Spruce, fir etc. pruning


Hi folks. I have a number of spruce and fir (and Doug fir) that I am planning to transition from the rapid growth phase of development - developing primary branches - to the refinement stage. I can’t find a lot of information on when and how to reduce new growth to promote density and maintain a silhouette. Walter Pall says he he just uses hedge trimmers…a little more insight would be appreciated :grinning:

(Jonas Dupuich) #2

Was hoping someone would chime in here - I don’t have a lot of experience with Douglas fir (and will make a note to provide an update if I find good info on the topic).

Ryan Neil is the first resource that comes to mind who has good experience with the variety.

(Frank Corrigan) #3

Hi Brad
I am working with a number of spruce and Fir ( not Douglas). The approach i am using for refinement is as follows:

  1. Doing less work at a time than on other species such as pine or juniper.
  2. Re-potting more carefully and in smaller stages.
  3. Cut back is always to live buds or pair of branchlets. If to a bud or pair of buds i leave a small stub to trim later and prevent too much die back that might affect the bud. Same in the crotch, small stub to trim later. This is a key point as the spruce and fir will die back to the first set of existing buds so stage the cut back after the buds are present for best results.
  4. Wiring in late summer early fall with care to mist needles during work. I found that my Ezo had a lot of damage when wired later in the winter.
  5. I put a real focus on keeping the trees in larger containers until the majority of refinement is completed. This is to keep the vigor at as high a level as possible while working the foliage back, wiring and positioning branches and pads.
    Presently working with Ezo, Sub AlpineFir , Grand Fir. Picea Omorika.
    Do not claim to be an expert, but this approach is working.

(Raymond Mack) #4

Jonas and Frank,

When are you cutting back spruce? I’m trying something different this year with my Black Hills and Black spruce (P. mariana). In the past I have pinched the new buds and then cut back to a lesser extent in the Fall. I read a piece by Walter Pall which stated he does not pinch new growth but allows everything to extend and cuts back late July - to first of August). At least part of this approach sounds good because the tree is gaining energy. BTW - I live in zone 7a and spruce do fine in my area. I give them partial shade during the hot weather.

Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks guys!

Augustine (Ray )

(Frank Corrigan) #5

I do not " pinch " spruce. I cut back to a desired branch or bud. I work better with scissors than pudgy fingers, less incidental damage. The timing of my pruning is dependant on the desired outcome. Developmental versus refinement. Developmental cutback is typically in the winter and refinement cutback is usually late spring, early summer after the new growth has extended.


Thanks for all the great insights, Frank.

(Jonas Dupuich) #7

Some of the Japanese guides I’ve referred to show pinching the strongest shoots before they harden off. Of the little spruce work I’ve done, I followed the approach Frank mentioned.


Hi Ray. A couple thoughts on the pinching versus pruning: the plants may be getting some return on investment from the young leaves, but it’s definitely a net energy loss. The leaves cost a lot more carbon (and water and nutrients) to produce than they gain during that short period of growth.

I wonder if pruning the extended shoots back to a set of buds allows those buds more time to develop? Typically those buds will be further back on the new growth and weaker than the apical buds, making the new growth finer. Would be great to hear more details/thoughts on this.


(Raymond Mack) #9

Thanks Guys for the input. I think I am going to do a small amount of cut back now to check the back budding and vigor response vs the more common fall cut back. Will report along the way.

Best regards,