How to Grow Bird's Nest Spruce

bird's nest spruce shrub
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The bird’s nest spruce (Picea abies 'Nidiformis’) is a small evergreen shrub that is popular as a landscape plant. Also known as the Norway spruce, the common name of its main species plant, the bird’s nest spruce has a dense, rounded, spreading growth habit with mostly horizontal branches. And it forms a slight dip in the center of its flat top, giving it the appearance of a bird nest. The shrub has fairly light yellowish green needles that deepen as they age to a grayish green. They provide visual interest to the landscape year-round, as well as shelter for wildlife. The bird's nest shrub is a slow grower and can take around 10 years to reach its mature size. It can be planted in the spring or the fall.

Botanical Name Picea abies 'Nidiformis'
Common Names Bird's nest spruce, nest spruce, Norway spruce 
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 3–4 ft. tall, 6–8 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type  Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Insignificant
Flower Color Insignificant
Hardiness Zones 3–8 (USDA)
Native Area Europe
Toxicity Nontoxic

Bird's Nest Spruce Care

The bird’s nest spruce is a fairly hardy and versatile plant that requires little maintenance. It can adapt to several different soil types as long as it is planted in a site that has good drainage. Plus, it typically doesn’t have any major problems with pests or diseases. And it even tends to be resistant to deer, rabbits, and other wildlife that often munch on many other garden plants. 

These shrubs are great to plant as a border, alone as an accent in the landscape, and even in containers. Just make sure to give them enough space for their mature size. Container plants will likely need to be repotted every two to three years to give their roots more space. Watering during dry spells will be your primary care task for the bird’s nest spruce, along with annual fertilization. Pruning is typically very minor due to the shrub’s slow growth rate. 

Light

Bird’s nest spruce shrubs grow best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, they also can be grown in partial shade. And shrubs grown in warm climates tend to appreciate some afternoon shade from the hot sun. But bird's nest spruce shrubs will struggle in very shady conditions and likely won't survive over the long term.

Soil

These shrubs can grow in a wide range of soil types, including loamy, sandy, rocky, and even clay soils, provided that they have sharp drainage. Wet soil can cause root rot and other diseases that ultimately will kill the plant. Moreover, the shrubs prefer soil with a slightly acidic soil pH but can grow in a neutral soil pH as well. 

Water

The bird’s nest spruce likes lightly moist but not soggy soil. Water young shrubs regularly over their first few growing seasons to prevent the soil from drying out. Established shrubs have minor drought tolerance but still should be watered roughly once a week if your area hasn't had any rainfall. Increase watering during hot weather and for container plants, as both of these factors will cause the soil to dry out faster. A layer of mulch around your shrub will help to retain soil moisture and to keep the roots cool.

Temperature and Humidity

Bird’s nest spruce shrubs like cool climates, and they have excellent cold tolerance. They are also tolerant of planting sites that are exposed to strong winds. However, the shrubs will struggle in hot and humid weather.

Fertilizer

These shrubs only require an annual fertilization in the spring right when new growth starts to appear. Use an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer, following label instructions.

Norway Spruce Varieties

Besides the bird’s nest spruce cultivar, there are several other varieties of the Norway spruce. They include:

  • Picea abies 'Acrocona': This cultivar grows in a pyramid shape and can reach 20 feet tall.
  • Picea abies 'Cupressina': This tree has a narrow, upright shape and grows around 12 to 15 feet tall.
  • Picea abies 'Pendula': Also known as the weeping Norway spruce, this tree also reaches around 12 to 15 feet tall and has a weeping growth habit.
  • Picea abies 'Pumila': This is another dwarf cultivar, but it has a more rounded growth habit than the bird’s nest spruce.

Pruning

Because this shrub won’t gain much in size each year, it doesn’t typically need annual pruning. However, you should remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches as you spot them. If you do wish to prune to keep the size or shape in check, the best time to do so is in the late winter to early spring. Wait at least until the shrub’s second growing season before you first prune it.