Do White Spruce Lose Their Bottom Branches?


Commonly used as a landscape specimen or screen, the white spruce (Picea glauca) is known for its pyramidal habit and dense growth. Because of those traits, the loss of the tree's low branches tends to disappoint gardeners who value the white spruce’s filled-in, conical shape. Luckily, certain techniques can prevent the tree from losing its bottom branches.

Identification and Description

  • Native to the far northeastern parts of the United States and to Canada, the white spruce is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zones 2 through 6. It can grow to a height of 40 to 60 feet and attain an eventual canopy width of 10 to 20 feet, giving it a narrow, pyramidal form when it is mature. The tree is a member of the Pinaceae family, and its species name -- glauca -- refers to the fact that its needles develop a waxy, white coating, otherwise known as becoming glaucous, as they age.

Branch Loss

  • The white spruce performs best in a site that receives full sun exposure, which generally means six to eight hours per day of uninterrupted, non-shaded light. In a location where it has to compete for light, the tree gradually sheds its low branches as it grows taller. Because white spruce lives for such a long time, sometimes 300 years, a site that worked well for the tree when it was young may, over time, become more crowded and shaded, contributing to the loss of its branches.

Prevention of Branch Loss

  • Although white spruce is adapted to survive as an understory tree, it usually lives about only 50 years in such a condition. If you want to keep the low branches of your white spruce intact, then plant the tree where it will receive full sun on all sides. Keep it away from other specimen trees, which eventually may grow taller and shade the white spruce. If you move to a property that has a white spruce shedding branches, you may wish to remove some of the tree's competition for sunlight. Contact professional tree removers if you don’t know how to fell trees safely.

Cultural Requirements

  • Aside from full sunlight, a white spruce performs best in a moist, well-drained site with fertile soil and fresh water. Do not plant the tree near stagnant water such as a pond or marsh because it will not do well there. It does best with acidic or slightly alkaline soil, tolerating a pH range of 4.5 to 7.5. When planted in a cold climate with cool, moist summers in its USDA plant hardiness zone range, white spruce is a very low-maintenance tree.

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