Red spruce, Norway spruce

Picea abies

The Red Spruce or the Norway spruce make an interesting choice of cultivated varieties for the garden. Here are some planting and care tips.

Growth type
  • Conifer
  • Tree
Growth height (from)
from 3000 cm to 5000 cm
Growth width (from)
from 600 cm to 900 cm
Growth characteristics
  • conical
  • upright
Flower color
  • yellow
  • red
Flowering time (month)
  • April to May
Flower shape
  • Cones
Leaf color
  • green
page format
  • needle-shaped
Sheet properties
  • evergreen
Fruit color
  • brown
Fruit shape
  • Cone
  • sunny to semi-shade
Soil type
  • sandy to loamy
Soil Moisture
  • fresh to humid
ph value
  • weakly alkaline to acidic
Lime compatibility
  • lime-tolerant
Nutrient requirements
  • moderately nutritious
  • rich in humus
Decorative or utility value
  • native wild plant
  • non-toxic
Winter Hardness
  • hardy
Climate zones according to USDA
  • 2
  • Single position
  • Group planting
  • Landscape woody plants
  • Lawn areas
Garden style
  • Park area
  • Forest Garden

The Red Spruce (Picea abies), also known as the Red fir or Common spruce belongs to the pine family (Pinaceae) and is the only spruce species that is native to Central Europe. In 2017 it was named Tree of the Year. The Red spruces is erroneously called the "Red fir", although the tree clearly belongs to the genus of the spruce (Picea) and has different characteristics. The natural habitat of the Red spruce is the Alps and in the higher elevations of the highlands. However, because of forestry, it has now even cultivated in the plains.


The Red spruce is named for the reddish and fine flaky bark, which turns into gray-brown and thickened bark when it becomes old, that surrounds the ramrod straight trunk of the tree. Other striking features are the sweeping branches, which typically sag in the middle, and the pyramid-shaped growth. The Red spruce grows up to 164.04 feet high, which makes it the largest native tree in Europe alongside the Silver fir. In the wild, the Red spruce lives almost up to 600 years. Their root system is shallow, but some of them also go deep. Depending on the location and climate, Picea abies forms slightly different growth forms (ecotypes) and can grow as conical spruce, dwarf spruce or flat-top spruce.


The needles of the Red spruce are square and stiff. They have a sharp point, which again belies the term "Red fir". They are up to 0.78 inches long and about 0.039 inches wide. They are spread around the branch on short brown stems. The leaves of the Red spruce remain on the tree for five to seven years before new ones form.

Shoot on a Red spruce

The young leaves of the Red spruce are light green


Picea abies is monoecious and only bears flowers from the age of 30. But even then, they only show up every few years. The light brown buds are cone-shaped. The red-hued female cones, which appear in April and May, are found in the upper portion of the treetop, while single, carmine-red to yellow male flowers are found on the two-year-old shoots. The fruit clusters develop later from the female cones. The spruce blossoms are pollinated by wind and insects.


The seed heads (cones) of the Red spruce are about 15 centimeters tall, slender and turn light brown after ripening. As opposed to the seed heads found on fir trees, they hang down from the branches. When the cones ripen, they fall down from the tree and are found in large numbers on the forest floor. Ripe cones are scaly, resinous and withered. Behind each individual scales are fatty, winged spruce seeds, which are dispersed by the wind and which squirrels like to eat.


Red spruce trees need at least 1968.5 feet of altitude and at least 23.62 inches of rainfall every year for optimal growth. Because of its demand as a forest tree, the species is now so widespread that it also grows in much less suitable sandy areas. It thrives in both sunny and partially shaded places. When the Red spruce is planted as a single tree, its picturesque branches often touch the ground. In the forest, the tree loses its bottom-most branches.


A moist and well-drained soil is optimal for Picea abies. If the earth is too dry, the tree becomes vulnerable to pests.


Because the Red spruce with its flat root system can easily get uprooted in a storm, you should choose a location that well-protected. Container plants can be planted any time during the frost-free period. Till such time that the young trees gain maturity, they have to be watered extensively. Use a sturdy post to prevent the young plant from getting uprooted.


If you put a mulch layer of bark around the roots of young trees, the soil will not dry out so easily. Note: The falling needles of the Red spruce that collect on the ground decompose with a low pH value (acidic needle litter) and thus acidify the soil over the years. If the values fall below 5, the acidification is too strong. To counteract this, add lime to the soil periodically.


A growing Red spruce makes a pretty picture, especially if it is a planted as a single tree and therefore does not require any pruning. Should it become necessary or desired to prune the tree, i.e. to remove branches from the lower third of the trunk, it is best to do this in late winter. Picea abies does not tolerate cuttings in old wood. So, be careful while pruning. Shaping should start from the time the tree is young and should be done only on shoots with needles, as the tree will only continue to grow on them. Never cut off the main shoot, as that would disfigure the tree permanently.

Red spruce grown as a Bonsai

With correct pruning and a lot of patience, a Red spruce can also be cultivated as a bonsai

Where to plant

Various cultivated forms of the Red spruce can be planted in the garden: When planted alone, they attract everyone's attention. Picea abies is traditionally used for the timber industry, which has given the tree the nickname "bread tree of forestry". Apart from being fast-growing, the red spruce is also used in a numerous ways: to make furniture, in paper production or as construction timber. Even musical instruments are made out of it. The essential oils from the spruce needles are used in traditional medicine as home remedies for rheumatism and lung diseases.


There are some varieties of Red spruce that make interesting garden plants. The almost columnar, 19.65 to 26.24 feet high hanging spruce Picea abies ‘Inversa’ develops hanging shapes. This tree must be planted as a solo tree. The dwarf form Picea abies ‘Procumbens’ grows up to 3.28 feet high and can spread out a good five times in width. It is suitable for planting heather gardens. Dwarf-shaped spherical or pillow spruces such as the ‘Maxwellii’ variety go well in rock gardens. The conical variety ‘Will's dwarf’ grows so slowly that it takes 30 years to reach a height of 6.56 feet. This dwarf form can even be cultivated in a container on the balcony or terrace and often serves as a perfectly vivid .

Red spruce variety Picea abies ‘Inversa‘

The Red spruce variety Picea abies ‘Inversa‘ has a peculiar shape


The wild species of the Red spruce is best propagated by seeds. These are dried and stored in a dark and cool place. Refrigerator stratification of seeds is done from March onwards; thereafter they are sown in seed trays or directly in the plant bed. Cultivated forms of the red spruce, on the other hand, are propagated in the nursery by cuttings. Since this method is very time-consuming, it should be left to gardening professionals.

Diseases and Pests

The main pest on spruce is the Sitka spruce louse – unfortunately it also attacks the red spruce. This red-eyed aphid is active in summer and winter and causes needles of infected trees to fall. To fight these pests, sprays based on rapeseed oil are suitable. The bark beetle, which prefers to attack dry and weakened trees, is a strong threat, especially for large tree populations. Fungal diseases such as spruce needle redness, needle rust or browning of needles, root dry rot and core rot also predominantly occur in denser populations. If the red spruce starts to needle for no reason, there could be a magnesium deficiency in the soil, which can be remedied by administering Epsom salt.

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