The dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca) is a small, slow-growing evergreen conifer that is a popular choice for landscapes and ornamental gardens. Sometimes referred to as the dwarf white spruce, this compact pyramidal tree is a genetic variation of the white spruce tree native to Alberta, Canada.
The dwarf Alberta spruce reaches a mature height of only 1-7 feet with a spread of 1-5 feet. Its foliage consists of short, flat, soft sharp-tipped needles with a bright green color. Its cone-shaped terminal leaders help maintain its charming conical shape.
This dwarf conifer provides year-round interest with rich green foliage that remains on the tree through winter. Its ability to thrive in cold climates along with its compact size and interesting form has made it a go-to choice for small gardens and containers.
The Pros of Dwarf Alberta Spruce
The Dwarf Alberta spruce has several advantages that make it ideal for the landscape of a home; some of these advantages are:
#1. Dwarf Alberta Spruce Has Slow Growth
The dwarf Alberta spruce is prized for its incredibly slow growth habit. This miniature evergreen conifer only grows about 1-2 feet per decade, remaining very compact compared to other spruce trees. The dwarf Alberta spruce reaches a mature height of only 5-10 feet after 20-30 years of growth.
This slow growth makes the dwarf Alberta spruce ideal for use in rock gardens, container gardens, bonsai culture, and small landscape plantings where a compact, slow-growing conifer is desired. The dwarf Alberta spruce’s slow growth means you won’t have to prune it heavily to maintain its petite size. Its small stature also makes it easy to integrate into beds and borders.
#2. Dwarf Alberta Spruce is Evergreen
Dwarf Alberta spruce trees stay green all year long. As an evergreen conifer, the needles on dwarf Alberta spruces persist throughout the winter, spring, summer, and fall, providing consistent greenery in the landscape. While many trees and shrubs drop their leaves seasonally, dwarf Alberta spruces retain their needles over multiple years before shedding. This gives them an advantage over deciduous trees that go bare for a portion of the year.
Homeowners looking for an evergreen presence that stays verdant no matter the season will appreciate this feature of dwarf Alberta spruces. The persistent green needles continue providing ornamental value and lushness to gardens and yards even when other plants have gone dormant. For those desiring color through all seasons, the year-round greenery of dwarf Alberta spruce is a major draw.
#3. Dwarf Alberta Spruce is Cold Hardy
The dwarf Alberta spruce is known for its ability to withstand very cold temperatures. This evergreen conifer remains healthy even when temperatures drop well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The Alberta spruce can survive winters in USDA planting zones 2 through 7. It is capable of withstanding temperatures as low as -40°F without damage.
The needles and buds of the Alberta spruce have specialized adaptations that prevent freezing damage. This allows the tree to photosynthesize year-round, even during the dormant winter months. When other plants succumb to harsh winter conditions, the dwarf Alberta spruce remains steadfast with its green color. Its ability to withstand the cold makes it a good choice for gardens in northern climates.
#4. It is Deer Resistant
Homeowners who struggle to keep deer from destroying their gardens can use the dwarf Alberta spruce as part of their deer-resistant landscaping. Deer tend to avoid eating this evergreen shrub. Its needles contain terpenes, which give off a strong scent that deters deer. Also, the compact, dense foliage makes it difficult for deer to access the inner branches.
Unlike other conifers like arborvitae or yew that deer love to eat, the dwarf spruce will remain untouched. This makes it ideal for planting in areas near woods or open spaces where deer roam. The dwarf Alberta spruce can help create a living fence that protects more vulnerable plants.
The Cons of Dwarf Alberta Spruce
While the advantages of planting Dwarf Alberta spruce have been discussed, it is essential to discuss the disadvantages as well to give you a full speck of what planting the dwarf Alberta spruce entails. Here are the cons of planting Dwarf Alberta spruce in your yard:
#1. Susceptibility to Diseases
The dwarf Alberta spruce is prone to several fungal diseases, most notably cylindrocladium. This soil-borne fungus infects the roots and eventually kills the tree. Infected trees show signs of yellowing needles, dieback of branches, and lackluster growth. The fungus spreads quickly and can be difficult to control. Once a tree is infected, the best option is often to remove and destroy it to prevent spreading.
To help prevent cylindrocladium, avoid overhead watering, improve soil drainage, and don’t overcrowd plants. Fungicides containing chlorothalonil can help, but they are of limited effectiveness once a tree is infected. Plant resistant varieties when possible and remove any infected trees quickly.
#2. Dwarf Alberta Spruce Doesn’t Tolerate Heat
The dwarf Alberta spruce prefers cool climates. Its shallow root system makes it susceptible to heat stress and scorching in hot summer temperatures. This evergreen conifer performs best in USDA hardiness zones 2-6, where summer highs rarely exceed 80-85°F.
In warmer zones 7-9, the Alberta spruce may struggle with heat tolerance unless provided consistent moisture and afternoon shade. Its foliage can brown, wilt, and suffer dieback when exposed to intense sun and high temperatures for prolonged periods. Water stress often exacerbates heat damage.
To help prevent heat issues, plant the dwarf Alberta spruce in a partially shaded location protected from afternoon sun. Maintain moist soil during hot and dry periods. Apply organic mulch around the base to insulate roots and conserve moisture. Provide supplemental water if drought occurs. Avoid shallow planting and give roots ample room to spread out. Proper site selection and care are key for this spruce to thrive in hotter climates.
#3. Dwarf Alberta Spruce Has Shallow Roots
One of the disadvantages of dwarf Alberta spruce trees is their shallow root system. Because the roots grow close to the soil surface and do not extend very deep or wide, dwarf Alberta spruces can be susceptible to blowover in high winds.
Their top-heavy, cone-shaped form catches the wind like a sail, while their roots lack the anchoring strength to hold the tree upright in gusty conditions. Even short periods of high winds can cause leaning or complete blowover of dwarf Alberta spruces. Their roots simply cannot stabilize their wide and heavy canopy on top.
To help prevent windthrow, avoid shearing dwarf Alberta spruces into overly dense forms. Allow some natural branching to develop wind resistance. Additionally, staking newly planted trees for at least the first year helps secure the rootball until the roots are established. Avoid planting dwarf Alberta spruce in wide open, windy exposure, and instead situate them in protected locations.
Ideal Uses the Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Due to its compact size and attractive form, the dwarf Alberta spruce is most commonly used for the following:
-Foundations: The dwarf Alberta spruce works very well planted along the foundation of homes. Its globular shape and slow growth habit make it well suited to softening the lines where home meets the ground.
-Rock Gardens: Rock gardens are a perfect place to tuck the dwarf Alberta spruce. Its shallow roots and tolerance for poor soils allow it to thrive alongside rock garden staples like sedums and alpines.
-Accent Plantings: Used as an accent, the dwarf Alberta spruce adds texture and color to gardens and landscapes. Its distinctive blue-green needles stand out against deciduous shrubs and perennials.
The dwarf Alberta spruce has several desirable characteristics that make it a popular landscaping choice, but it also has some drawbacks to consider. Overall, the dwarf Alberta spruce can add year-round interest and structure to landscapes in the right conditions. Its pros likely outweigh the cons for many homeowners seeking a compact, hardy evergreen. With proper siting and care, the dwarf Alberta spruce can be a winning choice.