On our walks, I’ve noticed a common problem: the area under spruce trees looks very dry and ragged. We didn’t have a lot of snow cover this year, so I wondered if that was the reason. I did some research about why there is no vegetation under spruce trees, and I found a great article by Brian Baldwin on the U of S website.
Mr. Baldwin talks about two things that are very significant for those of us who have spruce trees in our landscape. The first is that as gardeners, we have to accept that light and moisture will not get below a spruce tree, making attempts at vegetation more-or-less a waste of time. He says that certain plants might survive, but they will not do well. “Sparse” is the best way to describe their struggle. Mr. Baldwin compares growing grass under a spruce tree to growing grass under a car permanently parked on your lawn. So his suggestion is that gardeners should just accept that we can’t win this particular struggle, and to just let the tree win, and grow.
The second significant point is that he stresses we should not cut off the spruce’s bottom branches, thinking this will make a difference. He says it will make the tree look like a “one legged giant”, and “hacking off branches as high as you can reach does not guarantee a healthy lawn beneath, but it does guarantee a funny looking tree for many years to come.”
Let’s think back, gardeners, on various types of spruce trees that we have seen on our travels. We have all seen beautiful, shapely specimens that have been left to grow as they should, with graceful branches sweeping the ground. We have also seen where the hard work and determination of the gardeners have shaped spruce trees into attractive shapes or topiaries; with these, the trunks have been trimmed to some degree, but the gardener has chosen to emphasize not the “spruce” shape or characteristics, but use the spruce as a practical shrub. These, too, can be very attractive, and allow light, rain, and space to enter the garden.
And then, gardeners, we’ve all seen the trees that Mr. Baldwin talks about: branches sawed off from the bottom, going ever higher, leaving the tree mutilated and misshapen and awkward. And still the problem is not solved because there is no grass below. These poor trees look as if someone cut a branch, then cut another, and by then it was too late so they keep cutting in an attempt to bring back more balance and shape. To me, it’s like when you try to cut your bangs in-between haircuts: you think you’ll take off just a little, and suddenly you’ve gone too far and it’s too late. Please don’t do it, it’s just sad.
This is one more example of doing your homework, asking the experts at the nursery, and choosing the right tree for the space. A spruce that might grow 30 or 40 feet high does not belong on a front lawn that is barely big enough to get a good stride going with the lawnmower. Ask someone who knows, and pick the tree that will suit your space. If you have an established yard and a spruce has gotten far too big, you may have to think about removing it. I don’t say that lightly, because we know how long it takes trees to reach a great and noble size; we know how beneficial they are to the environment. But sadly, some trees just outgrow their homes.
With our gardens, though, the best is yet to come! The Yorkton and District Horticultural Society will be having their next meeting on Wednesday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at SIGN on North Street. Our special guest will be Don Stein speaking about “Photography in the Garden and Nature Settings”. I love taking pictures in the garden, I know you do, too. Don will give us practical tips of how to best capture the garden’s beauty. This year we hope to take pictures all along to show the garden’s progress, so I want to learn all I can to make it look the best it can be!
Hope you can join us! Till next time, have a great week!