how to landscape around blue spruces

dinosaur1(5)March 6, 2010

I live next to a busy street and we have 11 blue spruces in 1 straight line in our backyard. I want to make the landscaping around the blue spruces more appealing. The only thing that I have now is limestone rocks that go straight around the perimeter. Should I place the rocks in a certain way to make it look better? What perennials would be good to put in for landscaping?

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Please note that spruces (or any plant) put in a line to make a hedge will grow into each other and may eventually shade out the bottom branches. This will especailly be true if the other stuff around it is contributing to shade. Once the shade increases enough the spruce will no longer keep needles on the lower branches, as it will concentrate on the upper growth to get adequate sunshine. Some type of understory shrubs in front of the spruces will conceal this tendency (even though it may be years away). Of course this is just very general advice without really knowing any of the specifics of your situation.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 7:50PM
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The previous owner placed them that way to form a screen against noise, bad weather, etc....since we live next to a busy street. Currently they are about 12 ft tall.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 10:29PM
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Hi fellow milwaukeean...

I wish my yard were big enough for blue spruce trees! It would take up half my yard...we started from a blank slate trying to create privacy from our neighbors, I am envious of your trees...LOL.

Let me preface this by saying that I don't have any experience planting around spruce trees, and without knowing which direction this faces, the amount of light it receives, I'll offer some suggestions with different requirements, you'll have to decide what will work for you.

Here are my thoughts...Is it possible to put in an elevated planting bed in front of the spruce to detract from it a bit? If that' feasible, my best advice - AMEND the soil with plenty of organic matter, your plants will thrive. As far as the shape of the bed, if you want it more formal in appearance, you could go symmetrical, for informal, go asymmetrical, but make sure the depth of the bed is appropriate against the large trees. I skinny planting bed would probably not look appropriate against those large trees, make it wide, 4-5 feet or larger, if your yard is large enough, and I'd probably go with a curvy border, from one end of the tree length to the other.

I'd look at it from a standpoint of what will pop against an evergreen backdrop. I think adding yellow to your yard will be a nice contrast against the blue spruce, with splashes of pink throughout your yard. White plants add a soft soothing ambiance.

I'll list some of my favorites in my own yard, though I don't have the evergreen backdrop you do... Of course, you should choose based on how much sun this area receives...

Annabelle Hydrangea would look nice during the bloom season, and spent blooms are pretty in the winter as well. They do well in full shade, and I know people who have grown them in full sun as long as they have ample moisture.

Smaller weigela shrubs (Eyecatcher, Wine & Roses, are some of my favorites) will add a nice pop of color when in bloom. Just to forewarn you, my Weigela took three years before it bloomed, but when it did, WOW, it was stunning. I deadheaded the blooms & fertilized again for an additional bloom later in the season, that was a pleasant surprise.

Itea Little Henry is a cute, low maintenance shrub. It has nice white spring blooms, and red fall foliage. It's not a tall shrub, so I wouldn't plant it at the back of a border. It does well in wet areas.

Ligularia "The Rocket" (likes a lot of moisture), will add nice yellow spikes to your landscape. This one belongs at the back of the border, as it reaches 5 feet in height. Don't let it dry out.

You could add a 3 tier fountain as a focal point, but I'd use a light colored concrete against the darker back drop.

You could incorporate a stand alone wrought iron trellis (sturdy) as an accent in the planting bed for a climbing clematis...a nice pink or white variety I think would pop well against the blue backdrop. The clematis forum is a wealth of information.

Autumn Joy or Autumn Fire Sedum, larger textured leaves, nice fall color and leave the spent blooms for the winter, the birds love the seeds. I like these planted in groups of threes. I'll be moving mine to the base of my fountain.

Burning bush as a specimen plant for a pop of color if you get enough sun here, I think the key is to add varying heights...not just tall spruce and low plants, but incorporate some medium shrubs in the mix.

Purple leaf sandcherry is nice too (it needs to be pruned annually otherwise it gets leggy - prune after spring blooms).

I like the contrast in texture with Iris & Lemonbalm planted at the base (there is a yellow variety, 'All Gold', that will add nice color contrast), or I've thought of trying Iris with bloody cranesbill at the base.

I just planted William Baffin rose shrub last year, very hardy to our zone without ANY winter protection...this one grows into an arching "tree" form, gets big so make room, but beautiful pink blooms, I'd plant it in a corner. I planted catmint (nepeta) at the base, but I also like geraniums under roses. New Dawn, a climber rose, is also very hardy to our zone without winter protection. DO NOT believe what the nursery tags tell you, two roses I purchased locally, without consulting here first, die back to the snow level each year WITH winter protection, obviously not zone 5 hardy, so I always check on the rose forum first.

I also like Stella D'Oro daylilies for long bloom time (deadhead spent blooms to prolong blooming period).

Since it's good to repeat colors in your yard for a better flow, I'd add some blueish toned plants to repeat the blue color in your spruce, for continuity. I have blueish foliaged dianthus, I don't remember the variety, but you could also go with some blue hostas (Halycon, blue angel), Salvia 'May Night' has nice blue blooms, a hummingbird magnet as well.

I'd add some small evergreens in the bed, maybe Green Gem boxwood, they're nice and compact.

You could add a red japanese fern leafed maple as a specimen plant, very pretty.

PJM Rhododendrons are hardy to our zone, but in my experience they need SOME sun to bloom. I made the mistake of planting in absolute shade, had one bloom in 3 years. LOL.

Plants that like acidic soil: Azaleas, Rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, hydrangea, Itea Little Henry, asters, Redvein Enkianthus (pretty shrub), Pieris shrub (zone hardy questionable here), pachysandra, some veronicas, tiarellas, dianthus and sedums, hosta, periwinkle, some evergreens like acidic soil to name a few.

Other general perennial suggestions: Heucheras, astilbes (bridal veil is one of the nicest white blooms), white variegated hostas, tiarella, veronicas, salvia, brunnera jack frost, coreopsis zagreb (cut back by half & fertilize for second bloom later in season) - nice yellow. Euphorbia polychroma nice yellow spring color(cut back after flowering in spring), turns red in fall, lamium is a nice groundcover for a contained area in full sun (I have silver beacon under my red japanese maple, and it blooms from spring to frost),

You could add pachysandra directly underneath the spruce as a groundcover that will thrive there, you'll just have to keep it contained with a plastic border. Any that get out of the border can be easily pulled, but this is a nice evergreen groundcover that I've grown in both full sun and full shade, does very well for me. Water well & fertilize annually until established, within a few years it will be a complete groundcover. This is the one plant I am aware will thrive under evergreens, and likes acidic soil/fertilizer.

I want to add bluebells to my landscape this year, they are supposed to bloom before the hostas emerge, then the hostas cover the dying foliage of the bluebells thereafter.

Euonymous Emerald N Gold is a nice yellow evergreen shrub, can be pruned into any shape you want, or let it grow unpruned.

Heliopsis Loraine Sunshine is one of my favorite plants for full sun. Very pretty once established, foliage and flowers alike.

I've always wanted to plant tall red Monarda with my Annabelle hydrangea, but my first try with Monarda was a failure.

Plant spring blooming bulbs, I think yellow Daffodils would look stunning.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 1:40PM
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thanks for the great info. How should I arrange the rocks that I have? Currently they just go straight along the spruces.....they are white limestone rocks I got for free after a road construction. The city dug them up out of the ground.

I planted some flower carpet roses last Spring and and I used a plant protector to cover them up in winter. Since I never had them before how do I care for them in Spring now?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 11:17PM
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I think the white limestone will look spectacular, much better than a manufactured rock in landscaping. Lucky for you to get them for free, we've had to haul rocks from Halquist out in Sussex.

As far as the border, I would do soft curves. You can go symmetrical, with the inset in the middle and the bump outs on each corner, or you can change it up a bit. You might also want to consider your long term goal - if you'd ever want to expand that border around the entire perimeter of your yard. What style and color is your house, is it symmetrical or asymmetrical? You could choose plants with blooms that match accent colors on your house, for example, if you had red shutters, incorporate red flowers in your landscaping. You could do the elevated planting bed along the trees, and then a planting bed level with grade the remainder of your yard. Honestly, I get a lot of my ideas just perusing garden magazines or pics on the web (my winter research, LOL). One of my favorite books is The Welcoming Garden by Gordon Hayward (recommended by another gardenweb member).

I don't know if this applies to you as I'm not familiar with limestone or whether it has a natural grain to it, but it's good to install them with the grain of the rock parallel with the ground, as you would find it in it's natural environment. I installed some small rock boulders along a hedge I have, the grain in the rock is very visible, so I made sure the grain is parallel with grade, it looks better that way. I'd also recommend burying the bottom tier by 1/3, rather than just setting the rocks on top of the ground - it will give the appearance that it's been there for awhile.

I included a link below, something I came across perusing the web, but it might give you some ideas on how you want to shape your beds. I don't particularly care for the way some of the rock is laid, I think the stand alone rose bed in one of the pictures needs more soil added to it, but I'm picky about how I do things and I'd have soil all the way to the top tier...LOL.

As far as your roses, I am not familiar with carpet roses and by no means am I a rose expert. What I was told by the nursery was to bury the crown for the winter on my climber roses, and wrap the canes in burlap. Still, even with that, my Don Juan and Sombreuil die back to the ground each year. This winter, I did that, and also hid them under large concrete planters, so we'll see how they've fared come April. I love white and red roses, but I've switched to some of the hardier pinks that I'm familiar with for our zone, this is just too much work! There are some reds hardy here, but I decided against either because they were a one time bloomer, too thorny, I don't remember the exact reasons. Anyway, I was told to protect the roses once temps hit a consistent 25 degrees, and then uncover mid April, cut off any damaged/dead canes, fertilize only until July, and absolutely no pruning after July as it doesn't have time to harden off for the winter. I fertilize mine with the 3 in 1 rose systemic, for disease protection, still I've had blackspot on Don Juan and Sombreiul with our humid summers. The only thing I did with William Baffin this winter was bury the crown, as I was told it shouldn't need winter protection. I'll do the same with New Dawn. This year, anything that dies back to the ground will find a new home. So, I have no idea if any of this info applies to carpet roses, but the rose forum is very helpful.

Also, I was going to tell you if you purchase Sedum Autumn Joy or Autumn Fire, if you have patience, you shouldn't need to purchase more than one plant. The second year, one eye will multiply profusely to maybe 10 eyes or more, and you can divide them into as many plants. I gave one eye to my neighbor, and the next year it was HUGE (she amended her soil with composted manure). You can also cut the tips back until mid July for a bushier plant and more flowerheads in the fall. They do well in dry soil.

This is probably more than enough information, but I'm so over winter and can't wait to get back into my garden! I'm such a garden addict I find myself studying others' landscaping, thinking how I'd alter it if I had the opportunity. Lol. Does everyone else do that?

I'd be interested to hear how your carpet roses fared our winter.

Do you have any pics of your yard you could post?

Here is a link that might be useful: Examples of curved borders

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 1:21PM
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where do you live exactly?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 6:53PM
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Northwest side. Where are you?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 8:12PM
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Since our patio is so close to the spruces what do people normally do to make a better looking patio design? It's so hard to make a call since the spruces are 1 foot away from our 10x10 patio. We were just thinking of sticking to the basics.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2010 at 7:05PM
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Look at leucothoe for a perennial choice.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2010 at 5:42AM
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Here is some pics of how close our patio is to the street we live next to along with the blue spruces. Let me know your thoughts on what patio design would be the best for us.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 12:54PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

With the photo showing that the house and patio are more contemporary in feeling, I would suggest that new plantings between the patio and trees be one bold stroke in mass, and either something biggish and showy in bloom such as the Hydrangea, or a row of the Euonymus alata or something like a Miscanthus, maybe a row of 8 or 9. Against the house you might use two rows of massed shrubs or perennials with

height;one taller row against the wall, and another lower row of carpet roses or similar low spreading in front. That limestone rock could be laid up as a freestanding seat/wall 18 inches tall by thick by maybe 6 or 7 feet long, at the middle of these house side plantings adjacent the lawn, or at one side of the patio to contrast with the pavings. If you didn't want to mortar a wall, staking it as a straight curb would also have more relation to the house's style.I think the house and tree placement are calling for a modernist/minimalist approach to other plantings. Your fellow
Wisconsin gardener has probably given you a lot of climate appropriate plants to choose from. I wouldn't dare try to suggest plants for your city, gardening in a zone 10 climate, but many of the suggested plants are also grown here in San Francisco.

It is a very cool looking space already with the trees nicely sized to give some privacy, but the character of privacy at ground level just from the trees won't last forever. The photos definitely made it more interesting to take a look at your garden.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2010 at 11:33PM
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Our issue is space and what we could do around our patio. Do you think adding 1 foot of mulch around our patio and then adding the limestone rocks spaced out 8-10 inches apart would look ok? Should we add some perennials around the patio also or only alongside our house?

also, how would we be able to make a seat wall using the limestone rocks? I like the idea....

when you say "between the patio and trees be one bold stroke in mass, and either something biggish and showy in bloom such as the Hydrangea, or a row of the Euonymus alata or something like a Miscanthus, maybe a row of 8 or 9"

the only problem I see is when the blue spruces grow closer to the patio they would destroy anything in between them.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2010 at 9:56PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I can't see your photos at the moment, though I was able to look at them briefly yesterday, so I'm working from memory a bit here... but you're right that there is a space issue. But I think what Bahia is saying is that this is not necessarily a steady state. It never is, in close proximity with trees, because they grow and change. Isabella basically described the process in the first response on this thread. Bottom line is that the spruces will not function as an effective screen at ground level forever. You're enjoying the best years of that planting now.

So basically, for now your plan of putting down mulch and some arrangement of rocks will probably make a satisfactory punctuation for the trees and separation from the patio. And they may very well grow in width at ground level for some time yet, making this the smartest solution in any case (likely overgrowing the patio). There is, mind you, a difference between something that "looks OK" and something that is sparkling design, and I think that would be the difference between a few spaced rocks and something built of the same stone like a low wall that you could sit on or a series of pillars or something, but obviously time and effort are issues to be taken into consideration, not to mention preference maybe for something simpler, to which everyone has a right. Oh, and that you only have so many rocks, if I understand correctly.

Myself, I'd try to make the arrangement look a little creative, maybe a cluster here and there with a small group of plants, other plants with individual rocks. Likely nothing mathematical... but like I say, I can't access the pictures at the moment.

What you might like to be ready for, though, depending on how long you plan to be in this house, is when the bottom branches start to thin and die off. You can't shear them back into sprouting new growth, re-sprouting from dead wood is just not something spruces do. You might even need to cut the branches to preserve space on the patio. At that point, it would be an idea to establish plantings along the lines of what Bahia has suggested, because the spruces will not provide any privacy from the road at the ground, and some undergrowth will be required. But, undergrowth is not always easy to establish or maintain within the root zone of large trees - and make no mistake, those spruces plan to grow large, so they have the roots to sustain that.

All of which is to say that the privacy planting may need to be rejuvenated at some point, either by replacing the spruces or substantially underplanting them to the extent that their roots will allow. And at that point, I think you will see the rationale for what Bahia has described.


    Bookmark   March 18, 2010 at 10:07AM
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thanks karinl....

so do you agree that it's not a good idea to make a deck back there or do anything major since the spruces are going to grow into the patio?

For privacy....Is it a good idea to maybe put some Arborvitaes around the patio or is that a bad idea? Can you post a link to what you mean by making a stone seat wall with the rocks that I have? I have alot of limestone rocks by the way, big and small.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2010 at 9:40PM
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karinl, you should now be able to see the pictures....let me know what you think....Also, notice how the spruces are planted on the aerial view. The previous owner had to plant them parallel to the street vs parallel to the home so look at how much space we lost because of that. Any ideas on if I should leave the spruces to the right the way they are or should I replace and move them? Also, notice how there is 1 spruce missing in the middle. Before we moved here a car hit it and damaged the spruce so they had to knock it down. I planted a baby spruce there, but it's taking a very long time to fill in the space. Behind the spruces what do you recommend I plant? Arborvitaes or how about karl foerster grass?

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 11:26AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I can now see the pictures, thanks. The aerial view really does add an interesting dimension.

There are many options here, but they depend on what your objectives are for the property and what needs you have of this space, and then what other possibilities you have for meeting those needs. For example, it looks as if that patio might represent the only outdoor seating space you have so you want to make the most of it. If that's what you want to do, you can start a replacement program for the spruces to move the line of trees further away to make this space bigger and more appealing. Or, you can create a new seating area on the other side of the house by planting a hedge or building a fence, putting in new trees, building a pergola, or what have you, in the big open "front" yard. Although the other side is your "front" yard, I imagine people living on this street do some "back" yard activities there because it must be quieter and more private that the side near the busy road.

How much you do and what you do also depends on what your long term plans are, whether you plan to sell in the near future and just want one good summer out of this patio, or whether you might be there for 20 years and want to take the time to create the kind of space you want.

For me, I think I would do some combination of the two objectives I mentioned, but you might also have others:

Plant, on the road side of the spruces, something that can grow into a replacement barrier, either new spruces if they work for you, or something completely different. In fact, that might have been why the POs planted the spruce where they did - there may have been an even older hedge closer to the road when they did so. Given that a car has come off that road, you probably don't ever want to be entirely without some protection. Once the new barrier grows in (and you'll have to water it some through the first couple of summers), some or all of the spruce can be removed to enlarge the back yard, and then you can create a garden there with some of the suggestions made above. Obviously, the thinner the specimens you choose (arbs vs. spruces!), the bigger a yard you'll have.

Plant or build in the front yard to create some privacy, shade, and space to be outside. Put pathways in to enable people to get from various doors to these spots.

All of this goes beyond the question of what to do with your rocks to the overall issue of long term property management, and one reason it has done so is that those spruces are not going to stay within their footprint for long. That baby tree is still growing slowly, but there comes a point in the growth of big trees where they seem to just swallow everything around them (a bit like teenage boys).

As well, it's tough to make any recommendations about what to do with the rocks as we don't know your taste, your skill level at rock work, or your physical capacity to move them around. In addition, having not seen the rocks we don't know whether they lend themselves easily to wall building. But you've said you want to stick to the basics, and so laying them on the ground in a pleasant curve is probably your best bet, or even a line since the trees are, after all, in a line.

As for plant recommendations, I rarely make them for other people because taste is so personal, plus I don't know your climate.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 12:36PM
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I live in Milwaukee, WI.

The reason the spruces were planted parallel to the street is because if they go over the lot line and onto the city's property the city has the right to remove them at anytime. So I think the old owner was trying to be safe. A few tree companies came over and they actually told me to leave the spruces the way that they are because #1 they are a great screen for privacy and bad weather, #2 I don't have too much room behind them. We pan on living here for a long time actually. So you don't think planting anything behind the spruces is a good idea, likes hostas or karl foerster grass?

I don't like Pergola's because after time they have to be treated, wood rots, we have bad weather and it would take a direct hit....

For privacy on the right side of my home where the spruces come close should I plant a few Arborvitaes or would that look weird since there would be no Arborvitaes on the left side?

As far as the rocks I can move them around easily. Right now they are in a straight line.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2010 at 1:06PM
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