Am I over watering or under watering my Weeping Norway Spruce?

mom2volleyballgirlsMay 7, 2008


I originally posted this on an existing thread about a Weeping Norway Spruce losing its needles, but IÂm not sure anyone saw it. IÂd really appreciate any helpful input. HereÂs the background on my needle-losing Weeping Norway Spruce:

We're in the high desert area of Northern Nevada, zone 3-almost zone 2-very little precipitation year round, usually a little more snow in the cold months than rain in the warmer months, and occassionally very high winds from the southwest. I planted the tree in the late spring of 2006 on the southeast facing side of the house and it receives full sun all day. It's in the same drip irrigation zone as my rose bushes, on an every other day schedule-mandatory water conservation-which we turn off in October before the freeze and turn on again in April right after the thaw. I don't water during the cold months and the Spruce has only been fertilized twice, with Miracle Grow, in the Spring of 2006 and the Spring of 2007. It was fine after it's first winter but this spring most of its needles are turning yellow-brown, despite a lot of great-looking new growth at the tips. Now a very little bit of the new growth is starting to look brownish and it's got me worried.

I feel that I may be either over watering or underwatering but I have no idea which. Can anyone tell me what's wrong? Thank you in advance.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i NEVER fertilize my conifers ... so i would suggest to skip that from now on

i used to grow roses.. maybe gave them an inch or two a day of water ...

conifers need about an inch a month ... they need to nearly dry between waterings... you have to insert your finger to the 2nd knuckle to determine how water moves thru your soil ...

after 2 years.. conifers are free range in my yard.. they fend for themselves except in extreme drought.. and then maybe one extra drink ...

maybe 50% of my conifers suffer winter damage.. and a lot of it doesnt show up until thaw in spring... its like they are in suspension during the cold.. and the warm weather turns them brown ... to some extent or another ...

i have a lot of needle loss during this time ...

but only one thing matters.. did the buds make it through winter ...

if they explode with growth .. they obviously made it ...

so we make it this far.. only to be zapped by late frost or freeze ... killing off the buds ... which is what it sounds like you had ...

all you can do at that point is hold your breath .... and pray ...

odds are.. not every single bud was affected ... and somehow.. some way.. it will pull through ...

without a picture.. thats as far as i can speculate ... cant one of the girls snap a pic with her phone and show you how to post it????

good luck .. its the tough time of year ... to sit and wait ..


    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 3:02PM
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I'd love to know how people are posting images and not just links in this forum. I hope that these links work:

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 11:24PM
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dcsteg(5 Shawnee, KS.)

Hi Mom,

Your Picea abies 'Reflexa' (Weeping Norway Spruce) has encountered some stress in it's attempt to get established in its new environment. It's anybody guess as to what caused it. Over watering, lack of sufficient root system to support plant growth or even sustain what it has. This happens a lot with B&B conifers that are improperly dug. With out knowing all the facts, potted or B&B, to name a few at this point it is a none factor.

I am assuming your photos are recent. If they are your conifer is in the recovering stage. Pushing new growth on the tips is a good sign. Trim out the dead wood and don't fertilize again. If soil dry 2 inches down do a slow trickle of water over night. Do this for another growing season. After that it should be on its own.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 8:10AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

copy the other tag in photobucket.. and paste it where you type messages ...on PREVIEW.. if you see it and what you typed.. we will see it ...

copy/paste the HTML code .. give it another try ....


    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 9:04AM
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Hey Ken & Dave, thank you for your responses. Those pictures were taken this week and I'm less worried now that I've gotten your feedback. I'm going to plug up up the drip that's servicing the Spruce so it doesn't get as much water as the roses. It gets some overspray every other day from the lawn sprinklers so that'll probably be enough water for it, but I'll keep checking the soil just in case.

And now I'm going to to attempt to post those pictures here...

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 2:05PM
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dcsteg(5 Shawnee, KS.)

Good job on learning how to post your photos.

My only other concern is this conifer will get large. If it stays planted that close to the house plan on moving one or the other.

To help you see the BIG picture I have posted this specimen that was planted in 1998which was about the size of yours.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 6:25PM
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Wonderful tree. I would like to have one like it. Obviously it is growing rather tall--have you kept it staked to that height? Or is it growing erect on its own? It is P. abies 'Reflexa'? I don't recall seeing that one for sale. I have seen numerous ones labelled 'Pendula,' which someone told me is not a proper cultivar name, but simply a "form" designation. I have seen 'Inversa' and 'Frohburg,' and maybe one or two others, including "blue weeper" or something.

If I want a tree like yours, what do I buy? and what do I do with it? Keep it staked as high as I can?

I have a Frohburg now and have it staked. Is this basically similar to 'Reflexa'? What should I do with this tree?

And by the way, what is the name of the blue spruce in the right background--that is a pretty tree!


    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 8:47PM
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I LOVE your landscaping, it's gorgeous!

And yeah...I know about the tree. I planted it there in a possibly misguided attempt at attractively shading those windows. They get the full brunt of our desert sun and even with reflective shades and insulated curtains on the inside they need some help outside too. The house eaves are 14' high and overhang 12", the tree trunk is 25" from the wall. So I'm cutting it close, but I was hoping that this was a tree that I could keep closely trimmed on that one side.

I'm at a complete loss at how else to shade those windows. I considered awnings but we get wicked, wicked winds (80 mph last week) and I'd have to petition the Homeowners' Association for permission, anyway. I'd like to enlarge and curb that planting bed, so I could move the Spruce out a bit then. What time of year would be best for moving it?

Here's a better look at how the tree is situated:

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 9:10PM
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dcsteg(5 Shawnee, KS.)

Hi Spruce,

It is always good to here from you.

Hopefully, I can answer all your questions.

This conifer was purchased under the name: Picea abies 'Pendula' which is incorrect. The cultivar name is 'Reflexa'. When I purchased it in 1998 it was not staked and about 30 inches tall. I have never interfered with its growth habit.

The additional photo I have added below, Picea abies 'Reflexa', was purchased at the same time. I have trained it to grow straight by staking. Otherwise, it would be laying on my front porch.

"I have a Frohburg now and have it staked. Is this basically similar to 'Reflexa'? What should I do with this tree?" I am not sure what you mean. If it's staked then you will get an upright weeper, that has beautiful wide "skirt" at its base, and in my estimation similar to 'Reflexa'. If not staked it would be a prostrate grower.

The blue spruce on the right in the background is Picea pungens 'Pendula'. Has been staked, otherwise it is a leaner and has a tendency to do weird things. Right now stake free. Planted at the same time as the 'Refelxa'. This is one of my favorites in my collection.

Dave Picea a.'Reflexa' staked.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 11:07PM
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coniferfreak(z6 PA)

Nice pics!

Just thought I would share a pic taken this past fall of my Weeping Norway Spruce. It was planted in 2002 on the north side of our house, about 5 feet from the house, and still doing great, with lots of new buds on it right now!

Reminds me of the "Snuffelupagus" (sp?) on Sesame Street. heehee

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 1:15AM
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dcsteg(5 Shawnee, KS.)


Move it out to 6 ft.from the house and reconfigure your landscape area. By doing that you can add other dwarf companion conifers with this spruce being the focal point of your area.

If you leave it and trim the backside you will be looking out you window into a dead area. Not good. Looking out the window and seeing green is preferred.

I wait until to first frost ( October) here in Kansas City Z5. to move my conifers. Of course your zone and climate are different so you can plan accordingly. I would move it 3-4 weeks before the ground freezes and give it plenty of water. After the ground freezes,no water.

There is also a window in early to mid spring where transplanting can be done before buds begin to break.

Good luck.


Hey coniferfreak, Nice prostrate grower. They are so cool anyway you grow them.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 8:59AM
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I'm not sure a Norway spruce being grown in the desert will ever be "free range". It just doesn't seem reasonable to me. It is a plant that is clearly NOT adapted to desert conditions.

The OP mentions the extremely high winds this plant is subject to. That seems a FAR more likely cause of the needle browning than does excess moisture.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 9:40AM
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Dave--(or anyone else?):

I am really confused by these "weeping" Norway spruce cultivars. You show one picture of a 'Reflexa' that was not staked but is growing erect, then another picture of the same kind of tree that had to be staked. So, does this tree grow erect sometimes, and not all the time?

As for the P. abies 'Frohburg' I find confusing statements. You say it needs to be staked or it will grow prostrate. Iseli nursery, and a couple of other places on-line, says it is an upright grower. Elsewhere I see a cultivar name P. abies 'Frohburg Prostrata,' with the 'Prostrata' sugggesting a flopping tree. So what am I supposed to think?

Now in the Gotelli collection at the National Arboretum in DC they have two P. abies 'Inversa' trees. Both of these have picturesque irregular habits, but they are definately not prostrate. One, or I think both, have multiple erect trunks growing upright with severely pendulous side branches. I would like to grow one of these, but several sources say they will not grow upright. I have also seen another P. abies 'Inversa,' or so it is labelled, in the courtyard of the Winterthur museum in Delaware. This tree is also growing upright without any staking. And there is another similar tree growing prominently in the National Memorial Park in Fairfax, VA, but this tree has no label at all.

I don't know if you have seen my postings in the trees forum under the topic "Large Willow" where I comment on the rampant confusion about golden weeping willows, but I may be even more confused and frustrated in trying to get information about the growth habit of these so-called weeping varieties of NS. I want to grow one or more, but what do I buy? And from whom? Are those I saw labelled 'Inversa' actually something that I can buy as 'Inversa," or is that an incorrect name? And this 'Frohburg' thing? Is there a 'Frohburg' that grows erect, and then another that is 'Frohburg Prostrata' that must always be staked--or which is more properly meant to grow along the ground.

Of course, I assume that any of these that are potentially erect growers probably must be staked for a time, but from what I have seen with my own eyes (at the Nat Arb, and at Winterthur, and at the Nat Mem Park), at least one, and maybe more than one of these cultivars, can grow on their own after a period of time being staked, in at least some irregular erect fashion. So, is 'Inversa' one of these? Or 'Frohburg' or what? I have seen them, want one, but what one, or ones is/are it/they??

H E L P!! this is driving me nuts!!


    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 10:04AM
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OK, here is an update on what I have been able to find out this morning. It is raining so I am stuck inside, and I re-did a web search I have done many times before, but this time I came up with something.

There is an old P. abies 'Inversa' in the Arnold Aroboetum--see the link below for a picture. This is what I want. Coenosium Gardens offers an 'Inversa' that was originally taken from this very tree. One of these if staked when young, should develop much like the one in the Arnold Arboretum.

I have also learned--I assume that this is correct--that there may be a number of clones sold as 'Inversa' and that often the P. abies f. "pendula" trees sold in nurseries are actually 'Inversa,' and perhaps the same as the one in the Arnold Arboretum. There is just no way to know what one is getting when buying a P. abies "pendula." These are often "reflexa" or something else.

I have not been able to turn up any more information about P. abies 'Frohburg.' This one, I guess, must remain a mystery for now--there is just too much contradictory information out there, and I have no way of knowing what the P. abies 'Frohburg' I have actually is--there apparently being more than one cultivar going by that name.

There is a crying need for some kind of organizatiion to try to standardize names and offerings--some kind of certification organization that reputable producers/nurseries can support and use to certify the identity and nature of the plants they produce and sell. As with golden weeping willows, and as with the weeping NS cultivars, there is absolutely no way, in most cases, for a tree lover to know what he is buying.


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 2:13PM
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Hi Wisconsitom-

Another front yard in our neighborhood has a Weeping Norway Spruce that's looking much healthier than mine, it's a little over 6' with no brown needles. In fact I first thought of planting a Weeping Norway Spruce because I liked that one so much. It is a little more sheltered than mine and gets some afternoon shading but still gets a lot of wind, so I don't know if that's the issue. One of these days I'm going catch the owners at home and ask them how they're caring for it. Though I suspect that they have a lanscaping maintenance service caring for their yard.

We've only lived here for 2 years and I don't know if any trees are native. We have two mature Spruce trees in the backyard which have definitely been here longer than the houses. They're healthy, we don't give them any water, and they don't show any wind stress, but there are other mature evergreens in the neighborhood that are bent and bare on one side from the wind. I'd love to know if someone decided to randomly plant a few trees on the range or if birds dropped seeds on their way down from the Sierras. My girls were taught in school that there would be more native vegetation here if the sagebrush wasn't choking it all.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 5:10PM
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Very interesting. Do you happen to know what the average yearly precipitation is for your area?

Those of us in wetter regions are nearly of one mind in the belief that trees should be free-range once established. But in contrast, where you are, neither the roses, the lawn grass, or your NS are free-range at all at this point. Just trying to clear up that conception.

I planted 100 Norway spruce yesterday. Today, I went back up to my land with the intention of watering them in and mulching with woodchips. The mulching I did, but with overnight rainfall, I was able to skip the watering. It is conceivable that these trees may never get any supplemental watering. That would certainly suit me;^) We'll just have to see what the summer brings in the way of rain. But regardless, after that, they're on their own.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 8:29PM
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We average 8-10 inches a year. We'll always have to irrigate our lawn and most of our plants. When the Weeping Norway Spruce and Maple in our front yard are more mature they won't require irrigation but they'll get water anyway from the lawn sprinklers. It still amazes me how our irrigation dependant plants and grass come back to life again once we turn the system back on in April. Every winter I think we've killed them for sure.

Our two backyard spruces are really important to the birds we get through here, we're in a bird migration path, so we're working on making our backyard into a wildlife habitat. Right now we're still working on the hardscape but I want to plant native and ornamental grasses in the fall. It would be great if we didn't have to extend our irrigation system into the backyard, but I'm worried that even drought tolerant grasses can't survive here without some irrigation.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 7:33PM
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Much respect for your wildlife habitat plans! If anything, this all makes me wonder what kind of spruce you have in the backyard that has been able to cope with desert conditions.

Only because anything is possible, it could be that the NS got too much water. But in view of the total picture, I'd think drought and or wind dessication the more likely culprit(s).

I've never been in N. Nevada, but a band I used to be in would play in Vegas once and a while. In fact, towards the end of that gig, our leader lived in Vegas. Hanging out there, I noticed that besides the beastly heat, the place was cussedly windy at times. The main plant I saw growing in the desert around there was some type of sagebrush which instead of conventional flowers, sported plastic shopping bags of many hues, flapping in the breeze!

;^) +oM

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 9:24PM
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My Dwaft Alberta Spruce is about two years old. I watered it all summer and into the fall. But, now that we had a slight warm spell and some of the snow melted, I noticed that on the south side of the tree the needles are brown. Is the tree dying or is it too early to tell because spring is about six weeks away?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2011 at 10:59AM
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