Picea orientalis 'Skylands' / Skylands Caucasian spruce

Picea orientalis 'Skylands' is a robust, symmetrical, upright selection of Caucasian spruce with tiered branching holding fantastic golden needles held tightly against the stem. Older, interior foliage is more of a typical deep green in color — the contrast is striking. In spring, the display is amplified with the emergence or cherry-red pollen and seed cones. 'Skylands' is truly an exceptional plant.

When young, plants critically need shelter from intense sun until roots completely develop. In fact, immature specimens burn so badly that many "give up" on them. Gardeners have been known to erect sun shelters to protect their young trees from the sun. Once mature, the plants are quite tolerant of full sun.

After 10 years of growth, a mature specimen will measure 12 to 15 feet (4 - 5 m) tall and 5 feet (1.6 m) wide, an annual growth rate of 12 to 18 inches (30 - 45 cm).

This cultivar was "found" in 1950, growing at random at Skylands Gardens, part of the New Jersey Botanical Gardens at Ringwood, New Jersey, now known as Ringwood State Park. In the past it was sometimes seen listed under the cultivar name, 'Aurea Compacta.' However, 'Skylands' has become so popular over time that this is not likely ever the case today.

Noted New Zealand plantsman, David Sampson monitoring progress of his own Skylands seedling. Photo by Noeline Sampson.
Noted New Zealand plantsman, David Sampson monitoring progress of his own Skylands seedling. Photo by Noeline Sampson.

Skylands seedlings. Over the years, 'Skylands' has been a productive and successful seed parent for many of the dwarf, golden Picea orientalis cultivars in the trade. The most notable of which is Firefly, which was introduced in the early 2020s by Iseli Nursery. Others include 'Aebel Skylands Seedling' (a Buchholz Nursery introduction), and 'Sunrise' (from Bob Fincham at Coenosium Gardens). Pictured to the left is David Noline, who obtained Skylands seed from the ACS' Seed Exchange Program to a pleasing result.

Picea orientalis 'Skylands' — typical habit of the species but slow-developing in early years. Glowing yellow year around. More green contrast on lower, shaded interior.
Photo by Iseli Nursery, Inc.
Picea orientalis 'Skylands' The foliage of the Caucasian spruce is finer and softer than other spruce.
Photo by Charlene Harris
Picea orientalis 'Skylands' — a 12-year old, 4.5 foot tall specimen with a 3.5 foot spread at the base. It receives shade from winter sun and late summer sun, which may cause some burning.
Photo by Charlene Harris
Picea orientalis 'Skylands' — a photo record donated by Richard and Susan Eyre.
Photo by Rich Eyre
Picea orientalis 'Skylands' in the Harper Collection of Dwarf & Rare Conifers at Hidden Lake Gardens, Tipton, Michigan. Photo from August of 2005. Pictured is the larger of two plants on the grounds.
Photo by Dax Herbst
Picea orientalis 'Skylands' in the Bickelhaupt Arboretum, Clinton, Iowa in the Heartland Collection of Garden Conifers. Photo from March of 2004.
Photo by Dax Herbst
New growth - Churchville, NY
The pollen cones of Picea orientalis ‘Skylands.'
Photo by Randall C. Smith/Iseli Nursery

Comments

Carol McLeod

Hi,
We planted a Picea orientalis 'Skylands' 3-4 years ago. It was probably about 4 feet tall at the time. It has grown 5 feet since that time. This is a much greater growth rate that we expected and we are concerned that the tree will become too large for its site. The first season we had to create a new leader because the original one was destroyed by borers. We have yet to see cones on the tree. We live in the Northeast U.S. about 40 miles north of NYC.
Is pruning for height and width a good practice for this tree? If so, how and when.

many thanks for your help.
Carol

David Olszyk

Hi Carol, 'Skylands' is officially a fast-growing tree, meaning it wants to grow 12 inches or more per year for a very long time. Personally, I never prune spruce. We only get 1 push of growth each year and it's easy to mess it up. Sadly, you appear to have selected the wrong plant for the right space.

See that plant in the gallery above from Iseli nursery. I've visited that particular tree many times. It's easily 50 feet tall and has been in the ground for only 25 years. It's not slowing down anytime soon.

Sharon Morris

I love everything about the Skylands' but I don't want something that will grow so large. Can you suggest something that has a similar shape and color as the 'Skylands' that won't grow so large?

David Olszyk

yes! Picea orientalis 'Firefly' grows at about half the rate of 'Skylands'.

Sieglinde Anderson

I planted Skylands in my own garden 10 years ago. It was probably 3 or 4 feet high then. It is now 13 feet high but much wider than 5 ft. at the base, the skirt is about 8 feet wide. It is in part shade, receiving sun only from 10 AM to 2 PM and again in the late afternoon at the top only. I have a client who claims this is her favorite tree and we are planting three now. I have seen Skylands here in NC 12 feet wide. Does climate have to do with the expanded width? We are in Zone 6/7 depending on our kind of winter in Asheville area. As a designer my problem is how do I space the trees at planting so they don't end up being removed because they were planted too close.

David Olszyk

that would depend on the timeline of your installation. Trees are anything but static. They grow at a predictable and constant rate for decades, if not centuries.

If you're planning for what a landscape will look in 100 years, it's going to look really sparse for the first 35-50 years. If you're planning for perfection after 20 years, it's going to look really overgrown in 50. It's the nature of the game.

David Sampson

We, (previously Cedar Lodge Nurseries) purchased 'Skylands' seed from the ACS in 1997. Seed source Ref. 059, collected by Paul Halladin of Iseli Nursery. From that seed we selected a much slower growing form of 'Skylands'. We have given it a cultivar name of 'Mini Sky'. That seedling sown in 1997 is now 1.6 meters high (5ft 4inches) — very attractive with compact form. Bare in mind we are in New Zealand with a faster growth rate than most other places. I will try and send a photo.

Website Editor

The part about the Skylands seedlings is a great addition to the record!