How to Grow and Care for Black Hills Spruce

Closeup of Picea glauca 'Densata' branch and needles.

Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons 

High in the Black Hills of South Dakota, you will find a cultivar of white spruce growing, which is endemic to that specific region, known as Black Hills spruce, Picea glauca ‘Densata.’ Though the cultivar is uncommon in the nursery trade, it is the favorite for landscape use. The Black Hills spruce is more appealing in ornamental horticulture with richer colors and slower growth than the typical white spruce. For this reason alone, the Picea glauca ‘Densata’ should be your choice if wanting to add a white spruce to your landscape design.

Common Name  Black Hills Spruce
Botanical Name  Picea glauca 'densata'
Family Name  Pinaceae
 Plant Type Coniferous Evergreen
 Mature Size  20-25 Feet Tall 10-15 Feet Tall 
 Sun Exposure Full Sun
 Soil Type Moist, well-drained  
 Soil pH Acidic
 Bloom Time Non-flowering
 Flower Color Non-flowering
 Hardiness Zones USDA 3 to 6
 Native Area Black Hills of South Dakota

Black Hills Spruce Care

This ornamental cultivar of white spruce is almost as carefree as it is beautiful. With minimal care requirements after it has established itself and matured, Black Hills spruce is an excellent tree for people who prefer beauty with little upkeep. Though it is relatively easy to tend to, you will have some tasks for the first few years. There is no avoiding caring for a young living thing. You still need to nurture it and guide it until it reaches a place where it can survive on its own. At that point, besides making sure it keeps clear of the few pests that can cause its issues, you can sit back, watch it grow, and admire its beauty.

Light

The Black Hills spruce will grow in partial shade for those with less than ideal light conditions. It does prefer full sun, though, and you will see slower growth if you plant your tree in anything less.

Soil

For those looking for a particularly adaptable tree for soil conditions, the Black Hills spruce might be the tree for you. It can do well in clay, loam, sand, and slightly alkaline soils as long as it is in a well-draining area. While it can handle some alkalinity, your tree will favor slightly acidic soil. You can always test this using a simple pH test and amend the soil as needed.

Water

Once your tree is established, it won’t need supplemental watering, but until then, you will need to make sure to water it to help it become established. To do this, you are going to want to water it weekly during weeks without heavy rains. A good standard is 10 gallons of water for each inch of trunk diameter at knee height. Continue this for the first two years, and your tree will be one step closer to establishing a well-watered healthy root system.

Temperature and Humidity

The most cause for concern for your Black Hills spruce may come through placing it in a location that may be too warm or humid. This particular cultivar of white spruce lives high in the Black Hills of South Dakota at elevations higher than 6000 feet. Because of this, it has adapted to dry conditions, cold winters, and cool summers. When placing at lower elevations, be sure to plant it in a location that leaves ample room for airflow to allow the wind to dry moisture from its branches. Be aware that this tree will only do well in USDA hardiness zones 2-6.

Fertilizer

There is no real urgency to give this tree supplemental fertilizer. When planting the spruce, you may want to add good organic compost to the fill-in when refilling the hole you dug to plant your tree. If you should notice any signs that your tree is suffering, test the soil and check if deficiencies can be corrected by adding nutrients as needed.

Types of Black Hills Spruce

While there are only three varieties of Picea glauca, there are many cultivars. Black Hills spruce was formerly designated as var. densata. It is now considered a cultivated variety “Densata” or cultivar since it is biologically similar to wild white spruce populations to constitute a unique variety.

Because of this, you will only find one type of the Black Hills spruce commercially available.

Pruning

The only pruning that needs to be done to your tree will be the removal of dead or broken branches. Optionally if you need to create a path or drive under the lower branches that will eventually droop, these can be removed to allow passage by cutting the entire branch off to the trunk.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Mites, aphids, and bagworms are the most common pests with the Black hills spruce though none should be able to do much damage to a healthy tree to kill it. Bagworms are the most obvious pest and can be unsightly. Remove those within reach by hand and treat the tree with Bacillus thuringiensis.

The only diseases that may cause you the rare issue are various rusts. One occurrence of rust will not likely be of concern. A common sign is the yellowing and dropping of infected needles.

Common Problems with Black Hills Spruce

Black Hills spruce do not have many issues save being placed in environments not suited for the specific cultivar. Mind its preferred conditions and note that it does not like urban or marine environments, and you and your tree should be very happy.