There are many things that gardeners do which do not reward them with immediate results. As one senior gentleman told me years ago, “We plant trees for the next generation.” Indeed, unless you are substantially younger than I am, any trees you plant will not reach full maturity in your lifetime. It takes a certain point of view – an attitude toward life, if you like – to tackle a job which will eventually reward others more than it will ever benefit you. Perhaps that is why some of these seemingly unrewarding projects are so rarely undertaken these days. One of these endeavours is the establishment of a spruce hedge.
In decades past, spruce hedges were not uncommon, and a few of these beauties still grace the landscapes of farm properties and town yards. Most, however, have been eradicated as they reached their best before date and started to deteriorate and become rather unattractive. Over time bare spots had appeared in the hedges and often the bottom branches died and no longer bore needles. This would be most common on the north side of a hedge that ran east-west. Lack of light finally took its toll and the bottom branches died and made the hedge look quite unsightly.
A perfect spruce hedge is a beautiful thing, but a scrawny, half-dead one is an eyesore. A gardener of long ago had no guarantee that when it was full grown it would be perfect and not have dead spots, empty gaps, and so on – which makes us admire their efforts even more.
So, if you are up to the challenge of establishing a spruce hedge, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first thing is to obtain suitable plants, which should be small – probably no more than a metre in height – since you will want to begin shaping the hedge when the trees are quite small. Although spacing the trees closer together will increase the cost, the hedge will fill in more quickly. Generally, spruce should be planted about 60 cm apart for hedging purposes. The trees will grow more quickly if the soil on both sides is kept weed free and cultivated, and they are watered regularly. Spruce respond favourably to a well-balanced tree fertilizer applied once a year.
In the second year of growth the task of trimming and training the trees can begin. Typically, spruce hedges are trimmed in mid-June after the new growth is fully elongated. For the first few years minimal clipping is done, mostly along the sides, to keep the hedge from getting too wide. If the bottom is kept slightly wider than the top, light will be able to reach the lower branches, keeping them healthy. If at all possible try to have the hedge running north-south rather than east-west. The leaders of the trees are cut off when the desired height is reached, and then any branches that grow vertically trying to establish themselves as leaders must be clipped as well. The process of clipping and trimming to achieve the desired shape takes years.
One important rule to keep in mind is that any branch on a spruce tree that is cut back beyond the current year’s growth will not regrow and you will be left with a stub. For this reason it is wise to cut only part – anywhere from one-third to one-half of the new growth back. Over time, therefore, the hedge will gradually increase in size. In years to come some future resident of your property will no doubt thank you for starting a spruce hedge and marvel at the foresight and patience you must have had!
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba.
Theprocessofclipping andtrimmingto achievethedesired shapetakesyears.