How to Grow and Care for Norway Spruce

Norway spruce tree in house garden between two other trees

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The Norway spruce, or Picea abies, has become ingrained in many of our holiday traditions as one of the choice Christmas tree species for municipalities and cities. Picea abies as an indigen is a fast-growing coniferous evergreen that can reach 60 feet tall, and occasionally to 100 feet. Young trees have thin bark that thickens to a grayish brown scale-like texture as it matures. The 4 to 6-inch cones hang gracefully from the tree, which is one important distinguishing feature to help identify the genus Picea.

Common Name Norway Spruce
Botanical Name Picea abies
Family Pinaceae
Plant Type  Tree
Mature Size 50-75 ft. tall, 30-50 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, Partial
Soil Type Moist and well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Pink
Hardiness Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Native Area  Europe

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, but others can tolerate and grow well in a rock garden. When planting in a landscape with other trees, shrubs, or plants, remember that Norway spruce does not do well with plantings under its dripline due to the tree's extensive shallow spreading root system.

Norway spruce tree branch with short spikey needles closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Norway spruce tree top with long pine cones hanging from branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Norway spruce tree with weeping branches with pinecones at ends against blue sky

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Norway spruce tree branch with dark brown and light brown pinecones hanging next to short spikey needles

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Norway spruce needs 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 is extremely cold hardy, with frost tolerances down to -40- and -30-degrees Fahrenheit. 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.

Types of Norway Spruce

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. One issue with the over 150 cultivars available is that they are often almost identical to all but the most trained horticulturalists, while some are quite unique.

  • "Nidiformis": Also known as the bird's nest spruce, this small landscape tree grows to about 3 feet high.
  • "Pumila Glauca": This dwarf variety has lovely blue-green needles and grows to about 4 feet tall.
  • "Pendula": This weeping variety can grow up to 60 feet tall but reaches only about 5 feet wide at maturity.

Pruning

Take great care when pruning Norway spruce, as the tree has a lovely natural form that most will want to preserved. The tree shouldn't need much in the way of pruning, unless they are exposed to high winds, in which case it can benefit from regular reductions to reduce the sail area. If you are pruning, because of its location is vulnerable to high winds or because of dead and diseased branches, take care to make pruning cuts just outside the branch collar; do not leave stubs.

Propagating Norway Spruce

Taking a cutting from a young and pliable branch is the best way to propagate Norway spruce. Cut a vigorous stem at about 6 inches, taking care to cut below a node at a 45-degree angle. Strip the needles away from the bottom 1 inch of the cutting and immediately place the cutting in sandy soil. Grow it as you would an established sapling, with warm temperatures, indirect light, and regular watering.

How to Grow Norway Spruce From Seed

When the cones drop their seeds, collect them from the ground and place them in a small container. Put that container in the refrigerator for at least three weeks. When you remove the seeds from the refrigerator, soak them in water for 24 hours; discard any seeds that float. The remaining seeds can be planted in containers filled with moist but not soggy soil.

The seeds should germinate after three weeks or so. Keep the new saplings in their containers for at least one season to allow the root system to grow.

Potting and Repotting Norway Spruce

When potting saplings or seeds, make sure the container is large enough to allow for growth of the root ball. Starting out with a 12-inch pot made of simple plastic works best. Repotting will likely not be necessary, as the Norway spruce will be ready to plant in the ground outdoors after only a season or two.

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, as you are planting the roots, not the trunk. Water the roots profusely and add 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch to help preserve moisture.

Overwintering

Norway spruce can handle extremely cold temperatures, so mature trees have no particular overwintering needs. Immature trees can use a thick layer of mulch at the base to help keep the roots a bit insulated.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Norway spruce is a very hardy tree with little worry about diseases. In most cases, diseases don't settle in unless the tree is already deeply stressed by drought or other environmental factors. If this happens, some diseases common to the spruce are Cytospora, canker, or rust. Prune out the affected branches. The trees might also become vulnerable to spider mites; treat the mites with insecticidal soaps or oils. It's also susceptible to many types of beetles that bore into the trunk and introduce rot. Watch out for small holes near the base of the tree, and call an arborist if you notice any signs of beetle activity.

FAQ
  • What is the difference between Norway spruce and Douglas fir?

    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.”

  • Can Norway spruce grow indoors?

    Small saplings can be grown in containers, but always with the goal of planting them outside as soon as the root system is established. Norway spruce grows much too large to be kept in containers, inside or out.