Do I have a Fraser/Frazier Fir?

bettylu_zone6aJune 18, 2012

When I went to the Missouri Botanical Garden, I asked about identifying my fir trees in my backyard and after talking with them, they thought I had a Fraser/Frazier Fir. When I searched on this conifer forum, I discovered that there are MANY varities of Abies Fraseri.

What is the best way to identify what I have? At the botanical garden, they had a really mature clump of trees that looked a lot like mine that were noted as being Fraser Firs, but this was a couple of years ago and if there was an additional name on the same tag, I don't know what it was.

The whole reason this came up was that when talking with a local nursery owner about identifying my trees, they disagreed because they said they don't grow well in our zone. Since I wasn't sure of the exact variety, I didn't argue. These firs may very well have been live Christmas Trees planted by the previous owners.

I am trying to find out about whether or not these untrimmed trees can be shaped without losing their natural look (which I like), because they are starting to get so crowded together that some of the branches at the bottom are losing needles. The boughs also bend down and the pendulous little side branches end up touching the plantings below or even the ground because of the weight. I have recently cut some of the lowest limbs, but it is only a matter of time before the next limb up is doing the same thing.

What do you think I have and how would you manage the pruning?

Thanks!

BettyLu

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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

It would be difficult to tell without a close-up of the foliage what that is. Many conifers have that kind of growth habit, and the snow cover doesn't help. Very pretty, though! I've got a decent looking Fraser fir that I bought as a seedling - It is extremely similar to Balsam fir, but the needles are half the size. Fraser fir needles are 1/2 to 1 inch long. Fraser fir reportedly is a larger tree than Balsam, reaching to 70 feet or so in the wild.

Fraser fir isn't really a heat or drought adapted tree, coming from the cool, rain-washed mountaintops of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. When it is grown in lowland conditions, it often is disturbed by various ailments, from heat stress to root rot. Mine have done fine so far, surviving less than satisfactory soil conditions and holding well through hot spells (like right now!).

Another tree it could be is Canaan fir, a subspecies of Balsam fir. It is more commonly grown as a Christmas tree around here, since it is more heat and soil tolerant.

Do you have any close-ups of the branches and needles?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 9:20PM
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pineresin

PS Fraser is the correct spelling.

Resin

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 8:22AM
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bettylu_zone6a

I took some closeups last night of the branch tips from two of the firs - I have five all together, but they don't look EXACTLY the same. Two have a tighter, denser structure and three are more loose. The ones in the snow picture are the more loose ones.

The attachment is of the back side of the branch tip and the left branch is from the loose structured fir (it also has slightly longer needles) and the right is from the more dense structured one. Does this help?

If I can't identify exactly what kind they are, are there some general rules about pruning that I should know? When I bought the house they were only about 5' tall and now they are probably 25-30' (15 years later). I probably should have eliminated some of them because they were planted so close (approx 8' apart), but never did because they provided such good privacy from neighboring houses.

I used to have perennials closer to the firs, but have moved them forward or out of the bed entirely because of the drooping branches extending further - now I am wondering if I should just switch to mulch (and move the rest of the perennials) and not worry about the branches drooping and touching the ground.

What would you do?
BettyLu

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 12:51PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

They look good! Some, many evergreen conifers do not do well in general here but yours seem quite happy.

Post up the foliage pictures and I will take a shot at identification then Resin will get it right.

And no Resin it is not snowing here right now lol. Its a 95 degree F day. (I bet that is 30 something C). Perhaps some day we will learn math with the metric system is easier. Off topic I just bought an old used paperback on the HMS Warspite on line. Came Royal Mail. My wife was all intimidated it looked soo official lol.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 12:59PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

no pix on your last post..

i too thought they looked like picea abies in snow ...

ken

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 1:13PM
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bettylu_zone6a

Trying again with pictures - I don't know what happened before!
BettyLu

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 2:39PM
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bettylu_zone6a

I compared my closeup picture to the Fraser Fir and Picea Abies on the Missouri Botanical Gardens website and to my untrained eye, it looks more like what Ken says, the Picea Abies.

So back to the question - should I forget about limbing them up and just mulch the bed or should I trim the drooping branches (even at the tip) when they encroach on the perennials? I just don't want them to end up looking un-natural.

I have to say, though, I bought some Missouri native plants to plant in that bed and I was shocked at the shear amount of tree roots I found just under the surface. I assume they are from the firs, but there is also a very large maple 30' or so away from this area too. The only picture I can find from far away is another snow one from Christmas 2010.
BettyLu

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 3:24PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

credit where credit is due.. i wasnt brave enough until resin suggested such ...

and i am sure he and the other hardcore.. will get much further with your new pix..

but let me be VERY CLEAR ... no matter what it is.. you are probably not going to be very successful growing under them.. even if you limb them up.. the soil will be incredibly hard.. and you will be dealing with an ever present drought situation... those are mature trees [or getting close] .. and the maple is not going to help ...

so get it out of your mind.. that you can take them up.. and work under there ...

as to shearing the face... to keep the bed you have.. well.. that is heresey to most of us.. and i suspect.. you will not be happy with what you end up with.. a decade or two down the line..

frankly.. you best solution.. for that forest tree you have.. is to extend the bed a few feet further out.. and start working on moving the bed into the lawn ...

or getting rid of the trees ... before you have to pay big bucks to do it ...

below are pix of a picea abies in my yard.. came with the house.. its footprint was taking too much space ON MY 5 ACRES.. [hint .. hint] ... so i limbed it up ... and then it promptly sagged back down ... nothing.. and i mean nothing.. will grow under there.. though i havent tried too hard ... let me put it this way.. when i expose that much area.. and only a bare minimum of weeds grow under it.. that should tell you all you need to know ...

now.. lets wait for the full ID ... with the understanding.. that regardless what it is.. you probably wont be gardening under them ..

ken

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 3:50PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Yes, that looks like Picea abies to me. Here are some pictures of true Fraser fir:

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 4:45PM
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bettylu_zone6a

OK, now I know what I have (Picea Abies aka Norfolk Spruce), what to expect for the future and what to do with that area!

  1. Move perennials out of the bed or just out further (hmmm, just how far from drip line would be safe?) I actually don't have lawn to expand into - there is a 3' wide gravel path just outside that bed and some common "grow on the driveway" hosta in a bed on the other side of the path that are actually doing better than I expected, maybe because the downspout from the sunroom empties into that bed.
  2. Mulch or try some ground cover instead of perennials (I have variegated Solomons Seal that is already growing there, and variegated vinca that would probably love to be allowed to expand into that area.

Thanks to everyone, I really am so appreciative of the generous sharing of knowledge!

BettyLu

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 5:51PM
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coniferjoy(z7 The Netherlands)

It's Picea abies aka Norway spruce...

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 7:54AM
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bettylu_zone6a

Oops! (note to myself.... Norway Spruce, not Norfolk....)
Thanks! I hate when I do that!!!
BettyLu

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 10:44AM
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conifer50

Hi jimbob....the closeups of your seedling look like Abies koreana but I've been wrong before...just my thoughts...

Johnny

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 9:57PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

It's a fraseri... Roan Mountain seed source, according to the New Hampshire State Forest nursery. I'm actually quite surprised at how well it has done so far - It's on the east side of our house, in gravelly loam.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 7:13AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

ok.. we all worked together.. and named it for you ...

you see my pic.. you see your potential ...

though they grow pretty fast.. they remain trees ... its not like you are going to wake up one day.. and they will have swallowed your garden ... so you have time to contemplate it all ...

you dont really have to move stuff out.. in advance.. i would tend to leave it there.. and wait for things to struggle ... or decline.. then worry about moving them out ...

3 feet to the path.. basically means.. within the next 5 years.. they will be nearly covering the path ... i think your first decision.. will be if they are going to stay ..

if you look at my pix.. i am pretty sure.. that tree is 10 to 15 feet out.. on EACH SIDE of the trunk ... do you really have that space available in your restricted yard???

there are dwarf trees .. that grow much slower.. relatively speaking.. that would be better suited to a restricted space.. i think you really need to think about removal ... if you dont want to live like a hobbit under the canopy of a 100 foot tree [your age comes in here.. lol .. because i am talking a decade or two down the line ..]

and the key for me.. is that right now.. with a good tree saw.. and a ladder.. your trees could be taken down.. for FREE .. by you .. you wait a few years or so.. and you will easily be in the $500 dollar range for removal.. and go up quickly ....

let me be very clear.. this is a FOREST TREE ... not some named dwarf variety ... to conceptualize its potential .. i would not be surprised if those extremely large telephone poles are harvested from them [just guessing to make a point] .. this is not really a tree for a small yard ... see link

so think about that..

once that decision is made.. just sit back and watch.. its a very sssllloooowww show.. lol .... and react.. in regards to the garden below.. as time dictates.. no need to fixate on this part.. once the decision is made..

good luck.. and let us know what you decide ... removal of large trees.. is NOT a loss.. but a new opportunity for NEW THINGS ...

all that said ... i do NOT recommend butchering them.. to maintain that area.. as i am a purist ... meaning things are usually allowed to do what they wish to do ...

take them up if you want.. but no two bits and a close shave ... but then.. if future removal is an option.. well butcher away.. and when you start to regret what you have done with them.. then be done with them ...

good luck

ken

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 7:38AM
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greenhaven(SW MI z6)

I am not a conifer expert, but have good general knowledge of trees and design. Now that you know what tree it is, you know that they will get very big, very quickly.

The points made so far:

-they will overgrow your path in a few short years
-they will not permit perennials to grow under them for very much longer
-they are easier to take out now than to wait
-pruning and limbing will buy you a wee bit of time but the tree will look unnatural in a couple short years as it outgrows the pruning proportions

I concur with those who have already spoken. I don't see that you have much choice if you wish to preserve your walkway. At bare minimum I would be taking out every other tree because they are way too close anyway.

I would go with Ken's suggestion of moving the perennials when they show signs of struggling, not put any more in that bed, and switching to mulch when the time comes to move the perennials.

Just my two cents worth!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 8:28AM
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bettylu_zone6a

I just love the straight scoop you all are giving me!

To get a little size/space perspective, the distance from the trunks to the edge of the path is about 15' (the tips of the branches still have 3' growing room before reaching the edge of the path) then the gravel path is about 3-1/2' wide and lastly, the 3' deep bed at the base of the sunroom (which is elevated enough that my potting area is beneath). The mature maple is on the north side property line and 30' or so away from the nearest spruce, so I am sure the roots are co-mingling. There are other trees, shrubs, and wild forest-type understory plants behind the line of spruces going down the hill for about 30 feet to the west rear property line.

The spruces screen the views of the neighbors and provide shade in the late afternoon for the sunroom. If I remove them or use lower growing conifers, I would still have SOME summertime privacy from a mature pin oak and two maples that are on this sloping hill.

I am OK with this area of my yard being like the edge of the forest (trees touching, rather than specimen trees that you can really see the shape). Also, If I remove every other tree, I'm afraid the trees left standing will be mis-shapen anyway (considering the branches are already woven together) and there would still be root competition and limbs reaching out nearly to the path from those left standing.

I was hoping for this area to be maintenance free for my old age (another 3+ years to go to retirement - yay!) especially since the better soil and accessibility is really around the patio and front yard.

So - now that you know the hoped for goal is to let the trees be natural and over the years allow them to come out to, but not block the path, how many years do you think it will take for the branch tips to grow another 3 feet to reach the path? I guess as far as how it would look after trimming to keep the path open, you won't see it from the sunroom looking straight down, so maybe it won't matter so much?

I just pray that I have enough room so the branches don't eventually scrape the sunroom windows!
BettyLu

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 1:45PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

I just pray that I have enough room so the branches don't eventually scrape the sunroom windows!

===>>> from your snowy ones.. to mine.. is 10 years.. max

how far are the windows????

ken

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 2:19PM
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bettylu_zone6a

At ground level from the tips of the existing branches it is three feet to the path, 3-1/2 feet for the path and then three feet to the base of the sunroom (so 9-1/2 feet to go) :-(

I may be wrong about the distance from the trunk to the tips of the branches (it is not like I can easily crawl under there!) I feel like the branches already extend 6' or more, I am going to have to measure when I get home. If they only extend 6' and then you add the 9-1/2 feet to go, that would be less growing room than I thought.

The windows on the sunroom would be about 8' higher than at the base of the sunroom (because I can easily walk underneath).

I kind of thought that, with the drooping branches, I wouldn't have to worry as much about how wide it would get at 8' off the ground. This was when I thought they were Fraser firs (like the ones I saw at Missouri Botanical Garden which looked skinny in relation to how tall). After looking at your pictures of the Norway Spruce though, yours look so much more full, but maybe that is a growing zone difference.

Thanks,
BettyLu

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 3:29PM
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