How Not To Prune A Montgomery Blue Spruce

Landscape Care · Written by Roger


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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    26 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:

      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:

      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:

      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:


      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:

      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:

      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!

    15. Allison Says:

      Is this plant a good choice for a foundation shrub. I need something that will get tall, by a front porch. I’m wondering if I will be able to contain its width.

    16. Roger Says:

      You can use Montgomery Blue Spruce in a foundation planting, but the beauty of the plant is in allowing it to grow without too much pruning. Some pruning is OK, and can be done selectively so as not to disfigure the plant. But if you’re constantly cutting it back because of limited space it will begin to look terrible.

      It’s hard to find definitive information on mature size for Montgomery, but I’ve seen it 6-8′ wide and equally tall. I often use it as a specimen (even within a foundation planting) with few woody plants nearby to compete. This way it can develop as it wants to.

    17. Allison Says:

      The height of 6-8 ft is fine. It is that width that concerns me. And can I prune it to contain that width? As Jeremy talks about above.

    18. sue Says:

      Our Montgomery Spruce was planted in 07 to the left of our front stoop as a foundation shrub. It is thick and luscious, about 6 feet wide and 5 foot tall but is infringing on our Knock-out roses in front of it and into our evergreens to the side. Its bottom branches are on the ground. A pruning job for us or an Arborist?

    19. Roger Says:

      Any chance of moving (transplanting) the roses and evergreens to allow more room for the Montgomery?

      If you prune it I’d try it first myself. Many arborists have experience with larger trees, but not with ornamental shrubs like Montgomery Blue.

      If you decide to have a “professional” prune, check with local garden centers and nurseries to see if they can recommend someone.

    20. Roger Says:

      I think you have to anticipate and allow the plant at least a 6′ width. With diligent pruning you should be able to contain it within that width for some time.

    21. Patti Anderson Says:

      we inherited a lovely montgomery blue shrub. It was pruned to a round shape and we thought it was supposed to look like that. Now it is approximately 5-6 round and about 5’high. It looks rather strange like a large alien ship! Is there anything that can be done about it at this point?
      thank you kindly

    22. Roger Says:

      Ideally your Montgomery Blue Spruce has extra room around it so that you can let it grow out into its more natural form.

      Here is a picture of a Montgomery Blue Spruce that has not been sheared, but allowed to grow in its natural form. There was, and will continue to be some selective pruning (using hand pruners) just to control the few wayward branches that may extend out each year.

    23. Patricia Jackson Says:

      Can you please advise if you are an arborist? I want to show your article to someone whose neighbour cut their Blue Globe Spruce well back from the property line in a manner where the branches cut were cut back to bare wood close to the truck of the tree, so I just want to know if you are an arborist so she can say that when showing the neighbour so they understand that they are damaging the tree.

    24. Roger Says:

      No, I’m not an arborist. If you need a licensed arborist in a dispute or legal matter, contact tree companies in your area — some, but not all, have licensed arborists on staff.

    25. Sandi Roti Says:

      I planted a Montgomery Spruce in an open corner of my front yard believing it would get 6-8 feet high. It grew slowly but is now closer to 12 foot high. It is beautiful and healthy but I don’t have room for it to grow taller or wider. Will it ever stop growing? I bought it from a reputable landscaping center and have no reason to think it’s anything but a Montgomery.

    26. Roger Says:

      If you do a search online — or research in books (remember those? :-) ) you’ll get various “predictions” as to Montgomery Blue Spruce’s mature size.

      I’ve yet to see one much over 8′, and can only imagine how beautiful your spruce must be. I think your’s has already set itself apart as an extraordinary specimen. And with that, it’s hard to say what size it will be at “maturity”.

      If the plant is nice all around (i.e. all sides) and it can no longer stay in that spot, it would be worth investigating transplanting it. If you don’t have room on your property, sometimes a landscape company that specializes in transplanting will work a deal where they’ll take the spruce and in return plant something else. I’ve seen this happen several times and it’s often a win-win for everybody.

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