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Picea pungens – how much shade can it tolerate? (12 Replies)

Posted October 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm

A poster on the GardenWeb Conifer Forum writes: “I planted a Picea pungens ‘Glauca globosa’ last May. It was very full, but started dropping needles around July. I dont think water is an issue. Could this be caused just by shade? It only gets about 1hr of direct sun, but the rest of the day is bright/filtered shade. From a distance it looks good, but up close the bad areas have lost all needs and terminal buds look black (not good).Can anyone tell if this is just a situation of too much shade or is it a disease. The areas unaffected look very healthy.”

In my zone 9b garden, Picea pungens cultivars are one of my ‘go to’ choices for the hottest, sunniest spots – like near rocks, driveway, etc. They can stand the reflected heat without a problem. I have one specimen (a ‘Lucretia’) in a spot where it gets a little bit of shade, but all of the others are out where it bakes. A couple of us think that the problem with the above-mentioned plant is too much shade (and in the woodland setting, possibly combined with too much water). Another poster writes that he grows Pp in shade in his hosta garden in Michigan.

Any thoughts? I think that Pp needs full sun. Would love to hear what others think/know from experience.

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Posted October 6, 2013 at 8:19 am

Probably suffering from transplant shock and lack of sun. For Picea pungens to do well 8 hours of full sun is a must. As one poster writes they can be grown in the shade. True but not for long. Lack of sun takes a toll and will cause it to go into a slow decline. In 3-5 years you are left with a weak looking leggy conifer that will eventually have to be removed.

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Posted October 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Dave that is interesting to add the aspect of time. I wonder how long those specimens have been growing in shade? I was really surprised that they could tolerate it at all. Thanks for that perspective.

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Posted June 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Hi Dave! I am new to this site and looking for knowledge too, besides connecting with other CONEHEADS as I have recently been told I am since I am looking for an expert good dwarf conifer grafting class given in our midwest. 🙂 I live outside Chicagoland and wondered about my Picea pungens ‘Spring Ghost’. Would it also be included in your above statements or could it burn if given too much afternoon sun (morning shade only where I planted it). See Picture

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Posted June 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Jami I will let Dave reply since he is much closer to your location than I am (I’m in zone 9b in CA). However, note that your ‘Spring Ghost’ only has yellow foliage in spring, when the sun isn’t yet full-strength, so the rest of the year it is green and should have no problem with afternoon sun. It’s a gorgeous specimen!

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Posted June 2, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Thanks Sara for commenting back so quickly. I probably did not phrase my question exactly right. My spring ghost looked like it was loosing it’s top needles on each branch from something last year and the only answer I came up with was it was maybe too much hot sun from summer to fall. The underneath branches did not loose their needles and looked very healthy so I thought it might be hot sun burning the needles off. (I am aware that the new growth comes out only in the spring and is (white) to my eyes, but maybe could be considered a light yellow and the rest of the year Spring Ghost this is blue/green.) The same loss of the top needles of each branch (Not the underneath needles on each branch) happened to my Picea abies Perry’s Gold last summer in a different location and in the fall when sun was the hottest. It is planted on East side of my house, but maybe still to much afternoon hot sun later in the season. I have taken branches in to my local UofI extension office Educators & Illinois Tree & Pest Experts from our Plant Clinic to get diagnosed and no one knows much about conifers. The only thing they wondered is if I left the burlap bag on it. They found no pest or disease evidence. Hence why your web site is very valuable. I use to layover in CA often when I worked for the airlines. Lots of friends out there.

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Posted June 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Ah – let’s see if a midwesterner responds! I’ve found here that a lot of my more tender (of the ones that can take full sun) burn the first couple of summers and then settle in fine once their root systems are established. I had to move my ‘Perry’s Gold’ into almost full (though bright) shade and it’s finally starting to come back after two years of doldrums. Your point about the upper needles being the ones affected sounds like it may be too much hot sun.

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Posted June 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm

There’s a famous nickname is the trade for ‘Spring Ghost’ — ‘Summer Toast!’

sorry to disappoint, but this is a notoriously fussy cultivar to properly site.

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Posted June 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Ha! That sounds like as close a diagnosis as I have been able to find yet Dave. I planted a small 6 foot tall Rising Sun Redbud tree to block the afternoon sun on the Spring Ghost two years ago because I had wondered if the sun was the problem. Hoping I can keep the ‘SUMMER TOAST” alive until the redbud grows fuller. I might have to consider planting another tree to block more afternoon sun on the spring ghost that gets taller then a redbud for down the road now.

Do you or Sara have any favorites for dwarf trees that grow fast that top out at under 25-30 ft (Site is Zone 5b now-Full Afternoon Sun-Drier soil because of large 30+ year old pine tree needle mulch-Glacial Till Soil-Great Drainage-OPEN-Small Leaves if deciduious preferably-hate raking)? I LOVE UNIQUE, One of a Kind & if you say HARD TO FIND or RARE even better!! I would also love your list of dwarf deciduous trees under 15 feet tall. Thanks for both of your opinions.

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Posted June 4, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Hi Jami, no tree will quickly grow to 25-30 ft. then suddenly stop. They grow at a predictable rate for their entire lifespan. The sizes that you will see on a plant tag are normally 10-year estimates. So, if the tag says 10 feet in 10 years, you can be pretty sure that after 20 years it will be 20 feet tall.

As for my favorite tree, I’m a really bad one to ask. I’m a huge fan of the conifer freak show. This is a unique tree that I really like, but because it grows so slowly, I’ll probably never be able to get one. Not even named yet; it’s a Picea abies just discovered in Latvia.

As far as the main stream goes, look at the myriad pictures of Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns.’ Here we have sinuous, yet very random growth. Take a look. No two trees are alike. As for deciduous, you can’t beat a Japanese Maple. If you like rare, I highly recommend that you make plans to attend a national or regional meeting by the ACS. We have plant auctions where you can get ahold of some really choice stuff.

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