Should I remove lower branches from overgrown Spruce? (pics)

jb_nj(7)November 27, 2008

I have a large Bluce Spruce in my backyard that the previous owner probably should never have planted in this location and then let it go. It is now growing into everything around it: patio, barbecue, steps, pathway, retaining wall.

I would like to simply remove it and plant something more appropriate for the location, but it does provide a lot of privacy and my wife loves the tree.

As an alternative, I am considering removing the lower branches to about 7 feet high to allow for people to walk under/around it more easily. I have a fence that provides privacy up to that height. I know this is probably considered heresey, but I can't think of any other options.

Any thoughts?

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If those are the two choices, limb it up rather than destroy it.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 12:13PM
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Know any place that needs a really large Christmas tree?

    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 12:41PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

I agree with LKZ. I don't like the look of limbed up spruces, in general, but that's MY opinion, and if it's otherwise healthy and provides privacy, so you want to keep it...., then go for it! You may find that for comfortable walking, you need to take limbs off to provide a clearance under them of 8-9', as the lower height may feel too claustrophobic.

I REALLY wish people would consider the eventual height of trees, and not just see the little one- to five-gallon specimen that they are planting. I know how easy it is to succumb to the "syndrome" - I've been guilty myself, and had to move something, but....

I will admit to being guilty of intentionally planting a silver maple in a location that will be too close to the house, but I wanted relatively quick shade, and intend to remove it in 2-3 years when the other, slower-growing trees I planted at a better distance have gotten large enough to give shade, so don't feel too guilty.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 12:42PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Limb it up five feet, then see what's what.
You can always remove more, later.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 1:47PM
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Personally, I'd leave it as it is, and move the patio, barbecue, steps, pathway, etc. ;-)

It won't hurt the retaining wall, and it also isn't likely to get any significantly wider now than it already is; older Blue Spruces have ± cylindrical crowns, constant width for most of their height and then just a short conical top.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 3:34PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Same as with a living room Christmas tree young conical conifers growing in the landscape are not appealing perched on a section of bare trunk. This is a pretty good looking specimen now. It will not be if you strip it up.

A free and adequate branch spread down to ground level is to be desired, but for this, adequate light should reach the whole tree and the immediate surround must be kept free of shrub growth, etc. It is important to growth them well from the seedling or transplant stage for the best results

--Brown/Kirkham, The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers (2004, Timber Press, Portland, Cambridge)

Yours is a fairly handsome specimen and has taken years to develop. It "makes" the scene in the view shown and is being used to provide a private area for barbecuing. Cutting it down or spoiling it by cutting the bottom branches off will not improve the setting in any way.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 3:38PM
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terrene(5b MA)

That is a beautiful tree, I too would be hesitant to do anything to it and would first consider moving the grill, pathway or edge of patio before doing anything to this tree. Too bad it wasn't sited well for your yard.

One of my neighbors has drastically limbed up all his Spruce trees, about 10-15 feet up, even the trees that are growing with plenty of space around them. IMO it looks terrible, not to mention that he has severely weakened some of these trees by removing approx half the foliage. It hurts my eyes to look the trees in his yard. Seven feet will still look weird, but I suppose it's better then cutting it down.

Here's are a couple pics of what my neighbor's trees look like - he has limbed up a large Colorado Blue Spruce in the front yard, pretty high up as well as misc. other Spruces.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 10:17AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I've seen the term "Calgary Palm" used for trees so treated.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 12:48PM
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From experience, Spruces that are limbed up are more attractive for tree climbing though. Its hard to get in one that has limbs all the way to the ground. Just a perspective from a non-lanscaping viewpoint .

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 1:19PM
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picea(6A Cinci- Oh)

I would move the grill forward and trim back the tree near the walkway and steps. If you trim it back and end up with a few brown/bare areas it doesn't look like you would see it from the patio or other side of the fence. Since spruce spread wider slowly it would a long time, if ever, for it to cover a significant part of the patio.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 8:47PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

Go ahead and trim the branches up. Spruce look good either way. I like them reaching all the way to the ground, but they also look good in other situations where you need some clearance. Whatever you do, though, don't go nearly as high as the ones in Terrene's pictures. Those are bordering on obscene.

As the tree and limbs continue to grow, they gradually bend downwards from the weight, so you'll eventually be removing the lowest branches anyway as they'll be laying flat on the ground and/or dying from lack of light as higher droopy ones shade them too much. I've had to prune a number of spruce trees up a bit to allow uniform sprinkler coverage in our local cemetery. During the process, it looks a bit funny since the tree didn't look like it used to, but you quickly get used to it and the tree looks more cared for. What I've done is raise the level of the branches a couple feet, then come back a few months to a year later and do a few more so as to keep the foliage and trunk in balance. You want to avoid the look of half trunk and half tree, so cut off the lowest branches and raise them up about 2 feet. Take a look at if for a few days, then trim some more and go another couple feet. Then go again in a few more days. This will give you time to see whether the trimming is changing the appearance of the tree in a way you don't like and let you stop if that is the case and in a short period of time the growing, drooping branches will make it look like you had never pruned.

When in the open as a specimen tree or where used as a privacy/dust screen, branches all the way to the ground look good. In a closer area or near a building, I think they look better trimmed up a bit as it opens up the space, can be used to add additional elements of interest (ferns, etc.) and deters unwanted elements by reducing hiding areas.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 1:20AM
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Personally I don't see it as that bad, and it won't get that much wider, as said, because the branches droop more the heavier they get. The side towards the fence may look bad over time thou. If you start removing branches you will find some of the branches look kinda half dead when the lower branches are removed, and it will never look perfect however much you cut off. The lower branches kind of hold up the upper branches. The large Blue Spruce I have some branches at 8 feet high that droop down to almost ground level, so you would have to trim up branches quite high to walk under them on the path. I removed the lower branches on mine because so many of the branches were dead or very bad looking because they had been shaded by other bushes/ weed trees.

On the other hand, isn't it normal for large Spruce in nature to lose their lower branches? Of course in nature in happens over the years and looks more natural. How often would you actually come across a large wild Spruce that has kept a uniform shape to the ground?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 5:46PM
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Move averything that is around the tree DONT TRIM THE LOWER BRANCHES. Move the path a bit - thats easy as its just pavers. Move the grill a bit. To keep the tree at this size so it wont grow any bigger clip all the new candles and you can keep the tree at this size and you wont lose the privacy. If you clip the lower 7 feet you will lose that privacy....

If you must you could trim a bit by the gate if its a problem using that - but no need to trim the entire circumference!

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 10:29PM
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i need to limb up bottom branches because of the deer tearing some of them up so do i go just a couple of feet or go on up to about 4-5 shaines

    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 5:44PM
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pinetree30(Sierra Westside)

I had the same problem with a blue spruce in front of my house. The lower limbs overgrew the sidewalk and made it hard for passersby, as well as dumping snow on the walk. It was growing surrounded by lawn, so I pruned it to about 6 feet so I could walk under it with a mower. I was very satisfied with the result, and I think it's ridiculous to be a purist to the point of letting a space-hog like a blue spruce dominate your life and activities. The crown keeps adding length at the top, and the bare trunk becomes less and less conspicuous over time.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 6:31PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Beeone - I don't think they're "bordering" on obscene, they ARE obscene.

And not only is it terrible for the trees, but look at what can happen when one limbs up their evergreens too much. We had heavy snow and winds this winter. Took out one of the neighbor's trees. Fortunately, it fell against the next tree, and didn't cause any damage to the landscape (or their house).

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 10:44AM
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ctlady_gw(z6 CT)

Another vote for leaving it alone. Our neighbors at our old house "trimmed" the bottom (up to about 8 feet so they could install a privacy fence) of our magnifcent Colorado spruces (said they "thought" they were their trees ... though of course it should have been obvious to anyone that the trees were a good 8-10 feet inside our property line) The result was disastrous and in the remaining 10+ years I was in the house, I wanted to cry every time I saw it. You will regret it, I can almost guarantee... and once those limbs are gone, they're gone. No changing your mind. I'd move everything else I could and if you REALLY feel you have to limb up to the height of your fence, then I'd take the tree down and put in something appropriate to your needs. That's a magnificent specimen that you're lucky to have, even if it is (I agree) in the wrong place. Treasure it and live with a little inconvenience when you grill.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 12:59PM
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Don't forget, that tree is still a baby.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 1:32AM
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rooftop_rose(Harajuku, Tokyo)

Great thread. I like the second picture. The blue shows better and it is a nice tree. Spruces will lose their lower limbs eventually won't they? The ones in the wild do, but I know it will take years. The pictures of the neighbor with limbed up spruces look terrible though. Maybe 8 feet would be better.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 8:36AM
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"Spruces will lose their lower limbs eventually won't they? The ones in the wild do, but I know it will take years"

That happens when the low branches are shaded out by other trees. In the open, they'll stay live down to ground level, though they will grow much more slowly, and also droop more under their weight - the result is that tree in the photos won't get any significantly wider at the base than it is now.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 6:10PM
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naturalstuff(Z6 / CT)

Just do a couple lower branches. I hate the look of the bare trunk then the branches up top.

I did a couple low ones only because cars have a hard time seeing the cars come around the corner.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 9:02PM
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picea(6A Cinci- Oh)


The Picea Orientalis in Spring Grove Cemetary/Arboretum in Cincinnati don't seem to lose their lower branches to the same degree as other spruces. What have you seen on your side of the pond or the wild?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2009 at 9:47PM
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Hi Picea - good point, in cultivation at least Picea orientalis does seem to keep its low branches better in shade than at least some (? many) other spruces. It does lose them in plantation conditions though, like any other spruce. I've not seen it in the wild so can't comment there.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 4:35AM
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rooftop_rose(Harajuku, Tokyo)

Thanks Pineresin, I see. The latest picture is not bad though I'd prefer a narrower base.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 5:51AM
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I say leave it the y it is.I can never understand why people plant any sort of pine tree and then when the tree finally gets big enough to give them the privecey [sp] they wanted,they trim them up.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 9:13AM
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Personally I think spruces look stupid when they are pruned several feet up the trunk. I wouldn't take off any more than the bottom 2 or 3 feet. I did this to a norway spruce in my front yard, kind of similar to a previous post and it looks pretty good. Just got the messy branches off the ground.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 1:48PM
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