Q: I am drawn to the beauty of spruce trees and was contemplating buying one to plant in my yard. However, I lost interest because of their slow growth rate until I discovered the cultivar ‘Hoops’ blue spruce. It is a gorgeous tree but is expensive! Can these trees take the heat of the South?
A: Colorado blue spruce is one of those trees that succeeds admirably for some folks and fails miserably for others. I think the key is excellent root drainage combined with enough water in summer to keep the soil moist but never soggy. Full Atlanta summer sun might be too hot for it. I recommend planting where it gets at least a couple of hours of shade during the hottest part of a July afternoon. ‘Hoops’ (‘Hoopsii’) blue spruce is one of the best of this genus. It has a nice conical shape and an attractive blue-white color.
If you are really sold on having it, I’d recommend you prepare an exquisite planting spot. Excavate ALL of the soil in an area eight feet in diameter and twelve inches deep. Discard two thirds of the soil. Thoroughly mix the remaining soil with bagged composted pine bark, gritty paver leveling sand and a few bags of pea gravel. You should aim for a 1:1:1 ratio between the soil, the bark and the inert materials. The planting spot should not be in a low spot that holds water after a rain.
If all goes well your spruce will last for twenty or thirty years. If not, the wood adds a nice scent to your fireplace.
Consider planting instead an Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica. It grows just fine here. Three popular varieties are ‘Carolina Sapphire,’ ‘Blue Ice’ and ‘Silver Smoke.’ The names give you some idea about their color – a beautiful silvery blue like a Colorado blue spruce.
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