White spruce

This con­i­cal na­tive beauty has proven its worth for hun­dreds of years.

Canadian Gardening Annual 2016 - - Trees We Love - Text STEPHEN WEST­COTT-GRAT­TON

The provin­cial tree of Man­i­toba, white spruce is one of only a hand­ful of plant species that are in­dige­nous to ev­ery Cana­dian prov­ince and ter­ri­tory. Hardy right up to the tree­line (Zone 1), the shrubby spec­i­mens at the north­ern ex­treme of their range can live for up to 1,000 years, al­though in gar­den sit­u­a­tions 200 years is the norm. Pre­fer­ring a full sun sit­u­a­tion, white spruces are adapt­able to most soil types (in­clud­ing clay) and they even­tu­ally ma­ture at 25 me­tres tall by six me­tres wide. Be­cause white spruces tend to re­tain their lower branches, they were tra­di­tion­ally used as north­west wind­breaks around pioneer home­steads, and with reg­u­lar prun­ing they can be trimmed into flat-top ev­er­green hedges; left un­pruned, their blue-green fo­liage and flaw­less con­i­cal shape make them a per­fect spec­i­men tree. White spruces are usu­ally grown from seed, so there can be sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tion in nee­dle colour and growth habit; wild spec­i­mens don’t trans­plant well, so look for young con­tainer-grown or ball-and­burlapped spec­i­mens. One of just five spruce species na­tive to Canada, Picea glauca is sus­cep­ti­ble to sev­eral in­sect pests, both na­tive and in­tro­duced: Avoid plant­ing white spruces in ar­eas where spruce bee­tles, spruce bud­worms or spruce sawflies are preva­lent.

Ev­ery decade or so, white spruces pro­duce an over­abun­dance of seeds, and Amer­i­can red squir­rels can some­how pre­dict th­ese “mast years” in ad­vance, birthing a sec­ond litter of young’uns to take ad­van­tage of the food sur­plus.

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