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Old 06-22-2019, 08:28 PM   #1
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Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


We have a couple of dwarf Alberta spruces that were allowed to grow wild and they have gotten too large. At this point, is there anything I can do short of pulling them out? I'd like these to be smaller, if that's possible.



With these spruces, the needles are on the very outside edge, so if you trim more than an inch or two, you expose the non-green inside. Let's say I got hedge-trimmer happy and trimmed 6" off. Would the cut ends start growing needles or would the tree die? If the former, that would seem like a way to slim these fat boys down to a size that better fits the landscaping.

Similar question for a couple of arbor vitae, which were also allowed to grow without sufficiently frequent trimming.

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Old 06-22-2019, 08:42 PM   #2
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


A lot depends on how much smaller

That thing's glorious!

Okay, I'm gonna give my two cents', and if someone from near you disagrees, go with that they say but

Conifers hate being cut back too hard, and if you do, it'll just die.

A GREAT QUESTION!

More data?
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Old 06-22-2019, 09:01 PM   #3
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


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Originally Posted by DoomsDave View Post
A lot depends on how much smaller

That thing's glorious!

Okay, I'm gonna give my two cents', and if someone from near you disagrees, go with that they say but

Conifers hate being cut back too hard, and if you do, it'll just die.

A GREAT QUESTION!

More data?

What he said.
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Old 06-22-2019, 09:26 PM   #4
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


I mean, what a glorious plant!

Okay, I'd try to keep it, but if there's a reason not to, tell us, and we'll all cry.
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Old 06-22-2019, 09:36 PM   #5
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


I certainly agree with the others. If you do more than some light trimming more than likely you're going to end up killing the trees. If it's a chance you want to take go ahead but I certainly can't recommend it.
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Old 06-22-2019, 10:38 PM   #6
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


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I mean, what a glorious plant!
Of course it is, it's drinking from my sewer pipe.

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Okay, I'd try to keep it, but if there's a reason not to, tell us, and we'll all cry.
Well, I gave you one reason above. That is manageable with annual or perhaps semi-annual root killer treatment. So it's a small expense plus a small amount of labor. The other reason is it's just too big. It looks overgrown and out of place relative to the other shrubbery. If I could get it smaller, I could probably live with the ongoing root killer treatment (but one more sewer pipe clog and those dwarf spruces are getting the chain).

I'm of half a mind to just yank them out and replace with grass. Less maintenance and no ongoing root killer application requirement.
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Old 06-24-2019, 10:29 AM   #7
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


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Of course it is, it's drinking from my sewer pipe.

Well, I gave you one reason above. That is manageable with annual or perhaps semi-annual root killer treatment. So it's a small expense plus a small amount of labor. The other reason is it's just too big. It looks overgrown and out of place relative to the other shrubbery. If I could get it smaller, I could probably live with the ongoing root killer treatment (but one more sewer pipe clog and those dwarf spruces are getting the chain).

I'm of half a mind to just yank them out and replace with grass. Less maintenance and no ongoing root killer application requirement.
You have given a good reason!

Long Guy Land is supposed to be something of a temperate gardening paradise, though I've never lived there. (USDA zone 7! NC has that, too.) You could, if so inclined, plant some Rhododendrons or something pretty that won't invade your sewers. (Those shun pipes in my Ohio experience.) I wouldn't just settle for some grass, but, of course it's your yard, and I'm nutty.

As a palm nut here in the Land O'La La, I can appreciate both what a treasure something long-lived can be with age and size, and what [expletive] nuisance it can be in the wrong place. I'm the first in my family with a post-grad degree plus multiple chain saws and pick up trucks . . . .

I'd harden my heart, dry my tears and use it for firewood. Or Craigslist or otherwise give it to someone who can.

And, take the time to shop for something purty that gladdens your heart that you took the trouble to find it!

P.S.

That big green monster thing in your second picture looks more like an arborvitae, which is much faster than the spruce in the first picture. I looked too fast and thought it was a spruce.

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Old 06-24-2019, 10:55 AM   #8
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


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You have given a good reason!

Long Guy Land is supposed to be something of a temperate gardening paradise, though I've never lived there. (USDA zone 7! NC has that, too.) You could, if so inclined, plant some Rhododendrons or something pretty that won't invade your sewers. (Those shun pipes in my Ohio experience.) I wouldn't just settle for some grass, but, of course it's your yard, and I'm nutty.
That's a pretty good idea. A shrub that stays green through the winter and won't aggressively try to tap into the sewer pipe would be a good alternative to grass.

Best time to plant this year would be early fall? Maybe September?

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That big green monster thing in your second picture looks more like an arborvitae, which is much faster than the spruce in the first picture. I looked too fast and thought it was a spruce.
Yeah, that's an arborvitae as I noted in the OP. I mentioned it because I have a similar issue - it's overgrown and I need to cut it back a fair bit, but wondering if that will kill it.
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Old 06-24-2019, 11:08 AM   #9
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


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That's a pretty good idea. A shrub that stays green through the winter and won't aggressively try to tap into the sewer pipe would be a good alternative to grass.

Best time to plant this year would be early fall? Maybe September?

Yeah, that's an arborvitae as I noted in the OP. I mentioned it because I have a similar issue - it's overgrown and I need to cut it back a fair bit, but wondering if that will kill it.
I think a hard cutback will kill it, alas, though they are faster than other conifers. I guess you could just hack and wait and see. I know spruces and junipers croak at hard cutback.

I recall planting Rhodies in the spring, but I'm sure your local nursery will be glad to help, along with other DIY denizens from near you.
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Old 06-25-2019, 02:47 AM   #10
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Re: Can I trim back a dwarf Alberta spruce to make it smaller?


Unfortunately Alberta spruce are slow growing and do not take well to heavy pruning. They have a habit of turning brown just from touching the needles, much less actually cutting them. The recommendation is to basically never prune them, at most take of 1/2 to 1 inch off the tips, but never, ever back/in to where the needles have stopped growing.

Your best bet is to selectively take out the most offensive offshoot branches all the way to the main branches and try to reshape it/them. (Main branches come off the main center trunk, offshoot branches come off those.) Then work on trying to shape them (typical conical triangles/mini Christmas trees?) by snipping off the bushy bits.

You might consider doing more of a topiary, like a spiral shape? I've seen "puff ball" dwarf spruce too (stacks of "balls" or just a single large ball at the top.)

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