How do you trim a blue sprue without a bucket truck?

nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)February 15, 2013

The middle of our blue spruce is starting to grow out and shade the lower branches and it looks like the upper part could be doing the same thing soon. How can I trim it back to it's proper pyramidal shape once again? Would the branches be stiff enough for a pole saw to work? Thanks

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

how old is this conifer???

any chance at a picture ????

there is a definitive age.. where picea pungens.. simply start to go downhill ... i wonder if yours is there ...

ken

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 9:05AM
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WxDano(5b-2a-6/7)

Impossible to say without pictures.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 10:14AM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Sorry about that. Just bought the house so not sure how old they are. I'll post some better pics tomorrow afternoon but here is one crappy pic from the listing.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 7:36PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I might change my mind with more pictures or if I was there in person, but so far it looks like removal of the "wayward" co-leader would leave you with a large gap and might not really correct the problem anyway. Any chance of getting in there and trying to see what's happening with the other, more-central co-leader?

The split leader situation might make for a less structurally sound trunk, especially with snow load. It might also not be what you'd hoped for aesthetically, but I don't think you could call it "improper" and I don't think it would likely have any other negative effects on the tree.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 7:55PM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

These are actually the healthier of the 4 trees. I'll post two pictures of the two in question tomorrow. The bottom of the tree looks like it's starting to die off because the middle branches are hanging down over the lower ones. I was wondering if I prune them back so it has it's "original" shape if it would rejuvenate the bottom branches.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 9:10PM
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poaky1

Is there any chance that what looks like 2 leaders is actually part of another conifer in the back yard? I know it looks like it is all that front tree, but just making sure. I a have 2 tall Colorado spruces just like those 2 you have, but am not sure why you think they need pruning, they look normal to me, besides what appears to be a double leader. I would get rid of the 2nd leader and leave well enough alone. They (as far as I know) are naturally grown with lower branches as they are in the picture.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 2:00AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the one on the left is ABOUT 20 years old ...

its simple..

JUST GET RID OF THEM..

and plant your own mistakes..

and move in 19 years ... lol

they are planted too close to the house ... actually they werent sited to bad.. its just that being trees ... they filled up that tiny front yard ...

ken

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 7:51AM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Poaky - as I said these two are the healthier ones, they don't really need trimming. The other two are very unhealthy looking on the bottom which is why I thought trimming would help. Once it's light out I'll get some pics up. And it's definitely two leaders but I'm ok w/ it.

Ken - I actually like how close they are the house. We regularly get 70+ mph winds since we're in the devils thumb area in Boulder. Actually they're gusting to 70 right now, so it's nice to have a windbreak.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 8:45AM
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WxDano(5b-2a-6/7)

What can happen to the lower branches is there is some burn from irrigation/fertilization and the needles start to turn and drop. My wife's old house was built in a neighborhood of similar age, and she had a similar tree situation (sadly, the spruce was on the south side of the house). She limbed up about 4 feet to eliminate the issue and give a little visual room.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 9:58AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

I saw a lot of rough looking trees in Colorado.

Those look pretty darned good!

Problem is they are fairly close together so eventually some of the lower branches will get shaded out by their own success in growing a tree!

Never have I seen anyone successfully thin branches from a conifer stand to help keep the lower branches competitive. Since it seems in theory possible someone, some arboretum with ready access to bucket trucks or climbers, has to have done it. Right?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 10:37AM
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pineresin

They look fine to me. No pruning needed.

Resin

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 11:57AM
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WxDano(5b-2a-6/7)

I agree those trees look pretty good. I agree with resin that there is no need to prune - going back to the OP and 'bucket truck' - this sounds like the recent 'weeping willow' thread where the guy wanted to force a tree to grow into an unnatural shape.

This is how these trees grow. Many people prune them up a bit (right, Ken?) to give more visual room but other than taking out a few of those browning limbs, not much needs to be done. We could surely do with a few of these specimens around here, surely, as tornado wrote.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 12:56PM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Here are the pics of the two trees in question. The two from earlier are in fine shape but were the only pics I had last ngiht. The mid section seems to sag down so far it shades the lower section completely and lower limbs seem to be dying from the inside out. Thought it might help the bottom recover if the branches got some light.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 3:11PM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Closer pic of the interior branches.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 3:15PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

They probably have bugs, the answer to that is controlling the bugs, not damaging the trees additionally with mal-pruning.

Speaking of mal-pruning, they all look like they may have been topped at some point.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 5:59PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i planted a seed... GET RID OF THEM ... it will germinate someday .... and when it does.. feel no guilt ...

whether that is today.. 5 years.. or 10 years.. just start saving money to get rid of them ...

as of right now.. they are no danger to your house.. but have you contemplated.. that the one on the right.. way above.. already failed in your winds.. and that is why it has 2 leaders????? and what about when they are half again.. or twice as big.. they will be falling on the house ... and that isnt cool in my world ...

i would leave them.. study them.. enjoy them.. ignore them..

but do understand.. they will have to go.. whenever you are ready ... with trees.. there is always tomorrow.. as long as they have no potential to kill you in your sleep ... lol ..

and no.. i would enjoy them in their natural form ... once you start inflicted some preconceived notion of your making.. you simply start speeding their decline ...

and part of their natural decline.. is the thinning and browning.. you may be noting ...

do it once.. do it for life.. i have better things to do than get all gooed up.. and sliced to death.. by a pungens ...

if you insist.. there are very specific times.. and goals in pruning such ... and since i dont want you to do it.. i am not going to tell you how.. lol ...

good luck.. whatever you decide ....

ken

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 7:54PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I can't imagine regularly getting 70+ mph winds. Although there is a big difference between sustained vs. gusting those wind speeds are approaching category 1 hurricane wind speeds.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 11:17PM
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Dzitmoidonc(6)

Of course the interior of the tree is denuding. The tree is not meant to hold all the needles all the way to the trunk. My advice is to go to a forest where there are Spruce growing. Look at the trees. The branches will only have needles on the ends where the light is best. If you are thinking the tree should be a green cylinder of needles all the way to the trunk, then no tree will match your idea. Enjoy them, they look great.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 2:21AM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Well I guess consensus is just leave them alone so that's what I'll do.

Ken - Thanks for all the advice. I know I will get getting rid of them some day but don't think we need to just yet. Also, that picture seems a little deceiving. Neither tree is more than 10ft about the roof line. I'd like to enjoy for awhile. So would you just not plant any trees in the front yard. What would you recommend for a wind break in a yard this small?

whaas - Yes that is gusts not sustained winds. We're in a really strange pocket of boulder. The winds will usually only last anywhere from 2-6 hrs it seems but they'll be around 60 gusting to 75 is what we've seen about 4 times in Jan and a few times already in feb. Looking at past wind events though it's not unheard of for them to reach 100mph and they've reached 130 before.

Dzit - I know it's not going to be green to the trunk I just thought it looked like the lower branches were dying off and some pruning might be beneficial. Apparently not. Thanks again everyone!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 8:26AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

one last thought...

there is one dutch guy in the conifer forum.. who doesnt hang out in this forum.. that i recall

he may be able to ID the plant for you.. long shot...

but if these are Picea pungens 'Fat Albert' .. that is its mature NATURAL form ...

and i wouldnt mess with it ... per above ...

perhaps a new post over there.. one pic.. and link them here ... might get a few other opinions.. though many of us hang in both forums ....

i am glad you are hearing what i am saying.. enjoy them ...

as to what i would do when they are gone.. i have no clue.. would have to 'see' the joint sans trees ....

and as to the wind.. i would insulate the house.. and put in new windows ...

you have just moved in...yes??? .. maybe its just winter winds????

ken

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 9:17AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I can't imagine a gust of 130mph. Is that during a precipitation or just a wind storm?

Those gusts are on par with sustained ranges of such deadly and devastating Hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina upon landfall.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 9:33AM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Thanks ken. Working on insulation (since the walls have none) and already have new windows. Considering metal roll down shutters since they seem pretty prevalent here on the west side of homes.

whaas - mostly chinkook winds I believe. We live at the base of the flatirons. The worst winds usually happen in Dec, Jan and Feb it seems. http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/boulder/wind.html

There's a reason they put NCAR here :).

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 9:45AM
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terrene(5b MA)

I don't think the trees look that bad, and I wouldn't remove them either. They will eventually get ridiculously large and dwarf the house, and probably need to be removed. In the meantime they are a privacy and wind screen and provide habitat for lots of birds.

What direction does the front of the house face anyway? How about adding additional windbreak in front of those trees closer to the sidewalk, and by the time you need to remove the big spruce you'll have something that will replace them.

Just because they are spruce doesn't mean they can't be pruned. I would get my 8 foot step ladder out and carefully trim some branches into a nicer shape, and possibly even remove that codominant leader. Study up on pruning conifers with whorled branching first though.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 11:09AM
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WxDano(5b-2a-6/7)

I'm a bit more out on the plains and away from the mountains, but we regularly get hours of winds gusting in 40s out here. I can pretty much count on some newly-transplanted veggies losing at least half their leaves every third year or so. I was successful in getting my wife to stop fluffing the wood chip mulch every month when I got her to go outside and get pelted by wood chips gone airborne in the wind.

Also, you want to make sure that pine gets plenty of water, drag the hose around now. These past two years have been very dry and the mountain pine beetles are very active down here looking for weak trees. I'd be surprised if they haven't tried already. The spruce beetles will be down here in a couple years as well.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 12:25PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Since Bboy's post seems to have gone by without much discussion, I will second what he said about "bugs". Based on only the limited pictures we have above (mainly the last one), I would also think insect damage would be a strong possibility.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 1:38PM
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WxDano(5b-2a-6/7)

I suspect most of the minor insect problems would go away with the passing of the drought (if that is possible any more), some winter watering, and a bit more irrigation in summer.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 3:06PM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

I've watered it twice since we moved in. Once in the fall and once on a 60 degree January day so I'm hoping they do perk up a bit.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 9:11PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

watering trees involves long DEEP watering ... and then near drying..

its all about getting moisture down 6 to 12 inches ... the range where 90% of its roots are ....

and the only way to tell.. is watering.. and digging holes.. and finding out.. and keeping notes ... so you can define how water moves thru your soil ... we cant really tell you about what that means on your property ....

ken

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 7:31AM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Yea, the watering I've got down. Pruning, not so much...

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 7:50AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

One of the biggest aspects of management of spruces (and true firs) is pest and disease issues. This varies regionally, of course, but in my area excessive bald patches like you have are pandemic to Colorado spruce plantings - and are due to infestations of spruce aphids and probably mites as well (these days I mostly see the aphids, myself).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 4:34PM
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WxDano(5b-2a-6/7)

Hereabouts, bboy, the conifer aphids are on the upswing because of several extra-dry (soon to be "normal") years in a row. Extra winter water and supplemental summer irrigation seems to be a good defense against them at this time. Today our gusts are in the 30s and the humidity is in the teens, so easier said than done. And ratty spruces are not a rare sight on the Front Range...

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 5:43PM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Spruce aphids easy enough to spot? Are they on the needles? I've seen plenty of soybean aphids but never spruce aphids.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 8:37PM
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pineresin

Green Spruce Aphid Elatobium abietinum

Resin

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 1:19PM
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pineresin

Close-up

(on Picea sitchensis)

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 1:20PM
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pineresin

Close-up 2

Look on the undersides of the needles

Resin

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 1:21PM
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nobueno(Boulder, CO 5a)

Good to know. Thanks.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 7:40PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

I've seen blue spruce lose needles like your two "bad" trees for several reasons. Shading could be one, but these trees look pretty open to be shading from the branches. If it was, I would just remove the branches as they die because the upper branches will continue to grow outwards, and over time their weight will bend them downwards so the removed branches won't be missed.

I've also seen this as a result of longer term drouth. The solution here is to give them more water and in a wider area. From the picture, it is hard to tell what the ground is like where they are planted, but if it is gravelly or very well drained, give it more water.

Spider mites can cause problems like this, also. Typically I've seen it on trees smaller than yours up to those of your size. They don't seem to bother larger trees as much, and mite infestations often show up in trees under drouth stress first. If you have recurring infestations you can spray for that when they occur.

Finally, I've seen that type of damage--somewhat thin, open branches with needle die-off on trees that were deficient in iron due to high soil pH. However, iron deficient trees also tend to turn a lighter green to yellowish green and the needles will shorten. The color and needle length on your trees looks fine. I would probably just concentrate on removing dead branches and watering well, extending the water out at least 10 feet from the drip line for a tree of this size. Don't keep the trees wet, but water well so that it soaks into the soil a lot further than needed for a lawn, then let the ground dry for a week or so before watering again.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 1:36AM
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