Most landscapes have either too much evergreen foliage (i.e. Blue Colorado Spruce taking up the whole front yard) or too little (perennial gardens). So what’s a gardener to do? How about instead of adding big spruce and pine trees that get too big, we add more evergreen shrubs to the landscape.
In a previous post, I answered a reader’s question about selecting an evergreen shrub to put as a foundation plant. In that post, I mentioned one of my favorite easy care plants. The birds nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’).
The birds nest spruce has a few things going for it:
- It is cheap and easy to find
- It is easy to grow
- It is slow growing and needs little pruning attention
- It is a dwarf that eventually (over decades) grows to 3-5′ high and 4-6′ wide
- It is aesthetically pleasing
- It can serve some special uses
Birds nest spruce is cheap & available
If you have read my posts before you know I love my cheap plants, well except for Spirea,
I HATE SPIREA!, especially the damn pink flowered yellow leaf ones. I mean come on yellow and pink, Uck!
If you want to get a decent sized birds nest spruce, expect to spend around $40-50.You can find these at almost any decent nursery.
If you are cheap (and patient for them to grow), you can buy them in a 1 gallon pot at a big box store for $6 plant them and forget about them for three years (well other then watering them of course).
It is easy to grow
Since it has a shallow spreading root system, it transplants easy. It prefers full sun but will do fine in part shade. As long as you have average soil and give it adequate watering for a couple of years after you plant it, it will be fine.
Once the roots have become established, the plant will be able to handle periods of drought. Poorly drained wet areas or areas of full shade are however no no’s.
It also is relatively free of most insect and disease problems, although you should keep an eye out for spider mites. DEER are NOT interested in it usually.
It is slow growing and needs little pruning
Lots of evergreen trees and shrubs can be used to add winter interest, such as boxwood, mugo pines, etc. If you forget to get your pruners out every once and a while, they can sneak up on you and grow a whole lot bigger than you want.
Birds nest spruce will not do this. In fact, I didn’t prune one I planted for six years. As someone that aesthetically prunes trees and shrubs almost every day, I appreciate that shrub letting me kick back and relax a bit!
If you are still concerned about it out growing its spot, let me assure you it is easy to control its size with a little pruning every couple of years.
Birds nest spruce well, just looks nice
The birds nest spruce has fine foliage and a flat spread that combined with a dip in the middle makes it look like a bird’s nest.
It has horizontal branching helps to “ground” it in the landscape . Vertical elements like tree trunks are great, but without lower growing mounded types of plants, like the birds nest spruce, gardens can sometimes not look settled into the landscape.
No it’s not a specimen plant that’s going to be the focus of a garden area. It does however serve as a nice accent plant that adds four season interest and can be used throughout the landscape without becoming overdone.
It can serve some special uses
I have had a few readers ask me about possible plants for planting at a cemetery. The bird spruce provides enduring evergreen foliage that can be symbolic of feelings for a loved one that has passed. That with the ability to be kept small, makes it a possible plant for that use.
Although I think an even slower growing version of this plant, like Picea abies ‘Little Gem’® may be even better if planting space is limited or you never want it to need pruning.
After a birds nest spruce has been growing for a bit, it can be a great plant to prune out in a Japanese garden style to reveal its branching.
If you would like more info on this dwarf spruce, see this American Conifer Society’s webpage.
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