How to Grow and Care for Fraser Fir

row of fraser fir trees

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If you were to look for the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) in its native habitat, you would be hard-pressed to find one growing in the wild. Yet, if you have seen a live Christmas tree, there is a good chance it was a Fraser fir. This particular fir species is one of the nation's most commercially available Christmas trees, used by millions yearly for trees, wreaths, and greenery. 

Luckily the Fraser fir and its numerous cultivars make great trees to add to a landscape, meaning you will have to enjoy it in December. The amount of cultivars available in the retail market also means that they are readily available in a form, color, and size that will suit your exact needs.

Common Name Fraser Fir
 Botanical Name Abies Fraseri
 Family Pinaceae
 Plant Type Coniferous evergreen
Mature Size 30-50 ft. tall, 25-30 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Rich, moist, slightly acidic, well-drained
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0
Hardiness Zones 4-7 (USDA)
Native Area Southeastern United States

Fraser Fir Care

The Fraser Fir, given the right environment, is a relatively easy tree to care for. Your location and the tree’s growing conditions will determine how much effort you need to put into keeping your tree thriving and happy. Keeping in mind and mimicking the species’ native range will ensure you have the most success while raising a Fraser fir and avoid any issues as it matures.

Light

Providing a Fraser fir with proper light conditions will ensure it grows vigorously and will help it develop healthy foliage as it matures. Fraser firs adapt to light conditions, preferring full sun to part shade. During warm summer, when the fir might experience intense direct sun providing it with some afternoon shade will improve the tree's vigor.

Soil

Giving your Fraser fir good soil to call home will increase its chances of performing well for years. The species likes moist, well-draining with a slightly acidic pH, rich in organics. The most important thing to remember about the Fraser fir, and many species in the Pinaceae, is the growth habits of their roots. The Fraser fir has very shallow roots that do not like to compete for nutrients or space. Keeping the soil under your tree's dripline free of plants that might take nutrients and moisture away from the tree is vital to its success.

 Water

Providing a Fraser fir with adequate irrigation is important throughout your time caring for the plant. When first planted, the tree will do best with a watering plan that does not allow the soil under the newly planted fir to dry completely while not being soaked. Keeping the plant hydrated like this is very weather dependent, and you may find yourself watering every few days in extremely hot weather, especially if your tree is in full sun. In cooler, damp weather, you may need to water just once a week; let the soil be your guide. Continue watering the young tree consistently like this for its first growing season while it establishes a strong and healthy root system.

For the first two or three growing seasons, if you experience droughts or long periods of very hot weather, adding supplemental irrigation back into the mix is a good idea.

Temperature and Humidity

Looking at where the Fraser fir grows immediately tells you that this tree does not like hot weather. The ideal climate for this species resembles its native habitat, with cool, damp, foggy mountainsides surrounded by other trees. While you might not live on a mountainside, you can do your best to recreate this environment by planting the Fraser Fir in an environment that it finds hospitable. Anywhere south of its native growing range, USDA 4 to 7, will be too warm for the species. There are fir trees that tolerate warm weather you can choose from; Abies firma or the Momi fir is a great choice.

Those up north are not completely carefree. In cold, windy situations, you will need to provide a Fraser fir with some protection from harsh seasonal winds.

Fertilizer

If planted in good conditions and provided with enough water and sun a healthy Fraser Fir should not require any supplemental fertilizer. Over feeding the tree can create weak wood and cause the tree to grow foliage at a rate that its shallow root system cannot support, creating the perfect opportunity for tree damage after storms.

Types of Fraser Firs

Like many conifers, Abies fraseri has many cultivars from which landscape designers can choose to suit their functional and aesthetic needs. The selections run the gamut from dwarf cultivars to different needle colors to form varieties. Finding the many cultivars is as easy as looking online for a mail-order nursery specializing in conifers, and the broad selection will not disappoint.

Here are a few more common cultivars available in the nursery trade that may even be found at local nurseries:

  • Abies fraseri 'Kline's nest': dwarf cultivar with a compact habit that produces shorter than normal needles giving a nest appearance.
  • Abies fraseri' Blue Bonnet': an extremely slow-growing dwarf cultivar known for its glaucus needles and small mature stature at three feet at ten years.
  • Abies fraseri 'Prostrata': an old cultivar with a low, slow-spreading habit at ten years, its size averages two feet in height by four feet wide.
  • Abies fraseri 'Fantasticooli': columnar; this cultivar is very slow growing and matures into a very narrow small tree.

Pruning

One of the best things about growing conifers is they very rarely need to be pruned and that goes for this species as well. The only real reason you should consider pruning a Fraser fir is when it has some damaged or dead branches. Pruning these types of issues on a conical shaped conifer and allowing the tree to keep its form requires removing the whole branch at the trunk, not just an end where damage occured. As these trees can get quite large, it is usually best, for safety and aesthetics to call in a certified arborist to do the work for you.

Propagating Fraser Fir

If you are looking to propagate a Fraser fir, you can grow from seed, but the results are slow and often not worth the time it takes to get inconsistent results. Rather, you should try to propagate from cuttings, which also takes some patience since you will not be getting a viable plant for about a year, and then it will still take a few more years after that until you produce something that reminds you of the tree it will become. So, the best advice is to buy a developed tree about five years old from a respected nursery; this will give you the most bang for your buck and let you enjoy a tree much more quickly than growing your own.

If you are set on propagating from cuttings, it is not hard. It just requires time. The process to start the cuttings will only take about an hour, but you will be doing a lot of waiting — but eventually, you will be rewarded with your own little Fraser fir seedling:

  1. Find a branch about 1/8 of an inch in diameter with new growth and cut about 5 to 7 inches of new growth off of it.
  2. Remove the needles from the bottom two-thirds of the cutting and scrape away the bark exposing the fleshy part of the branch.
  3. Cut the end of the cutting at a 45° angle.
  4. At this point, use your pencil, stick, or dibbler to poke holes into your potting mix for your cuttings.
  5. Dip your cuttings in your rooting hormone and soak according to the product's instructions.
  6. Keep the potting mix moist and in a cool, indirectly lit area. It can take six to nine months for roots to become established.
  7. Once roots have been established, transplant them to individual pots and let roots establish in those pots for at least a year.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Once you have a happy and healthy Fraser fir that has been established, it will resist most diseases and shrug off most pests as minor nuisances. The biggest concern you will face will come from two sources that can cause your conifer issues,  Phytophthora root rot, and stem canker.

Phytophthora root rot is caused by the fungus species Phytophthora. This particular species of fungus can live for years in moist conditions, so it can sneak up on you if you do not see the symptoms. You might notice needle discoloration, having the needles turn yellow before they start to drop as the tree gets sicker. You may also notice a black or dark ring around the soil's surface. Ultimately the tree will usually die after a few years, so prevention before planting is your best defense.

Prevent Phytophthora root rot by providing adequate drainage by loosening the soil around the tree's base at the planting site to allow aeration and making soil amendments before planting. Group tree and plant species by water need to avoid overwatering. If an area is known for Phytophthora, plant species resistant to the fungus at the site, sadly, this knowledge only comes after the death of a previous tree.

The other concern, stem canker, is not nearly the threat of Phytophthora root rot, but it is more common. Luckily, mature trees can stand up to an infection, but younger specimens often die due to girdling. The most obvious sign your tree is infected will be resin ooze and black staining around branches or trunks. The cankers will most likely grow longer than wide, causing the plant to show splits on its bark eventually. On noticing this damage treating early with a fungicide may help stop or slow the spread.

FAQ
  • How old do Fraser firs get?

    A long lived healthy tree can live for about 150 years before it dies naturally.

  • Is the Fraser fir a fast growing tree?

    Not really; fraser fir is a moderately growing tree that will reach about ten feet or so after about seven years, depending on the cultivar.

  • Is the Fraser fir endangered?

    As strange as it sounds, the tree millions of people have in their houses yearly during the holidays is endangered. While it is grown commercially as a Christmas tree, the species is endangered in the wild.