Fat Albert Spruce Problems

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Aphids feed on spruce and transmit disease.
Aphids feed on spruce and transmit disease. (Image: Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

A cultivar of Colorado Blue spruce, Fat Albert (Picea pungens cv. "Fat Albert") is a low-growing, semi-dwarf evergreen conifer. Fat Albert features a handsome, pyramidal shape and distinctive bluish-green, sharp needles. The tree grows slowly, ultimately reaching about 15 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide by the time it is 10 years old. Named for comedian Bill Cosby's character, Fat Albert grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 to 7. Although Fat Albert is virtually care-free, the tree occasionally suffers from attacks by spruce gall aphid, spider mites and budworms.

Spruce Gall Aphid

If you find abnormal, cone-shaped growths or tumors on the northern or eastern sides of Fat Albert, they may very well be caused by the spruce gall aphid, a sucking insect that spreads infection. Cooley spruce gall aphids are often seen on the undersides of Fat Albert twigs, near the buds. These tiny insects lay eggs that hatch the same time as budbreak on the tree. In late spring, the galls dry out and crack open, freeing the larval aphids inside. While the galls are unsightly, they often fall off the tree by themselves or are hidden by new growth. Apply permethrin and horticultural oil to Fat Albert to control the aphid population and reduce the number of new galls on the tree.

Spruce Spider Mites

Aptly named, spruce spider mite (Olibonhychus ununguis) is a tiny, spider-like creature that preys on a variety of conifers but prefers spruce over all. The mites are most destructive during the cool early spring and fall seasons, causing the tree's needles to change color. The needles first turn yellow and then, in midsummer, darken and fall. If the spruce spider mite infestation is severe, Fat Albert may lose large numbers of needles, leaving behind large sections of bare branches. If you suspect spruce spider mites, check Fat Albert for small, very fine spider webs. Spruce spider mites produce seven to 10 generations a year and lay eggs that over-winter on the needles or bark of the tree. Use a hard spray from a garden hose to knock the mites and their eggs off Fat Albert, and repeat every few days. Apply horticultural oils or insecticidal soap to kill the mites, rather than a stronger pesticide that will also kill beneficial insects. A pyrethroid-based pesticide used in autumn will kill adult mites before they lay their eggs. You can also use a dormant oil spray in winter to kill any eggs that remain on Fat Albert.

Budworms

Spruce budworms are the larvae of moths that lay their eggs beneath Fat Albert's needles. The larvae feed on terminal branch tips and may attack old needles. Small, silken webs may be visible in late spring in the buds or on old needles, and the crown of the tree may turn brown. Severe budworm infestations cause massive defoliation, and if Fat Albert remains infested for more than one or two years, the tree may die. Apply insecticides in spring while the larvae are feeding. Use insecticidal soap, pyrethrins, malathion or other insecticide formulated to kill spruce budworms. Follow label directions.

Spruce Bark Beetle

If Fat Albert's bluish-green needles are inexplicably fading to orange and falling off the tree, the spruce bark beetle may be to blame. This pest usually infests trees that are stressed by drought, age or other harsh conditions. Spray with an insecticide such as carbaryl, chlorpyrifos or lindane to prevent spruce bark beetle attacks. Infested trees should be removed and burned to kill any spruce bark beetles inside and prevent a worse infestation next year. Heavy infestations can kill Fat Albert.

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