A narrow pyramidal conifer, the Serbian spruce (Picea omorika) is one of the most attractive and adaptable evergreen trees. Its overlapping, flat needles are glossy green above and silvery underneath. Two-inch-long, seed-carrying cones are first dark purple and then mature to reddish brown.
The species grows slowly but eventually towers to 60 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. When you purchase and plant that cute pyramidal Serbian spruce that’s only 3 or 4 feet tall in a garden center, remember to provide plenty of room for it in the landscape. Dwarf cultivars, like the one pictured, stay much smaller and grow slowly to about 5 to 10 feet tall and wide.
Common name: Serbian spruce
Botanical name: Picea omorika
Plant type: Evergreen conifer
Height: 40 to 60 feet tall
Zones: 4 to 8
- Sun: Full sun
- Soil: Well-drained, neutral soil; will tolerate alkaline soil
- Moisture: Moderate
- Mulch: Apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree. Push mulch several inches away from the trunk to prevent excess moisture from collecting on the bark.
- Fertilizer: When tree is young, feed with a general-purpose fertilizer in spring.
- Pruning: To maintain the shape of the tree, remove about a third to a half of each new-growth candle. Candles are the long, narrow growth shoots at the tips of branches. They’re usually soft, light green until fully expanded, then turn darker green and stiffen as they mature.
- ‘Nana’ (pictured) is a conical to globe-shaped dwarf cultivar with needles closer together than the species. Grows 7 to 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 4 to 8.
- ‘Expansa’ is a wide-spreading dwarf form with foliage typical of the species. Grows 3 feet tall. Zones 4 to 7.
- ‘Pendula’ is a narrow tree with weeping branches. Its central stem needs support until it’s sturdy enough to stand alone. Height varies because a number of different selections are sold under this name. Some specimens are dwarf and grow only 5 feet tall after 10 years, while others grow to full size at maturity. Zones 4 to 7.
- ‘Pendula Bruns’ is a dwarf cultivar that has branches with a more weeping habit than ‘Pendula’. Reaches 5 to 8 feet at maturity. Zones 4 to 7.
- Dwarf specimens are attractive as a background for brightly colored plants such as shrub roses, rose of Sharon, (Hibiscus syriacus ), and forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia).
- Use dwarf spruces for a hedge or screen.
- Water new plants deeply to encourage deep, extensive root system.
- Plant Siberian spruce where it will get some protection from strong winds.
- Aphids, budworms, spider mites, and borers occur occasionally.
- No serious diseases
- Graft cuttings in winter.
- Take ripewood cuttings in late summer.
All in the family
Members of this family include conifers such pine (Pinus spp.), hemlock (Tsuga spp.), arborvitae (Thuja spp.), larch (Larix spp.), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga spp.), cedar (Cedrus spp.), and fir (Abies spp.). These evergreen species are aromatic, resinous, and hold their needle-shaped leaves all year, except larch, which is a deciduous conifer that loses its needles in fall. Bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata) are some of the world’s oldest trees. Some are more than 4,000 years old. They have resinous wood and live in the extremely cold, arid habitats of mountain ranges in the southwest United States.
Text by Mary Pestel, photo courtesy of Monrovia Growers, www.monrovia.com.