Blue Conifers - Humidity

sc77June 28, 2014

I have spent a lot of time researching which species do best in humid (east coast) or (PNW) conditions. It's 100% clear that Picea pungens do not like it here. They will tolerate it for a while, but always end up looking terrible. Interestingly, I have found Picea engelmannii to be very happy here... it's strange, because a lot of documentation suggests they are nearly identical and both are high risk for needle cast. I found a paper from the early 1900's at the Arnold Arboretum stating "From all points of view Picea Engelmannii is now the
best Spruce which has been planted in the Arboretum." .

I wanted to share that for others. It is the Arnold Arboretum's experience, and my own, that Picea Engelmannii is far superior to Picea pungens for our humid east coast.

Abies concolor is also excellent for this environment. Abies concolor flourishes in the Arnold Arboretum. Along with Abies homolepis, it was one of thefavorite conifers of Charles Sprague Sargent

My question to the forum is about the following species and how they do in humid conditions. Does anyone have experience with fungus, needle cast, or other diseases for these?

-Abies procera
-Abies lasiocarpa (specifically var. Arizonica)
- Abies pinsapo

Ironically, the nearly native Abies balsamea and Abies fraseri are also not options for this area. They only perform well at colder, higher elevations. I am looking to add more blue cultivars to my collection and want to make sure I focus on species most well suited. Picea pungens cultivars are my favorite and so vast, but they just don't work.


This post was edited by SC77 on Sat, Jun 28, 14 at 23:05

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Great question Shawn. I look forward to seeing the replies from others.

Abies lasiocarpa 'Glauca Compacta" performs well in the Ohio River Valley. Mine has been trouble free and there are specimens at Spring Grove Arboretum in Cincinnati that perform the same.

Folks around here like to think that our summers are brutally hot and humid. However, the further south you go the more extreme the conditions so it is relative to what one has experienced in their travels.

Hopefully the replies to your post will give a geographic tipping point of good performance for the varieties that you listed.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 5:46AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Here in MD - P. pungens looks good for about 20 years. I've never seen an englemannii that I was aware of here.

Abies concolor also looks good for a while, but there are some larger specimens around that all look like cr@p.

I'm looking to try some A. concolor grafted to A. firma - that might be a winning combo.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 9:32AM
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In my neck of the woods high humidity and temperatures are norm. Usually 60 / 75% humidity in June/ July and temps 90/100 F.

All my conifers especially pungens do quite well with exception of Abies. As an alpine conifer this micro-climate is not conducive for it to last even a season. Cool nights are a must for success. I am trying a 1 gal. Abies koreana ''Cis'. just as an experiment this year. I shaded it when I noticed slight burn beginning to develop. It is now doing well. Of all the Abies cultivars koreana seems to tolerate my climate the best.

I have two engelmannii cultivars. "Bushe's Lace and 'Hexenbensen Jasper'. No issues and doing quite nice,


This post was edited by Davesconifers on Sun, Jun 29, 14 at 20:07

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 10:26AM
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@baxz - Thanks. Glad to hear you are having good luck with Abies lasiocarpa 'Glauca Compacta'. That is actually one of the blues I have on my wishlist but was getting mixed reviews on their performance in the east. Weston nurseries here in MA says they have had excellent luck with them, as does the Arnold Arboretum despite one of their famed horticulturist and taxonomist, Alfred Rehder stating "Abies lasiocarpa does not do well in the eastern states."

@hairmetal - Yes, I agree you can get some years out of pungens, but I don't like growing species that seem so out of place here. It's tough to find mature engelmannii. We are lucky the arboretum has some very old examples, but outside of there the oldest one I have seen was probably about 15 years old, looked great. concolor on the other hand become somewhat popular to plant around here years ago and there are many examples of these trees 20-30 years old and full to the ground. I actually became interested in this species when I found one growing in the woods near my house in dense shade, about 10 years old, and very healthy looking.

@Dave - I was just comparing our climates. Looks like your area gets an avg. 35 inches of annual rain vs. my 50. Your avg nightly temps in July are about 72 vs 62 for me. I wonder if those two factors play into it. pungens love blazing hot sun and do well with minimal water, so your environment is probably closer to their native turf. It's turning our wet spring that most of the problems occur for us with fungus on the blue spruce. Our lower night time temps must help with Abies.

I'm still curious about Abies procera. I seem to recall seeing a lot of people talking about issues with this species and night time temps as well. Maybe I would be ok giving 'Blaue Hexe' a shot given my success with concolor. Our nighttime temps seem reasonable.

Here is a link that might be useful: Interesting Article about Sick Blue Spruce in Iowa

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 7:12PM
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Cunninghamia lanceolata âÂÂGlaucaâ tolerates humidity and keeps good color in the winter. Some sources say it is hardy to Zone 6A.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca'

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 7:41PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

I cannot grow Abies procera here in IL. I'm in decent fir territory. Abies procera takes 3 years to the minute for any 1-gallon graft to die & with cruelty involved.

The key to Picea engelmannii is grafted selections. On their own roots they die every year here during summer.

Abies pinsapo is no-problem for high humidity if it is winter-hardy. I'd say it's zone 6b toward 7a for cold hardiness. You should do well growing Abies pinsapo.

I have one grafted Abies lasiocarpa that hasn't taken root. It's on a slant and the soil has eroded and I see the branching of the root system and it's a bit wobbly, but it is doing just fine and has been in the ground a good 5-6 years I suppose.

Are you in South Carolina? There's a lot of information you may check out in Tom Cox's recent book: 'Landscaping with Conifers and Ginkgo For the Southeast'.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 8:23PM
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@restoner - Wow... Cunninghamia lanceolata is pretty cool. I have avoided researching it much because after this winter it doesn't seem as cool to be a zone pusher... But, I was just reading about how Cunninghamia is the only other conifer besides yew that can be cut down to the stump and regrow. So even if it was a harsh winter you wouldn't have to worry about the burn damage as much. I've already seen Resin mention that the hardiness of this species is better than they are given credit for.

@Dax - I'm about 20 miles south of Boston and close to the arboretum. That's why I focus so closely their findings. I do like Abies procera, but it seems like a lot of people have issues with it. I'll probably give 'Blaue Hexe' a shot and if I kill it, I won't try another. Abies pinsapo is worth a shot too. Even last winter our low temp was probably only about -2* Fahrenheit. I have seen Edwin and others suggest this species can handle -20 Celsius... very cool looking too

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 9:52PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Restoner, I'm not sure about Cunninghamia in 6A. I've never had one, but there's a mid-sized one down the street from me that had some significant winter damage this year. The tips of all the branches are alive, but the tree was almost 100% brown from what I remember until April. This is in zone 7A.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 11:29PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Dax - what should englemanii be grafted on for East Coast/Midwest success?

Is there a rootstock that would make it worthwhile here in the mid-Atlantic?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 11:31PM
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bluecone(Central Texas8b)

There is huge variation with the heat and humidity resistance of within any give species of blue-needled conifers. Provenance is the key - for best results, go pick seeds from the southernmost, lowest elevation individual tree of the species you're interested in.

Mount Lemmon outside Tucson, Arizona has a small Abies lasiocarpa arizonica population that is severely endangered after the 2003 fire ( If a fire like that happens again, that particular population might become extinct, along with its heat tolerance.

Mexico also has a bunch of blue heat tolerant firs and spruces that are also endangered. Here are the GPS coordinates of the groves if you want to go pick seeds :)

There's also a relict population of Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca) in the Aures mountains just south of Menaa, Algeria that someone should collect seeds from before it gets cut down for firewood.

Cyprus Cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) is known as the most heat tolerant of cedars:

There are some strikingly blue individuals in its native range, rivaling the bluest Cedrus atlantica:

Again, you won't find them commercially available, so you'll have to go to Cyprus and pick the seeds or grafts yourself, preferably from the lowest-elevation individuals.

This post was edited by bluecone on Mon, Jun 30, 14 at 7:16

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 1:05AM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

hair: Picea engelmanii will do fine on either Picea abies or pungens. If you can source Picea abies as the rootstock, that's the one you use, however, not a big deal.


    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 7:22AM
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midtn(7a TN)

Cleveland Ohio area is very humid. Blue spruce is growing well on every other corner. It usually only gets up into the mid 80s or so in the summer and usually into the 60s at night. I'm not sure it is really a humidity problem. I think if the summer nights regularly go down into the mid to low 60s they will do fine. Sorry I use F not C. :)

BTW. I live in Nashville Tennessee now and I see many Blue Spruces growing well. I also see some doing poorly. Could just be bad drainage.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 10:55PM
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@midtn - Thanks for that info. Cleveland is very similar to Boston, yet you are right, the Blue Spruce do seem healthier. I just "drove" around using google maps and was able to see several random Blue Spruces in yards that looked much healthier than the typical specimen you see around here. I can't speak for the entire area, but my yard has very good drainage. 45min full drainage doing the 1x1ft hole test.

It's absolutely the moisture that is at that root of the problem, whether it is caused by humidity, precipitation, or overhead watering of the tree. I have improved my watering practice on all conifers to occur at the base of the tree, rather than overhead.

The other interesting thing is that some states just seem to be more impacted than others. Rhizosphaera needle cast is contagious. You have to be very careful about washing clippers with peroxide to avoid spreading the disease from one blue spruce to another. Also, it's recommended that the trees and/or diseased cuttings be burned to avoid infecting other trees. I just wonder if once this issue takes hold in a certain area if it spreads due to landscapers using the same sheers and whatnot. If you look around the area, it is very rare to see a healthy Blue Spruce over 20ft tall...It always happens the same way, starting from the bottom and working it's way up.

I will continue to experiment with my remaining pungens. Watering at the base, providing blazing sun, fast drainage and treating using chlorothalonil and post updates in a few years if I can get them under control... but, most likely won't be adding to that collection...not a big fan of spraying chemicals

Here is a link that might be useful: MA Arborist - What's Killing All The Spruce Trees

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 12:19AM
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In Chicago which has humidity. I have had good lock with Abies Concolor- 20 year old beautiful trees. I have an Abies Procera that is about 10 years old but has had lots die back from this last winter.
I also just had a 15 years old Picea Pungens die, have yet to remove it.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 2:26PM
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I believe the factor most responsible for predisposing P. pungens to needlecast diseases is actually drought. In a weakened state, these plants are then less able to resist the effects of atmospheric moisture-not soil moisture-leading to said diseases. And even though the home range of that tree is in a relatively dry area, the tree itself is most at home in riverside areas, areas having slowly-available snow/ice melt water, and the like. I don't think they really like dry soils. Less atmospheric moisture, on the other hand, does suit them.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 8:35AM
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'Blaue Hexe' is really finicky, even for a procera. It must be one of the most difficult conifers to grow successfully. The lasiocarpa miniatures are the only ones that even come close in being so fastidious. So I might not select this particular cultivar as a proxy for the species as a whole. At least, if and when 'Blaue Hexe' dies, I wouldn't necessarily conclude from that, that you can't grow other selections of procera.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 10:02AM
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+oM - Your right about the weakened state. In my case that is caused by moisture and too much shade, but I believe the same could occur in drought conditions.

@Alex - Thanks for that info. I felt a lot of people seemed to have issues specifically with 'Blaue Hexe'. Good to know it's not a representation of procera as a whole. After much consideration, I will be going with Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann' for the spot I am trying to fill in the fall. Just saw a large (species) specimen at a local nursery and it looked great, so I don't have concerns about my zone.

This post was edited by SC77 on Wed, Jul 9, 14 at 11:45

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 11:37AM
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