Blue Spruce (Picea Pungens) Problem

silverOwlJune 13, 2014

This is my first time posting on this forum so hopefully I'm doing it in the right area etc, I tried googling for this problem but I'm having trouble coming across anything, maybe I'm just not finding the right way of phrasing it. I'm hoping someone has some advice about my blue spruce I have. It was originally sent to my dad by the arbor day foundation as a freebie, but he didn't want it so he gave it to me. Unfortunately he left it in the bag it came in for like a week or two before even mentioning it to me (he's not a plant person), and it looked like the whole thing was going to die by the time I got it as the whole thing at that point was yellow. That having been said I planted it in a container anyways for the time being to see if it might come around and maybe a month or so later, while a huge majority of the tree looks like it died, two of the branches turned green and sprouted out new little things. My question is I guess, is it going to balance itself out? Do I chop off the dead branches/will that make it grow new ones or are the two branches it has the only ones it will ever have (in which case will it even grow into a tree?). The center branch/stem was one of the ones that looks like it died (the green behind it is a separate branch). I'm going to attempt to attach a picture for reference.

This post was edited by silverOwl on Fri, Jun 13, 14 at 15:40

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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Hmm. You *MIGHT* have some luck cutting everything off except that branch in the left, then staking it straight to grow a new leader.

It had a poor form anyway before it died back - why would a Picea have all those branches like a shrub unless it was a dwarf cultivar? Which seems unlikely coming from Arbor Day.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 2:35PM
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Yeah I thought it looked odd as well since my first impression was that it's a dwarf of some sort, but the paper it came with (because they sent my dad this and two lilac's along with a pamphlet and a sheet of paper specifically about the plants they sent), says it's supposed to be a Colorado Blue Spruce, I'm sure it's possible a mistake could have been made when they were packing them but this isn't my area of expertise so I'm not sure. I have no personal preference either way since it was kind of a rescue mission to begin with and I'll care for it whether it's a tree or shrub, but my knowledge circles more around indoor plants and I wasn't quite sure what I should do here given it's half alive/half dead state it brought itself back to, so any thoughts or suggestions on this is appreciated! =)

This post was edited by silverOwl on Fri, Jun 13, 14 at 15:46

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 3:39PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

It also looks like it's planted too deep. That one branch looks healthy though. If it lives, it will become a new leader and go straight up.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 3:48PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Yes - dig out the potting mix until you see a root collar. Cut off everything but that branch on the left. You can *gently* stake it straight if you want but it's not 100% necessary.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 4:41PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

even better.. just throw it away

ADay sends horrible stock [crikey,.. it has 3 leaders] .. dad tortured it.. and i am going to recommend you spend another 10 bucks on it.. at a min ...

first.. trees do not thrive in pots .. [strike one]

trees do not prosper in the high peat media you have it in ... either cut it with half wood chips.. or go buy a giant bag of cactus media ... [strike two]

trees want a sip of water.. and then near total drainage ...[strike 3.. yer out]

then.. unpot.. find the root flare.. and insure that it is a media level ... it should be at least 3 to 6 inches below the branches you now have under the media ...

frankly.. its not worth the cost ... IMHO

but you have fun trying.. its how you learn things.. by experimenting ... just dont go spending more money.. than it would take to replace this FREE plant ... lol ...


    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 6:44PM
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Thanks mike and hairmetal! I think I'll try that.

Ken - I'm not exactly sure how to respond to your post, honestly I'm finding it a little condescending, but maybe that's just how it's reading across the internet as someone that doesn't know you. =) But in responds to your "strikes", firstly, I know trees do not thrive in pots (although as I've understood, technically it can be done with the right media/care/proper drainage, even if this would cause it to not grow to full size), as I said in my initial post I put it in there for the time being to see if it would even survive at all as we a: weren't sure where in the yard we would put a tree that would grow as big as it can and we wanted to figure out the best spot for it, and b: we didn't want to dig up the yard if it wasn't going to make it in the first place.
Secondly, I'm not sure what gave the impression it's in a high peat media, it's actually not. It's in a homemade blend of mostly pine bark fines in which I added a bit extra perlite to in order to aid a little with the drainage.
Thirdly, the particular pot it's in has extra holes drilled into it for added drainage as well, because I was aware that fast drainage was important even if this was just a temporary place for it.
If it's useful to know the root flare is only about 2 inches below the surface (maybe that's another indicator that it's some kind of dwarf cultivar?), I planted it a little deeper than normal as it was very floppy/wilted when I got it and it helped it stay more structured, again figuring that if it survived I would be re-potting it into the yard at a normal level at that point anyways.

Either way, I'm quite happy to keep it for as long as it's alive, but thanks for the suggestion that I just throw it out. =)

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 2:54PM
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I checked the website and the only picea they sell is the species dwarf cultivars or shrubs. It should have not come with multiple leaders. Removing them is something typically done in the nurseries where they are growing as preparation for sales. It costs money to do preparatory pruning. They didn't, so you can. If they'd all been healthy, I would have still recommended you picked the best one and remove the others. Since only two are viable, that makes the choice easy. Whack the rest and then repot it to it's proper level in the planting mix to re-establish the root flare. I suspect it has a very good chance to grow into a typical tree if you just clean it up and get it in the soil somewhere if/when the root growth is sufficient to sustain it. That's an whole other ball of wax, especially with this source.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 3:50PM
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There is something very "off" about this little tree :-)

First, spruces simply do not grow in this fashion -- with multiple, vertical growing shoots/leaders. A seedling spruce should look like any other seedling with a single shoot (trunk) emerging from the soil and the beginning of branches or side shoots coming off of that. This looks very much like multiple seedlings planted in the same hole.

After the trauma it's already been through, I hate to suggest it but I'd investigate the roots and see if that is really the case. If so, I'd recommend getting rid of all but the strongest one (far left side?) to reduce any possible competition......all the others all look pretty dead anyway 'cept for one in back :-))

The root flare must be no deeper than the soil surface, preferably slightly above. And this pertains to even a temporary planting situation. If too floppy, consider some temporary staking but do NOT plant too deeply, ever.

And watch about overwatering. Hard to judge correctly in a container situation but avoid too moist soil or watering too frequently. OTOH, don't allow to dry out completely.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 3:55PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

That's multiple seedlings in a pot. I should know... I've potted thousands of seedlings that size over the years for grafting.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 4:39PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

I think it's branches from a whorl that lost it's leader and now the branches are vying for apical dominance.
It's planted too deep.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 6:18PM
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I suspected trauma early in the seedling stage too, and weak or lack of apical dominance allowing axillary branches to compete. Never considered multiple seeds but Dax oughta know. Inspecting the roots should answer that one. It's not all that unusual for mass planted conifers to have more that one leader. I've seen enough manuals advising you correct that situation when planting to assume that anyway. This should have never been shipped. Really. I ordered two seckel pears from them once. They were really not that much cheaper on their fruit stock than any other mail order source, so figured if you paid full price on them, they'd be satisfactory. The trees shot up beautifully and produced little callery nubbins. Man, I was P'd. All the time involved to get them to fruiting size.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 8:51PM
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