Q: I planted a Norway Spruce in December of last year. The tree was five feet tall when I planted it and has grown approximately one foot since planting. In the last few months, needles on some branches have turned brown and fallen off and then the branch has deteriorated toward the trunk of the tree.
There is no visible sign of pests. Would you have any ideas on how to prevent the damage? The tree is still relatively healthy and I don’t want to lose it.
A: When you purchased the tree, did the name Norway spruce not raise any questions in your mind about how well it would grow here?
In my experience, all of the spruces, including Colorado blue spruce, Alberta spruce and Norway spruce do not prosper in this part of the state. They are all adapted more to the mountains of north Georgia than to the suburbs of Atlanta.
Spruce trees may live a few years in a landscape but eventually our humidity, heat, and clay soil kill them. Your symptoms are consistent with root problems, which are extremely difficult to correct. (OTOH, two radio callers in 2011 cited their long-lived Norway spruces, 17 and 37 years old respectively, which had been planted at Christmas to commemorate birthdays. Both had photos!)
If you insist on planting another spruce, choose a site that gets morning sunshine and afternoon shade. The site should have a slight slope, to help water move away from the roots. Use a shovel to loosen the soil twelve inches deep in a planting area eight feet across. Remove one third of the soil in the area and replace it with gritty sand, such as paver leveling sand. Thoroughly mix it into the soil. If the soil was mostly clay to begin with, mix in four cubic feet of soil conditioner.
After planting, water deeply once each week for a year, particularly during the summer. Following these steps will give you at least a fifty percent chance that your spruce will survive for a decade or more.