Black Hills: Sprucing Things Up (Part 1)
The Black Hills Spruce. I think it goes without saying that evergreens make for the best privacy. It’s no argument that a tree with foliage gives more privacy than one without. So why does it seem that evergreens are always so finicky and difficult to please? Thankfully, there are a few good exceptions.
Black Hills Spruce is from the White Spruce family which is native to Manitoba. This gives it a distinct advantage over other spruce varieties. Resilient and cold tolerant though they may be, the Black Hills Spruce is local and understands our climate best. They have the best tolerance of cold and winter sunburn while also having the best growth rate. In a good year they can grow 12″ or more. The best I ever saw was over 24″ in a single summer. It was quite a stretch and I have never seen it since, but it’s possible. White Spruce in the wild can be a bit thin in their branching and foliage compared with other spruce because of their more rapid growth rate, but the Black Hill’s spruce was selected for having improved dense form.
One problem that comes up over and over is their size. Mature Black Hill’s Spruce can be 50′ tall and 15′ wide making them excellent for shelter belts and wind breaks but far too large for small spaces or privacy hedges. Therefore, it is important to remember that while they are faster growers than most it is still very gradual. They will not become monsters overnight and will take at least 20 years to reach a mature size. This brings up pruning.
Yearly pruning is an option and will keep a spruce at a desired size. This also will cause the spruce to grow more compact offering an improved form and privacy. It is best to trim spruce, and most evergreens, in the springtime shortly after the fresh buds open. With some patience and consistent trimming spruce can make a very nice hedge. It seems odd at first, trying to make a square hedge out of a pyramidal tree, but I have seen it done. We have just planted a hedge of white spruce here and I am looking forward to seeing how it fills out.