There are a handful of trees that are best known from coast to coast, and the Colorado Blue Spruce is one of them. Certainly, when talking about conifers, no tree seems to be better known than the blue spruce.
When you think of the Colorado Blue Spruce, you picture deep silvery blue needles, and a pyramidal shaped tree. Those are likely hybrids, for the "true blue" isnít always blue. In fact, the actual true Colorado Blue Spruce(Picea pungens), can vary from dark green, the bluish-green, to silvery blue. There is a wide variation in the genetic phenotype, yet all are true Blues. Nonetheless, this tree has a wide appeal whether a real Blue or hybrids, because of the foliage color. There arenít very many trees that have a bluish color that can be planted nearly nationwide, so the interest has mass appeal.
The Colorado Blue Spruce is one of our favorite trees anyways. The native stands are scattered across the central Rocky Mountains states, mostly in Colorado and Utah, with smaller concentrations and pockets in Arizona, New Mexico, western Wyoming, and eastern Idaho. Over the entire range, pure stands of Blues are rare, but rather mixed with Engelmann Spruce and Quaking Aspen, plus a limited host of other species. Ecologically, the Colorado Blue Spruce is serial or intermediate species in the long line of forest succession, although some trees can live to old-growth age and status. Typically found between 6,000 and 8,500 feet in the native range, they can survive and be found up to 10,000 feet. At the higher elevations, they can become the only trees in the ecological niches.
The Latin species name "pungens" means "to prick", and this is typical of the spruces stiff sharply pointed needles. Looking at the needles, they are four-sided, more diamond-shaped about an inch long, surrounding the twig, and seated on a woody peg. One of the chief identifying characteristics of the Picea genus are these little pegs that the needles sit upon. The bark is thin and flaky cinnamon brown to golden yellow scaly, with pendent golden brown cones up to 3 and a half long. These trees can get up to 130 feet tall and up to four feet in diameter, but typical for the species, they will be 70 to 90 feet and only two feet across. They can live up to 600 years, but the successional position they occupy in their natural range, fire kills these thinly barked trees.
Since the Colorado Blue Spruce grows well in a wide variety of climatic regimes, they can be panted nearly nationwide, from Zones 2 to 8, and from the wet to the dry. They prefer a moderate amount of moisture, and like full sun. The spruces can be planted singly, in clumps, or in lines as for screens and windbreaks. The growth rate is typically slow, averaging a foot a year, but that can vary from six inches to two feet also. Improved growth rates come from good planting conditions, adequate moisture during the growing season, limited competition from weeds, and a shot of fertilizer a couple times during the year.
All of the spruces originated from primordial ancestors in the northeastern mainland of Asia, and now about 40 species are widely scattered throughout the north temperate regions. Ornamental, there are many popular varieties, and the Blue Spruce itself has about 30 or more hybrids.
One of the great things about growing Colorado Blue Spruce is that seeds are often locally available. Since trees are planted everywhere, especially in parks and around public buildings, the trees are old enough to produce viable seeds. Flowering happens between April and June and the pale to shiny tan cones are ripe in late fall or winter.
Cones are collected using ladders or long poles with hooks (of which pvc pipe works well). Colorado Blue Spruce seeds do quickly lose viability if not extracted from the cones as soon after collection as possible. The cones are more sensitive to poor storage than the pines, so collect them, dry, and get the seeds ready. Cones will open quickly if placed in a warm dry space for a few days. A car actually makes a great drying room, if greenhouse-like facilities are not available. Once opened, the seeds easily shake out.
The seeds can be left with the seed wings on, or they can easy removed by carefully rubbing them with your hands or placed in a bowl of water and stirred around with a plastic spatula, then drained and dried. Seed wings can then be blown off. Seeds are then ready to store in sealed containers and with cold temperatures (such as a refrigerator), they can last anywhere from 5 to 20 years with very little loss of viability. There's about 106,000 seeds per pound.
Colorado Blue Spruce seeds really don't need any pretreatment, but soaking the seeds in cool to room temperature water overnight does help to assure a more uniform germination. Seeds can also be soaked, drained, and stored in the refrigerator for 14 to 30 days, before planting. That will help overcome any residual dormancy the seeds may have.
Because damping-off is a serious risk with these (as with all conifers), use a sterile of nearly sterile media, like the standard vermiculite, peat moss, perlite, and clean sand. Combining these can be done also. Be careful not to overwater them, and plant the seeds and cover about 1/4 inch with media. Next, cover the seeds with a mulch layer, but so does covering the container or flat with newspaper and keep them in a partly shaded and protected spot as they sprout.
Sprouting will take place very quickly within a couple weeks in many cases. Protect the seedlings with partial shade for the first season, and transplant in late fall or early winter. Gallon containers will work fine for the next couple of years, and because these trees grow slowly, they will need to potted or planted where they can grow for two to five years before they should be outplanted.
One of the interesting things about Colorado Blue Spruce seeds is that seedling color will vary from the true-blues to deep green. There is a wide range of colors among the Colorado Blue Spruce found in its natural environment, and especially true when growing seed from the many varieties. If you collect seeds from the Super-Duper Blue, the seeds will likely revert to the original strain.
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