What's a better choice - blue spruce or norway spruce

lkplatowJune 2, 2008

Last year, a 5000 sq ft house was built on the lot right behind our house. I'd like to plant a privacy screen and was talking with my landscaper this weekend. He suggested Norway spruce as a good choice - he said in our area (zone 6-PA) they are the most disease and bug resistant and will give me fairly fast growth. I asked him about blue spruce and he said he would avoid them as they are more prone to disease.

I'm a little concerned about the norway spruce because I believe they can get huge, right? Ideally, I'd like whatever I plant to top out around 40ft max, so it screens the house without taking away the view overtop of the house (we can see a ridgeline and it's really pretty).

As I drive around, it seems that there are plenty of very healthy looking blue spruces around here and that they seem to stay smaller and fuller than the Norways. I don't know how fast they grow compared to norways or how prone they are to disease but I do like the fact that they don't seem to get toweringly huge.

The landscaper also showed me a serbian spuce, which he said was a cross between a hemlock and a blue spruce. Again, he said the norway spruce would be more robust.

I'm a little concerned about any of these because we have some trees that were planted by the previous owner - not sure what they are - some tree guys have told me spruce while others tell me they're douglas firs. Anyhow, these trees are looking beyond sad - they've got needles on about the outer 8" of the branches and the whole inside of the tree is bare. One tree guy said they had mites and I know I don't want to be using systemic nasty chemicals on a regular basis. So whatever I plant will hopefully stay looking better than my current evergreens!

Anyhow, I'd love to get your advice as to which would be a better tree to plant (or if there's something else you could suggest). Our site is a windy hillside, so the landscaper told me Leylands are out because they can't take the wind. All the hemlocks around here are dying from some adelgid (?) bug, so hemlocks are out. And I'm not a big fan of arborvitate - they are every 3 feet around here and most of them seem half dead. I saw some green giants at the nursery that looked ok, but I'd rather have something that grows fuller, not so tall and skinny. Deer pass by the spot on a regular basis and I'm sure they'll try to munch this winter, so something deer don't like would also be great.

We've got room to play with for the screen - I can probably allow for 30-40ft for the width of the fullgrown tree row.

Thanks so much!

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Blue spruce is also a full-sized tree unless you buy a smaller-growing selection. There are also grafted named selections of Norway spruce with variant growth habits. Both will much cost more per unit than seedlings (plants raised from seed).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 4:44PM
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The key is the amount of light - blue spruce will lose lower limbs - and bang goes the screening if there is not full sun. The angle of the screen relative to the sun ( ie is it east/west or north/ south ) will also effect the amount of light. Hemlocks would have to be sprayed 3 or 4 times a year so thay have a maintenance issue and deer eat em. For what it is worth I have planted Norway Spruce - Black Hills would work too. I fugure that by the time the Norways get to 60 ft I will be 6 ft under. I have planted a small number of blue spruce where they will be showed off by the green NS screen behind.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 8:25PM
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Sorry, but I see this kind of post here in these forums often. Someone wants a tree for a screen, or maybe for some other purpose, but they donÂt want one that gets too big, but at the same time, they donÂt want something that grows too slowly--they want a tree now--or soon.

Sorry, impossible. Most trees that grow reasonably fast will sooner or later grow over 40 feet. Trees that wonÂt grow over 40 feet, but which are especially beautiful--let me name two--Picea orientalis ÂGowdy" and/or Picea orientalis ÂAtrovirens will grow to about 40 feet max and probably not much more, but it will take 30 years or more to get a 25 foot tree.

What to do? You can choose the Norways and if 25 years from now they are too tall, make a decision then. Or you could choose something a little slower--blue spruce or regular species Oriental spruce, and it will be 30 or 35 years before they are 40 feet tall. As for the disease on blue spruce--look around and see how those in your area are doing. If they have good full sun, especially from the sides as well as above, they will retain their lower limbs for a long time--if there is no disease problem there. Here in Winchester, VA the blue spruce are disease free.

Norway spruce are very reliable and very disease free, but they are the fastest growing of your choices.

I think you will have to make a compromise somewhere--either on how soon you have a good screen--or on having the trees, admittedly after many years, growing too tall. I especially like the Norway spruce because of the variation from tree to tree. But the blue spruces also show considerable variation, both in form and color. Arborvitaes are nice, but planted in a row they all look pretty much alike--not as interesting.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 9:57PM
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Blue spruce is a western tree that is glaucous due to low humidity. This adaptation to low humidity is often its downfall in wetter climates. Blue spruce does way better in more arid climates. Norway spruce is a better choice for you.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 11:01PM
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Have to agree with spruceman. Norway spruce quickly will exceed 40ft - actually it may eventually attain 40m. There might be smaller cultivars, but probably they will be slower growing.

I guess blue spruce will also get to at least 30m in the end (90ft I think...)

/Hans Olav

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 2:12AM
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Well, you could "think outside the box" so to speak. What about American holly--Ilex opaca? They can grow fast enough when young to give some kind of a screen fairly soon, but rarely, in anyone's lifetime, grow over 40 feet. There are some wonderful cultivars available, but most retail nurseries don't carry them. You can get small ones on-line. I planted a I. opaca "Satyr Hill" about 6 years ago as a very small tree--2 feet--and it is 12 feet tall now, but at this point growing slowly. These are very dense, so the screening effect is total. They do need some care--mulching with wood chips, and some fertilizing with something like Hollytone regularly. And a little more water than the spruces.


    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 8:17AM
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I thought about Holly - I really like them and when they got big, I could take cuttings for holiday decorations, LOL! But the site is very windy - I am concerned about windburn. We had some cherry laurels up near our house (in a more protected spot) and every year they would get destroyed by the winter wind. Eventually they got so ratty looking we took them out.

Plus someone at some nursery told me deer eat them. (I was specifically asking about the Nellie Stevens holly - don't know if that's the same or similar to the one you were referring to.)

Keep the ideas and opinions coming - I really appreciate them. This is going to be a significant expense for us and we'll be looking at these trees til they carry us out of this house feet first, so I REALLY don't want to plant something I'll regret later.

Thanks again for all the help!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 9:26AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Spruceman is so right. There is no perfect screening plant, at least in our climate, end of discussion.
Now, as for spruces. I have 2 beautiful Norway spruce in my yard in Maryland and a sickly, hideous Blue Spruce. Who knows what global warming will cause, but, right now, Norway spruce is simply happier in a non-arid east coast US climate. Comparing some random zn 6 PA to Winchester, VA, you are more likely to have extended moist spells in summer that the blue spruce would really hate. (would have helped if you'd been more specific about your locale) Winchester is subject to slight foehn-like winds at all times of the year that probably keep the relative humidity, for part of the day, a bit lower. Here along the Chesapeake Bay, almost all > 10 yr. old blue spruces I've seen look like c--p.

I 2nd the recommendation for holly. The right cultivar should have no problem in any part of zn 6 PA...the coldest mountain hollows there would be zn 5 so I presume you are not in that area. Establish them well and they will be fine. Contact the McLean Nursery in Towson, MD, for recommendations, or, if are close enough, visit. Their prices are outrageously reasonable.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 9:43AM
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Yes, you understand the relative dryness and the winds here. Blue spruce and Norway spruce do very well here. The Norway here are not very fast growing and do not get especially large here, but they are very full foliaged and beautiful. I have wondered if the soils here, mostly derived from limestone, perhaps with good magnesium, may also have something to do with it. No trace of any disease on the blue spruce--I wouldn't plant them here for several years because of what I saw elsewhere. I finally opened my eyes and saw how wonderful they are here.

IKP: Holly and wind? Well, I think where I am here about 15 miles north of Winchester on a low "airplane wing-shaped" ridge, is one of the absolutely most windy places on earth. It is horrible--between November and June 1, most days is is hard to get out of the house. When gardening everything has to be tied down--buckets blow away, knee pads, and any chair for rest periods will tumble in the wind 100 yeards away in a blink of an eye. I am so sick of the wind here I can't possibly describe it--AAARRGHH!! These winds often gust over 60 miles per hour and the house shakes (and it's brick!), the rafters creak, and our, admittedly not first-rate windows, constantly moan with the air going around them.

Holly trees--not bothered at all. Deer--maybe a bit of a problem. I have mine fenced, but don't see nibbling at the edges where deer can reach. NS and other spruces very reliably deer resistant. But there is also the problem of buck rubbing--a terrible problem here with everything--as far as I know. There may be some things they won't rub, but I decided to fence everything until 6 inches in diameter to be on the safe side.

Nellie Stevens holly--I can't tell you much about it, but I am sure it is inferior to American holly (I see so many terrible hollies for sale). I bought a "Greenleaf" holly once--paid a lot for it--but tore the ugly thing out in favor of American holly. The cultivars I have are "Miss Helen," Satyr Hill," and "Dan Fenton, and a pollinator," "Baltimore Buzz." Of those, so far, I like the Satyr Hill best. But there are dozens of American holly (Ilex opaca) cultivars out there, and I have no bad information about any of them.


    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 1:10PM
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Well, we got the area bushhogged and all the scrub trees removed, so now I can get in there and really measure exactly what I need. As it turns out, a height of 15-20ft should be more than enough to screen their second floor windows from ours - it won't hide their roof, but I don't care - I'd rather see their roof than lose my view of the mountains.

This is what I'm dealing with:

The proprty line is just past the small trees/shrubs and before the big pines. I was planning to plant along the line and inccorporate the smaller shrub in front of the house into the screen. (I had the larger tree in front of the pine tree removed as it was a scrubby wild apple that never got fruit and was always covered in tent caterpillar nests). The shrub I kept is about 12 ft high, so a couple more feet will block their 2nd story windows. I definitely don't want anything as big as those pines (which are on their property -can't do anything about them but can't count on them always being there either, since they're kind of sickly (pine bark borers or something like that)).

Based on my newly lowered height requirement, I'm going to rule out the spruces - they'll just get too large for the area, I think. (Willing to hear differently though, if you disagree.) So I'm back to ground zero. Do you think the hollies would work here? I'd love to have some - I think they're the prettiest evergreen. I am afraid of deer though - there's lots of woods around and I haven't had a problem with deer munching on my plants near the house, but these are farther from the house and right where the deer tend to walk. I don't want to have to fence the stuff I plant - too expensive and too much hassle.

Any other suggestions for deer-resistant evergreens (or even deciduous stuff) that might stay 20' tall or so? I have to make a decision soon as I am rapidly running out of nice planting weather.

Thanks so much for all your help!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 4:36PM
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Oh, David, we are about 1 hour northwest of Philadelphia, near the Montgomery/Bucks county line. Zone 6 on the map, though we get such awful winds being on the mountainside that I try to find things hardy to zone 5 just to be on the safe side. Our soil is this horrible red shale clay stuff - worst dirt of anywhere I've ever lived. Fairly well drained, since it's on such a slope, though our basement daylight drain empties out down there so there's a spot that's going to get lots of water. I'll probably put some willow shrubs there to soak that up. The site will get full sun - it's on a south-facing slope.

All the blue spruces around here seem to be doing beautifully, so they must not be too bothered by the humidity here. Lots of people have them and out of maybe 100 or so, I've seen one sickly looking one.

Thanks again for any suggestions!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 4:42PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

I'm somewhat familiar with that area as I have family who live near Doylestown. Beautiful country up there. I do think if you are anywhere near Bucks Co. you are only going to be zn 6, not 5. Yes you may be a windy zn 6. Also it looks like you are on a ridge, which will have good cold air drainage.

There's really nothing that's going to grow to 20' and - click - stop right there. This page has some interesting advice, although I think spruceman's is better. What would I personally do if I were in your shoes? Look into Hollies. Either consult with a reputable local nursery (not your landscaper who claimed that hemlocks and spruces could cross!) or call McLean Nurseries in Towson, MD for advice on varieties suitable for screening in 6a. (preferably speak to the owner Mr. Kuhl, but the other couple people who work there are knowledgeable too) I know there are some good nurseries in Bucks Co. but they tend to be a little expensive.

Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs/GoodHedges.html

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 10:13PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

What's a better choice - blue spruce or norway spruce

Douglasfir. Pref. the "glauca" variety.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 4:14PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

hairmetal, do you grow these in Howard County? I think that would be the southern end of their range. They might do well for the lkplatow, but I cannot be sure because he/she said they have mucky soil. I don't think douglas firs are particularly known for liking that. I'm sure spruceman could chime in here.
In any case they will get huge and bigger than what the OP wanted.
I have hardly ever seen douglas firs in the DC area; I think there are more in the Philadelphia area. Years ago there was one planted next to a Tyson's Corner parking lot of all places! It was growing just fine but the soil was sloping sandy/rocky fill. The landscaper was actually clever enough to known that would be a good place for it.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2008 at 9:06AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

in the area. They just aren't that common and I must think part of the reason is poor adaptability. It is covered in the Chukas-Bradley "City of Trees" book about the trees of Washington, DC.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2008 at 9:10AM
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Well, I'm pretty sure the evergreens we already have here are Douglas firs and they are looking sad, sad, sad. I had conflicting reports about whether they are spruce or fir, but after finding a good website on how to tell the 2 apart, I'm almost positive they are Douglas fir. As I sad in my initial post, these trees are almost bare, except for the ourter 8-10" on the branches.

They were planted 9-10 yrs ago when the house was built or shortly thereafter. The soil here just isn't good, and they are in the worst spot - they've got a little mound of dirt and underneath them is all shale. I'm guessing they weren't planted right because they couldn't dig through the rock, so they kind of sat them on top of the rock and mounded dirt around them. The white pines in that same row are doing well but the firs are nearly dead (one already died and was removed a couple years ago).

The landscaper who recommended Norways to me told me that Douglas Firs just shouldn't be planted here at all - they are incompatible with this area. Don't know why - maybe the dirt? the climate? I don't know. I do know that I don't seem them for sale in nurseries anywhere, so I'm guessing he's right.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2008 at 9:15AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)


I was "yearning." I used to have three in Ohio and I think they look so much better than spruces - but no, they don't do well here.

However, we do see Atlas Cedar and Deodar here and you don't see many of those in the part of Ohio I came from...so you win some, lose some.

TO answer the original question - I agree the Norway will be a healthier, faster growing tree.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2008 at 9:36AM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Does this resemble the Douglas fir damage?


Here is a link that might be useful: Doug Needle Cast

    Bookmark   June 13, 2008 at 4:55PM
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