How to Grow Norway Spruce Trees

Closeup of new growth on a Norway Spruce.

HHelene/Getty Images 

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If you are an American, it is likely that you have come across a Norway spruce. Every December, in towns large and small, you can see them in living rooms and town squares. The Norway spruce, or Picea abies, has become so ingrained in many of our holiday traditions as one of the choice Christmas tree species, that this native European tree has become introduced and cultivated far and wide across the North American continent to meet demand. Luckily, it has left behind its cheery holiday niche and become a favorite in the nursery trade for uses as a versatile garden staple. 

You can find Norway spruce in many cultivars from weeping to dwarf varieties that can be used in your landscape for different design needs from aesthetics to form.

Picea abies as an indigen is a fast-growing coniferous evergreen that can reach 60 feet tall, and occasionally to 100 feet. In its native Europe, it typically grows to 100-150 feet tall and occasionally to 200 feet tall. Young trees have thin bark that thickens to a greyish brown scale-like texture as it matures. The four to six-inch cones hang gracefully from the tree, which is one important distinguishing feature to help identify the genus Picea.

Telling the Norway spruce apart from the Douglas fir is sometimes a tricky task. An easy way to tell firs from spruces is the needles. Think of the first two letters of the word spruce, “SP”, and remember the word, spikey. The needles of a spruce are pointy and sharp. The needles of a fir are soft and almost feathery. Think of the word feathery, beginning with the letter “f”.  

With the size of the Norway spruce, it is pretty clear that this is not a tree for small spaces. It is often used for a windbreak or screen in a landscape that demands a greater sense of scale, where normally a yew or arbor vitae might suffice. 

On a smaller scale, the readily available cultivars come in handy if you are interested in using a Norway spruce in your landscape, although research is still needed. One issue with the over one-hundred and fifty cultivars available is that they are often almost identical to all but the most trained horticulturalists, while some are quite unique like the pictured cultivar below called 'Frohburg'.

Botanical Name Picea abies
Common Name Norway Spruce
Plant Type  Tree
Mature Size 50'-75' Feet, 30-50' wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to Partial Shade
Soil Type Adaptable, Well Drained
Soil pH Acidic, Slightly Alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Pink
Hardiness Zones 2b-7, USA
Native Area  Europe
Toxicity Non-Toxic
Photograph of a tall human shaped Picea abies 'Frohburg' located at the Arboretum at UUCCH
Picea abies 'Frohburg' located at the Arboretum at UUCCH  Les Engels

Norway Spruce Care

Growing a Norway spruce is relatively easy if you choose an acceptable site. Site suitability can vary wildly depending on if you choose a native Norway spruce or a cultivar. Some may need a wide open space, for others you could plant in wide open areas, as part of foundation planting, in a container, or even in a rock garden.

When planting a Norway spruce, dig a hole twice the width of the depth of the root ball or container. Remember to always plant shallow rather than deep, you are planting the roots, not the trunk. Water the roots profusely and add three to four inches of organic mulch to help preserve moisture. 

One last thing to consider, the Norway spruce does not do well with plantings under its dripline due to the trees extensive shallow spreading root system.

Light

Norway spruce need a place in full sun to partial shade. Look for a position that receives at least six hours of sun per day. They do not tolerate full shade. 

Soil

You will need to plant the tree in moist and well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. The Norway spruce will thrive in rich and sandy soil.

Water

Once your tree is established it should not require regular watering. For the first year, you will want to make sure your tree is well-watered. Deep soak waterings are more beneficial than short and frequent ones. Well-established trees can hold their own in drier soils, but by no means is this a drought-tolerant species. 

Temperature and Humidity

Norway spruce are extremely cold hardy, with frost tolerances to -40° and -30°F. They do not do well in warm weather. 

Fertilizer

You should not need to fertilize your Norway spruce. On initial planting, you may want to test your soil to see if amendments need to be added to aid in acidity. Other than that, any fertilization should be done based on soil conditions.

Is Norway Spruce Toxic?

The Norway spruce is not toxic. Herbal tea can be made from the needles that have fabled medicinal properties.