What to do with huge old Norwegian Spruce

dave11October 28, 2010

The back edge of my property contains a huge Norwegian Spruce, that still has its lowest branches, which span 20 feet in all directions (40 foot diameter), taking up a huge amount of space in my backyard. It does however serve to add a lot of privacy, as the front yard of a neighbors house is on the other side of the tree. Here's a pic looking from the back of the house:

The pic doesn't really show how huge the tree base is. Didn't have anything handy to give it scale.

Here's a second photo looking from an angle. You can see part of the neighbor's house behind the tree:

To the left of the tree is what looks like a blue spruce, which sits more forward.

The Norwegian Spruce sits entirely on my side of the line, but it and the Blue Spruce take up a lot of space. My choices are:

1. Cut it down and start over. This gives up a lot of privacy for a while.

2. Limb it up to reclaim some space, though not much is going to grow there due to the shade made by the two trees, though they do face south. I wouldn't give up as much privacy if I just limbed them up on my side, and left the far side down the ground where it is now, though I've never done that before, and wonder if it might look funny.

3. Leave it, and plant some other junipers etc in front of them, and forget about reclaiming the space.

Appreciate any comments.

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Hard to say. From the pictures, it's a bit difficult to see just how much of your real estate is actually eaten up. I have more than enough spruce that size, most of which have never needed limbing. Consequently, I do understand ground sweep.

I just look at it as ground I don't need to do anything with. What would you do with any reclaimed space other than revel at having reclaimed space? What's privacy from the neighboring property worth to you?

I wouldn't routinely do any limbing unless the branches were dead and bare. I do garden beneath the spruce I've had to have limbed though and find the soil underneath easy to work with after decades of needle drop. Perennials and assorted shrubs do quite well.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 12:54PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Yes, the key question is whether you need the space and if so for what. If you need to park an RV or want to put in a patio, and it won't fit unless you remove the tree well OK, you need the space (not that I'm promoting RV parking rather than trees or anything). If all you're going to do is fill it up with junipers, well, the tree looks better than junipers would (and I love junipers, really) and is a heck of a lot less work. Plus, there are probably some birds calling that Norway home, so in other ways besides privacy I think the tree (with skirt) adds more to your yard than junipers would.

So unless there are other problems you haven't shared, and if you have more space than you're showing here, I'd be inclined to keep.


    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 11:46PM
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Based upon the area of a circle, that tree is taking up at least 900 square feet of my yard. The rest of the backyard is about 9,000SF, but I want to add on a deck, and a gazebo out away from the house, and some beds, so much of that 9000 SF is going to go away.

Even so, I could leave the Norway Spruce, but it is a huge lone tree back there, and looks out of place, at least to me. It is hard to come up with a cohesive landscape plan with one giant tree dominating the view. The Norway looks okay, but it's certainly no show piece.

I never meant that I would replace it with junipers. I said if I leave the Norway, I might plant more Junipers at its base, to try to soften its appearance. But if I removed the tree, and the blue spruce beside it, I would move the line back 35 feet or so, closer to the property line, and fill it in with evergreens more in the 15-20 foot height range. Canadian Hemlock, maybe. That would look a lot better.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 9:19AM
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I'm a little confused.......unless you have already removed a lot of other vegetation, the spruce is certainly not a "lone" tree in that location. In fact, it looks quite natural in that grouping of other trees, both conifers and deciduous species, and does seem to provide a nice amount of privacy screening.

I admit it is a bit tricky to judge proper scale with just a photo, but it seems you may be over-estimating the ground eating impact of this single specimen. 9000sf is a LOT of backyard (typical urban lot sizes here are only around 6000sf, total) and should allow plenty of room for you to include a patio and other features and still enjoy the spruce and the privacy screening it provides.

As to limbing up -- sure it can be done but keep in mind the picture of how that tree would look limbed up. Some conifers just look better with this treatment than others. Here in the land of enormously tall naturally occurring conifers, like Doug firs, limbing up is a pretty common practice. But for trees with growth habits that include gracefully cascading branches, like the spruce or our western red cedars, this results in a look a lot like a little girl in a new party dress -- a too obvious expanse of bare legs with a flouncy skirt above. Not a great look. At least for trees :-)

FWIW, Canadian or eastern hemlocks will get a lot taller than 15-20 feet and will eventually develop a habit not unlike that of the spruce. Essentially all you will be accomplishing is the same situation, possibly just a bit closer to the prop line. Plus, they are plagued by adelgids across much of the eastern half of the country. And removing the spruce and replacing with new trees will obviously create some privacy issues, however temporary.

My suggestion would be to leave it be and work around it.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 11:03AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

OK, so you do want the space. The loss of privacy is going to be the trade-off, and only you can decide it it's worth it.

One of the most important things in managing a treescape is the ability to think ahead. That always makes it clear that someday, the tree will be taken down, and then the question is, if not now, then when? And if not for this reason, then why? And finally, what will I lose, and what will I do to compensate?

What will the other trees in the vicinity be doing in the foreseeable future, with or without the Norway? Perhaps they can be depended on to fill the gap it leaves, once it's no longer blocking them.

If you think far enough ahead, in fact, you know that eventually each of those trees will be taken down by you or a future owner. If you don't want them all to have to go at once, or within 5 years of each other, the process does have to be staggered. And of course, new trees planted, perhaps better ones or in better spots, to ensure that there will already be replacement stock in the ground and a reasonable size when you take down the biggest ones, so you never have a moonscape.

If you want the space, and you're considering removal, then the half-limbing up you've suggested is not so bad; it's just like doing some of the tree removal in advance. It will look odd - the inside of a tree is not beaurtiful! - but might work for a few years - you can plant or build something to block the view of the bare branches if it bothers you.

Or, take it all down now and move on with replanting. If the replacement stock has to be in the same place as the original, there's only one sequence of events that works.


    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 12:33PM
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Can you give us an idea of what height something would need to be to block the view of your neighbors house and provide privacy?

That point really effects my opinion on the subject.

If something needs to be 15 feet, you could certainly create a berm and gain 4-5 feet of height which would increase your options. Arborvite or wichita juniper could cover that view in a couple of years if you start with a large specimen.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 12:59PM
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To answer drtygrl's question, the height of a replacement screen would only need to be 15 feet. The area behind the Norway is wooded, though part of my neighbor's front yard cuts right across it, so some sort of screen is required.

Thanks for the opinions so far. I'm thinking them over.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 9:46PM
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If it was my yard I would take down the tree. Just my opinion. Its only going to get bigger, take up more room I would get rid of the blue spruce too and plant a nice screen that takes less space. We had a "screen" of 15 spruces in our yard (we have 15 acres, 10 acres of meadow - so 15 spruces were a supposed wind break) I had them all taken down and no one misses them. Our yard seems so much more expansive, they were no really serving to improve the wind situation so I am really happy with the decision. We have another area of 6 spruces that does serve as a wind break protecting the driveway and I have left those. Just saying that I dont hate spruce.lol :)

    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 10:29AM
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