Under Spruce Trees - Revisited

northspruce(z3a MB CDA)January 13, 2007

My new yard has some huge spruce trees. We have had the discussion about what grows right under a spruce tree (nothing) but my situation is a little different and I am looking for some ideas. My trees are so huge that on some of them the limbs don't start for 10-15 feet up. So underneath it's not even full shade.

It's a little dry and probably pretty acidic, but grass grows (about half as fast as the rest of the yard). Does anyone know some good part-shade, acid tolerant plants that would likely do well in the general vicinity? I don't care what size or shape. Maybe ferns or something? Maybe it would be too dry for ferns? I think I have seen a nice prickly-looking groundcover under pine trees (not fallen needles, LOL!).

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Another idea might be to place some planters under the edge of the spruce trees to give some colour and interest..savona

    Bookmark   January 13, 2007 at 10:27AM
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glen3a(Winnipeg MB 3A)

I have a mature spruce tree planted in the front yard, way to close to the house, by the previous owners. In fact, even in the back yard there was a spruce tree stump left in the CENTRE of the yard. It sort of confuses me picturing a big spruce blocking the middle of the yard (I would have put it off to the side), but anyways...

Grass doesn't really grow underneath the front yard spruce, but it does grow "sparsely" not too far out from the canopy, maybe 8 feet. During wet spells it gets a bit of length, but it's the first to brown during drought.

Before I knew what bishops gout weed was, I tried growing it right under the spruce and even that struggled, though it did spread just a bit in two years. I removed after I joined this forum and realized that if it ever did "break free" into the better soil, it would overtake my yard.

About 10 feet from the centre trunk of the spruce I do have shrubs lining the front of the house, hedge cottoneaster. They have done remarkably well despite dry and only part shade. Actually, these shrubs started life as seedlings which where growing under my parent's deck at the lake which is kind of neat.

I also have a globe caragana not too far away. It grows slowly but surely. After eight years it's only 2 feet high and not very wide.

On the side of the front steps I tried to get a dropmore honeysuckle vine to grow. Thought it would look nice on the railing, but it really hasn't done much, some year's it resembles a 3 foot high rope but not very bushy.

Despite all this, in a spot by the spruce and the sidewalk that leads to my front steps, I did plant a mugo pine I got on clearance (yeah, one of those inpulse buys). After two years it's done fairly well. Actually, if it struggles a bit and remains small that would be ideal for that spot anyways, as I actually have a real small yard.

In our neighborhood, I have seem some people with spruce's put landscape ties around them and then mulch (either wood or stone mulch) but I can't say I really like that look. For the most part I do run the lawnmower under the spruce (for the bit of grass and odd weed that grows there) and about twice a year rake up pine cones and needles.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2007 at 12:02PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

Savona & Glen, thanks for your ideas. I think I will try to incorporate some rock/gravel, junipers, perhaps some other small evergreens, and see if I can get some other alpines/groundcovers to grow... I guess it will be trial and error. Containers are a good idea too, I think hypertufa would blend in nicely. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2007 at 4:13PM
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Laurie_z3_MB(sw MB)

Gill, what ever you do plant there, I'd try to dig as big a pocket as the spruce roots will allow you to, and replace the soil in that pocket with some compost and plant into that. Maybe in a couple of years the new plant will have a big enough root system to be able to somewhat compete with the spruce and survive. I'm sure it's really dry under there, and I'd be tempted to try anything drought tolerant, like thymes, Russian sage, artemisia, cactus, sedums, yuccas, etc. It's a really tough area to plant, so if you do come across something that thrives there, do let us know.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 3:11PM
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sazzyrose(2b Sk)

I don't personally have any big spruce trees, but someone that I know has some day lilies under her big trees. Not the fancy ones,but probably the ones referred to as the ditch lilies.

You could also make a raised bed around the tree before you add new plants. I have a weeping birch that I put a raised bed around. I have Sedums, Dusty Miller, Dianthus, Blue Flax, Bugle weed and Siberian Spurge planted under it. They have been thriving for several years.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2007 at 12:46AM
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Hi all. Just wanted to add a thought about what will grow under mature spruce. I have an elder bush that is growing right up against the trunk of a big spruce(limbed up about 6 feet). It appeared on its own (probably a bird dropped a seed) a couple of years ago. I cut it to the ground every spring and it grows up again fast -- all lush and ferny and green. So I'm going to try putting a couple more elders under there and see what happens. I tried a dogwood last year and it was dead as a doornail by the end of summer. I'm also going to lay down some bark mulch under the tree this year to try to smother the darn dandelions.

So -- give elders a try. This is probably some kind of super-tough wild elder though. Not sure if cultivated ones would do as well. I'll let you know by end of summer.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 12:43PM
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