Blue spruce


A blue spruce with Rhizosphaera needlecast.

I met a gentleman who was having dinner with my fellow graduate Terry Teplica last week. He actually confessed that he never misses reading my column.

Before I could even say thank you, he blurted out, “Why are my blue spruce trees dying?”

I wish I had every plant disease on the tip of my tongue, but those days of remembering names have passed. The gentleman’s name is Lee Plonka, and yes, I had to call Terry because I forgot his name.

Colorado Blue Spruce is a popular tree in our area, because of the bluish green foliage and conical growth. If you aren’t sure if it is a spruce tree, stick your arm inside the branches. If it comes out a bloody mess, it’s a spruce. They have four-sided needles that are very sharp.

A fir tree has flat needles, and can not be rolled between your fingers, if that’s something you like to do. Both spruce and fir needles are attached one at a time, while a pine tree needles are attached two, three and five at a time.

So what’s wrong with Lee’s trees?

They have either Cytospora or Rhizosphaera needlecast. I guess I should carry those names in my wallet, because I will never remember them again. You would think I would remember the name Lee, because that’s my middle name, but no such luck.

Here’s the scoop.

When your blue spruce has its 15th birthday party, and grows to about 20 feet in height, you may notice the lower branches are starting to turn brown and die. You should assume that you are now the proud owner of one of these diseases, and it’s only going to get worse. The disease travels up the tree, and the spruce is no longer attractive.

One sign that you can look for is cankers that girdle the branches, causing a white, crusty resin to drip down the trunk of the tree. The branch will then die back to the trunk.

I’m very sorry to report there is no cure. Colorado spruce are native to Colorado, where the weather conditions are a little different than here. A wet spring is an ideal time for the disease to sprout. You can spray the branches with a copper spray, which will protect the new growth, but the old growth will still have the disease. Unless you are very tall, spraying a whole tree is next to impossible.

You should prune off the lower diseased branches, but be sure to disinfect the pruner between cuts in a 70 percent alcohol solution or 10 percent bleach dip for 30 seconds. If you need to borrow any bleach, stop by. It is my wife’s favorite.

Prune the branches in dry weather to prevent any further infection.

There are other choices of trees that would be better to use in our area than the blue spruce. The Concolor Fir ‘Blue Coat’ will not get the disease, but it only gets 7 to 10 feet tall.

I believe that Lee and Terry had the fish at Parkstown. I noticed that a lot of old people ordered it, but could only eat about half of it because it is so large. They all take the leftovers home, and probably live off them until next week. I can truthfully say, I have never taken any leftovers home. I clean my plate, and never leave my ice tea glass half full. This is not the case with my wife.

Sometimes the waitress points out to me on a Friday night that all the customers in the place have ordered the fish dinner, and you order wings? Love my wings!

Make your space a green space.

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