Planting under a large Norway Spruce

stuckinthedirt(6b VA (Shenandoah Valley))October 1, 2012

I have a large Norway Spruce that I would like to plant some understory plants under. This tree had been around for 50+/- years, stands about 50-60 feet tall*, and about 25 feet across. I would like to plant a number of camellias under it - about 10 feet out from the trunk, and spacing about every 4 - 5 feet all the way around the tree.

So, my question: will this seriously injure my spruce? If I dig about 15 holes around this tree, each about 12 -18 inches deep, I will invariabley run into some of the tree roots. Assuming the worst, that I cut through a number of these roots, how will I impact my tree?

Thanks for your advice,


*Actually the tree USED to be about that height until that wild derecho storm that blew through Virginia last summer, and knocked about 20 feet off the top.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


water management will be hard under a very old super competitor ... but you should be able to do it ...

keep the new plants watered VERY deeply for a year or two. none of this spraying the leaves stuff ...

sharpen your shovel.. to cut thru smaller roots ...

do not amend... or the big tree will invade ... nor fertilize .... the big tree isnt stupid.. it will come take the fert ...

and if you find a root bigger than one half inch.. just move the hole a few inches to get around it.. i simply ask.. why would you need to cut a lot of larger roots???? .. let me put it this way.. if you cant cut it with hand pruner.. work around it ...

as your babes grow.. them being a few inches off a perfect siting is going to make little or no difference ... get over precise engineered/architectural spacing ...

finally ... generally ... broadcast all water ... instead of soaking individual holes.. why 'call' the trees roots.. to each babe ... BUT!!! ... come july/august.. do insure the babes remain moist deep thru the whole root zone.. and if that requires such.. do it ... but generally.. broadcast water ...

they should need about one deep watering every week or two.. and then allowed to NEARLY dry ... DEPENDING ON YOUR SOIL AND ITS DRAINAGE ...

and do insure a good mulch job ...

it is and will be a natural desert under a monster like this.. the whole trick is water management ... long enough for the transplants to take hold.. and start competing ...

good luck


ps: i would not go with large transplants ... say something in the 1 to 3 foot range ... or smaller. ..

pps: when i lifted the canopy on mine to 6 feet.. within a few years.. it had drooped back to about 4 feet ... plan ahead in that regard ... its easier to take an extra whorl now.. rather than doing it with plants under ....

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 7:04AM
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orso(5 ?)

Sometimes disturbing the root system of Picea abies may infect them with root rot and eventually disease spreads to the trunk.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 9:02AM
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stuckinthedirt(6b VA (Shenandoah Valley))

ken and orso, thanks for your input. These camellias are all small (1 gal pots or less, 1 -2 year old plants from cuttings), I can probably get them all in the ground without distrubing any large roots.

Orso, thanks for the warning about root rot - if I end up cutting a large root is there anyting that can help prevent infection?

Ken, I especially appreciate the comment to water broadly. That makes a lot of sense, that if I only water at my plants, the spruce will come in for a drink too, and my little camellias will probbly lose!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 11:43AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

On a positive note, the camellias are tough enough to stand a chance in this circumstance. Most rhododendrons would not be. I have an 'April' series near a very thirsty 60' maple tree. Although it hasn't grown fast, I never had to water it after the first year. Slighly difference there, though, as the maple at least doesn't draw water for part of the year.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 9:39AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

maples aside ... as they are the true thugs ...

its all about giving a recent transplant .. time and circumstances [proper water] to get 'established' .. upon which.. most can and will compete ...

you are responsible for PROPER WATERING ... for 2 to 4 years ... but by the end of year two.. your only responsibility is in drought and high heat.. INSERT FINGER AND FIND OUT ...

watering is not just a schedule/plan thing.. you really have to find out how it all works in your soil.. in your circ's ... dig holes with a hand trowel.. until your finger.. inserted to 2 inches.. can tell you when the soil is really dry ...


    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 12:10PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I think the further out you plant them the better they will be, both in establishment and looks. The Spruce branches will grow out as well, so planting them where they will look good now might not be the best course of action. There is a lot to be said for planning on the future.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 4:11PM
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