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Janet Macunovich

Fire damaged spruce

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from our email:

Our blue ball spruce was close to a fire and was scorched heavily.  Probably 90% of the needles are now brown.  I do not think that it actually caught fire, was just really close to a very hot one.  I have no idea if it will live or not, but I am willing to put up with ugly for a few years if it can make it.  Is there anything I can do to help it?  Would extra watering or fertilization help or harm it at this point?  - C.D. -



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Blue spruce (Picea pungens) isn't a species like jack pine that evolved with fire as a regular occurrence. However, it is a toughie...


The branches and buds may have survived. You will know in a few weeks. If it buds out, the buds survived and if it then continues to grow after budding you will know the twigs survived. (The buds may swell and open on the water and energy they have stored already but then shrivel and die if the wood behind them can't transport water and starch...)


If buds and wood are okay, it will take several good growing years before those branches look full. Also, because spruce will not generate new twigs from wood old enough to be needle-less, the limbs that are bud-only this spring will have to grow OUT -- that part of the plant must be allowed to become wider.


Branches from the sides and interior of the shrub will also grow out into that space, given time.


Extra water and fertilizer are not going to make it grow faster. A plant uses light and water in direct proportion to how many green surfaces it has to photosynthesize with. Your spruce will use LESS water and fertilizer this year, and may grow less since it has less leaf surface to begin with. If you keep the soil moist but not soggy and have fertilized the bed to general standards or as directed by a soil test result for your specific garden, then the plant has what it needs.


Always nice to talk to a patient gardener. Waiting doesn't cost much and you should know by its vigor this year and how much ground it recovers, whether it's worthwhile to keep going with it.

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