. This means that you need to find a location that provides adequate (full) sun exposure. You can, however, use this to your advantage if you want to keep your blue spruce small. If you slightly decrease the amount of sun, but not by too much, it can slow the growth of your tree without hurting it. 

In addition to sun requirements, blue spruce trees require semi-moist, well-draining soil. This means you need to water regularly. However, you have to find or make soil with particulates such as sand or large organic matter so that the water can drain off. 

Blue spruce trees can also adapt to drier winds and soils, meaning they are not too picky in those regards. However, you will need to work with your tree to find what it specifically needs in your area. 

Similar to other plants, spruces also may like slightly acidic soil and extra nutrients. Although, they do not require them to grow successfully. 

Growth Of Blue Spruce Trees

On average, blue spruce varieties are categorized as medium to slow growers. According to information from the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, established blue spruce trees generally grow up to 12 inches per year.

With vertical growth also comes horizontal growth, which needs to be considered if you want to keep your blue spruce small.

Going along with this, if some factors for your spruce are limited to a safe extent, such as sunlight and water, your spruce may grow slower without sustaining any damage. 

Blue Spruce Tree Roots

It is also good to mention that most spruce trees often have shallow and wide root systems. This is important to know, for watering and fertilizing reasons.

During their first year of growth, blue spruce tree roots only penetrate the soil about 2.5 inches.

Thus, you don’t have to absolutely soak the soil underneath the blue spruce tree to water it.

This means that while pruning and keeping your blue spruce small, you should be careful, as you don’t want to impact or stress out the root system too much. 

Picking The Right Blue Spruce Variety To Keep It Small

Decorative blue spruce or picea pungens branches natural pattern close-up. Lush evergreen christmas tree texture background

Another thing to keep in mind when wanting small blue spruce is picking out a specific variety. As with most things, each blue spruce variety has its own characteristics, including size and shape, meaning you can pick one for your very specific needs.

They are breeding specific blue spruces that are easier to take care of and better adapted to their environments. Now you can almost grow them anywhere. 

If you are looking to have smaller spruce, you can now pick one of their dwarf or miniature varieties. These varieties are predisposed to be smaller and grow slower. 

The smaller dwarf blue spruce varieties can even grow as small as 5-6 feet on average, making them great for small spaces or manicured gardens. 

6 Steps To Keep Your Blue Spruce Tree Small 

Now that we know the tendencies of blue spruce trees and what they need, we can learn some simple steps and tips on how to keep them small.

As a warning, blue spruce trees do not take well to excessive pruning. If you accidentally prune them too much or too often, they can slow in growth. They may also catch diseases or infections through their open wounds. 

Most people recommend making a plan for pruning ahead of time. Then slowly prune off excess or dead branches over a long period to avoid these potential damages. 

1. Get Your Tools And Plan 

The first step to keeping your blue spruce small is to make sure that you have the correct tools and a solid plan for pruning. 

To start, there are a few tools you will need to prune your tree.

One great tool is a hand pruner or a long pruner, such as the TABOR TOOLS Tree Trimmer. The carbon steel blades and comfortable handles make them perfect for trimming your tree with precision.

Spruce needles and sharp branches mean you may also want to get a nice pair of gloves. For example, these Dowelife working gloves. They are cut-resistant and have coated palms to increase grip.

If the tree you’re starting with is very tall, you also may need a larger pole pruner, such as this Sun Joe Pole Chain Saw. The multi-angle head and extendable pole allow for up to 14 feet of reach.

Along with these tools, you should have an adequate plan for the pruning of your tree. This is important so that you know what you are going to do so you do not trim too little or too much.

To do this, take a photo of your tree or draw a few examples of what you might do. After deliberating, you should have a clear idea of what you want to do. Then you are ready to prune your blue spruce. 

2. Prune Dead And Large Blue Spruce Tree Branches

To start your pruning process, begin by pruning off the dying and large branches from your blue spruce tree. 

As for dying branches, you can easily prune them off, allowing your blue spruce tree to have more airflow, and giving it the ability to move more of its energy to healthy branches.

You can prune these pretty closely, since pruning dead branches does not affect the tree, and simply maintains aesthetics. 

In addition, trim off excessively large branches, especially if they are in odd places such as near the top of the tree. Prune these sparingly and allow the tree to recover fully afterward. 

It is also good to mention trees that are one-third to half the diameter of the tree are usually posing some competition to the trunk. This may inhibit the growth of the trunk, which could aid in keeping the tree smaller. 

3. Eliminate Undesirable Branches Off Your Blue Spruce Tree

Another step to take in pruning your blue spruce is to eliminate any undesirable branches. This means that you should take off any branches that are growing in unwanted directions, or that are unsightly. 

Similar to the other pruning rules, prune sparingly, and should also look into other forms of maintenance, such as staking or altering the branches before cutting. 

Remember to not do this too often, but periodically.

4. Prune Your Blue Spruce To Create A Small Shape 

Picea pungens. Branch of a blue spruce close up

If this is your first time pruning your blue spruce tree, you will most likely need to prune slightly all over to create a standard shape. 

Going back to the first few steps, you should already have the correct tools and a plan in mind to help you along the way. 

If your tree is weak, or you are nervous that you could damage it, look into pruning a new shape over a longer period. This allows you to change the shape of the tree safely, which includes fewer risks compared to pruning the tree all at once.  

With this idea of pruning for the first time, follow the natural shape of your tree. As mentioned, most blue spruces have taped shapes, having a smaller rounded crown, and a wider base, creating a Christmas tree-like shape. 

In the end, if you follow this pattern of pruning slightly (no more than a fourth the diameter of the crown) in the natural shape of the tree, you should not encounter any issues along your way.

5. Prune Your Blue Spruce To Keep It Small

After you prune your tree for the first time, it most likely will continue to grow. Many trees and plants can even grow bushier when pruned, especially if it is near growth nodes.

You should either already have a plan or at least a general idea of what shape you are looking to maintain. 

If you have not pruned your spruce in a while, it may have grown in odd ways, or completely lost its original shape. If this is the case, you may have to restart and create another general shape through gradual pruning. 

In most cases, however, your spruce should only have a bit of top growth, and possibly a few loose branches extending from the sides. You can simply trim these over the seasons to maintain the original shape. 

If you choose to prune your blue spruce, do so seasonally over a long period if you want to keep your tree’s shape without harming it. It’s best to prune your blue spruce during the late winter/early spring when it will have a long period of optimal growth ahead of it.

6. Maintain Your Blue Spruce Tree’s Health Over Time

Alongside these pruning steps, it is important to maintain overall tree health. To do this, make sure that most of its water, sunlight, soil and other needs are being met consistently. 

If you fail to meet your blue spruce tree’s health needs over a long period, your tree will usually show signs of stress, such as falling or yellowing needles. 

You can improve your tree’s health by also supplying it with compost every once in a while, and by mulching underneath. Not only will this increase soil health and nutrition, but it also helps to retain moisture near the roots.

To keep your blue spruce tree healthy, read our guide on how to make your blue spruce tree more blue here.

How To Take Care Of Baby Blue Spruces

Blue spruce against a wall terracotta

One of the most challenging things of raising and maintaining a small blue spruce is raising it from the seedling to the adult stage. 

Watering and sunlight errors, nutrient deficiencies, weather damage, or pest damage are just a few of the many issues you might encounter during this time.

As for watering and sunlight, to take care of your baby blue spruce, water it whenever the soil looks dry. Be sure you initially plant it in a location that has adequate sun for its needs. 

Make sure you start your spruce off right by including rich soil, which could be new garden soil, fertilizer, or compost. 

Weather damage can also be a big obstacle for baby blue spruces. Especially when they are very young, many weather events can damage your spruce. You should be wary of windstorms, lightning storms, snowstorms, or even harsh rain. 

These weather events can cause a multitude of problems, for instance, snapping branches, lost needles, or even changing the orientation of your tree. Problems of this magnitude are more prevalent in places with frequent storms.

To help with these issues, it’s a good idea staking or protecting your blue spruces before and during these events. A stable and semi-covered tree is safer from any harsh rain and debris. 

Pest damage can be another issue with blue spruces. This refers to small animals such as squirrels eating/damaging branches/foliage, or even large animals such as deer breaking branches or eating foliage. 

While using artificial pesticides is not recommended, there are a few options you can try to help address these problems. Repellents are a great option to deter things like squirrels and deer without actually harming them, yourself, or your tree. 

Maintain Your Blue Spruce Tree’s Shape

In most cases, to keep a blue spruce tree small, you will need to trim and prune off the branches and foliage. This can cause issues, as most times gardeners can have trouble with keeping a consistent tree shape while pruning.  

Artistic Pruning Blue Spruce Trees

You might prefer to prune your blue spruce into a specific shape. If this shape is not its natural growing pattern, you will most likely have to prune the tree regularly. 

Experiment with things such as binding, bending, or staking branches. Doing so in a particular direction will allow them to grow in the direction you want. 

Trim Blue Spruce Trees After They Take Shape

For most gardeners, the natural shape of the blue spruce works well. However, they want their tree to be smaller in stature as compared to its natural form.

To maintain a natural tree shape, you first have to see how your tree grows on its own. After this, you can begin by picking a height you want, and by trimming the rest of the tree from there down. 

On average, most blue spruce trees have a (rounded) tapered top, with a wide base, almost going up in a perfectly conical shape. 

That’s A Wrap!

In the end, blue spruces are pretty classic trees that can offer a nice touch to any garden. They come in many varieties with different shapes and sizes, making them capable of adapting to a plethora of growing areas and conditions. 

There are also a few important things to know about blue spruce growth, such as its speed, vigor, and large root system. Knowing these factors is important to understand what your spruce needs and how to prune it safely. 

There are a few crucial steps to take to keep your blue spruce small, which include making a plan, getting the right tools, pruning with the natural shape, maintaining a general pruning shape/schedule, and much more! 

Each spruce will have its own needs, wants, and pruning guidelines, so go out and have fun trimming! 

References

Silvics of North America. (1990). United States: U.S. Government Printing Office..

Erhart, E., & Hartl, W. (2003). Mulching with compost improves growth of blue spruce in Christmas tree plantations. European Journal of Soil Biology, 39(3), 149–156.

Hanover, J. W. (1975). Genetics of Blue Spruce. In Google Books. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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