How Not To Prune A Montgomery Blue Spruce

Landscape Care · Written by Roger

14 Comments

It’s getting to be that time of year again where the “Trimming Gladiators” start eyeing-up plants of every type, and imagine all the interesting shapes they can force them into. Armed with powerful gas and electric shears, no plant has a chance to retain its natural shape.

Above is a picture of a Montgomery Blue Spruce. At least that’s what I think it was. It would appear the maintenance company has chosen the shape of a meatball for this plant.  Maybe they were hungry the first time they sheared it.

Pruning is a skill that combines multiple considerations including plant type, time of year, time of flowering, health & condition of plant, etc., etc. Even if someone is dedicated to educating themselves on all the specifics, it still requires years of experience.   It is the experience of pruning and seeing the results over time that really develops the intuitive skill.

I tip my hat to all those out there who take the time to look up the proper way to prune the different plant types.  You are already light years ahead of the the majority.

Montgomery Blue Spruce should be selectively pruned with a hand pruner.  This is where individual cuts are made at particular points on branches.  Each cut is for a reason and so not all branches are pruned.  In fact, often it’s hard to tell that a plant has been selectively pruned because the results look so natural.

As you can see in the picture below, Montgomery Blue Spruce is a beautiful plant when selectively pruned. Granted this method of pruning is more time consuming and therefore, more costly to have done, but its healthier for the plant and certainly looks better. Besides, I’d never try to make a meatball look like a plant, so why make a plant….

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    14 Responses to “How Not To Prune A Montgomery Blue Spruce”

    1. john Says:

      Meat head pruned into the meatball

    2. Roger Says:

      I hear ya, John.
      Most of these “pruning abuses” are committed by maintenance people that just don’t know any better.

    3. Joan Says:

      I just bought a house that has a blue spruce in the front yard. It is about 12 feet tall but has two heads. The second head starts about 6 feet up. So the top half of the tree is really two trees. If I remove one of the heads (6 feet of it!), will the branches fill in on the remaining part?

    4. Roger Says:

      Joan,
      Ideally you should remove one of those leaders. Without seeing the plant it’s hard to comment on whether it will completely fill in. Can you remove one that is more towards the back of the plant, and therefore less conspicuous?

    5. Joan Says:

      Thanks Roger.
      In the end we pruned off the inside branches of the second header, and trimmed it back below the “best” header. We tried to make sure that the “wanted” branches were now able to get enough light. As the best header gains strength and it’s branches grow out past the “bad” header, we’ll gradually remove the “bad” one over the next couple of years. If we had removed the whole thing too fast it would have left a gaping hole. From a distance right now, the “bad” header is already almost invisible. Hopefully we’re on the right track.

    6. Roger Says:

      Joan,
      A great strategy and one that shows you understand the objective, plant growth and the principles of pruning. Well done!

    7. Hayley Says:

      Hi, Our blue spruce seems to be dead looking on the inside. A neighbor told me I should prune it way back so the inside gets light. Do you have any tips? I am completely new to gardening. Thank you!

    8. Roger Says:

      Hayley,
      On many plants, including spruce, the interior of the plant will be without foliage/needles. This is normal. What’s important is the overall appearance and health of the plant. How does the exterior and overall plant look to you?

      Be careful with that pruning advice you’re getting. Spruce, in particular, do not rejuvenate from being cut-back. There is a technique of selective pruning where you would strategically prune out “some” of the heavy growth to allow more light into the plant.

      If the plant is just not looking good overall, it may make sense to ask an arborist to look at it, or send a sample to your state’s Agricultural Extension Service.

      I use this service in NJ all the time when I’m unsure of a diagnosis. The sample you send them goes to the state’s supporting college/university where it’s examined in a lab, and you get an accurate diagnosis and recommendation(s).

    9. Kathy Says:

      I had two headers and cut it right below the header will it hurt the spruce ?

    10. Jeremy Says:

      Roger,

      We have 2 large Montgomery spruces in front of our front entry, 1 on each side of the sidewalk. They have grown way too large over the years and now partially obstruct access to the sidewalk. Is it possible to trim these type of spruces way back without killing them? Selective pruning will not fix our problem in this case. My thought is that we will have to remove both spruces and replace with something that doesn’t grow quite so large. Thanks!

    11. Roger Says:

      Kathy,
      I’d have to see the cut you made to give an opinion. I’m presuming you cut one of the two…correct?

    12. Roger Says:

      Jeremy,
      What you describe is so common. And Montgomery Spruce is one of the ones I see most often spaced incorrectly. Why? I think because it’s often sold as a small container plant, and people just don’t research the mature size.

      You could transplant them, but that can be involved (and costly). Sometimes removal and replacement is the more practical and cost effective solution.

    13. Joan Says:

      To Jeremy
      Why not cut a “magic tunnel” through the spruce (great if you have kids, anyway!). Trim the branches way back to the trunk on the pathway side of the lower part (and plant a ground cover there) and leave the outside branches and the upper branches alone – they will continue to grow. The upper branches will grow right over your pathway leaving you a “tunnel” underneath! If it’s ugly, then just continue on and cut them both down.

    14. Jeremy Says:

      Roger and Joan,

      Thanks for the feedback!

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