How Do I Care for Spruce Seedlings?

Cindy Quarters

Spruce is a type of evergreen tree that generally grows slowly until it reaches its mature height of 60 feet (20 m) or more, depending on the variety. These trees are often planted as tiny seedlings only a few inches tall and may be purchased from commercial or government-owned nurseries. Caring for them involves protecting them from extremes of climate, making sure they are not allowed to dry out, and planting them in a suitable location as soon as possible.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Spruce seedlings are often shipped from the nursery to your home, ready to plant when they arrive. Their roots will normally be wrapped in plastic to keep them from drying out, and it is not unusual for many seedlings to be bundled together rather than individually wrapped. It is very important that when you remove the plastic you plant the spruce seedlings right away, since even a few minutes of exposure can kill them if the weather is warm and dry.

Keep the roots of the spruce seedlings damp while each one awaits its turn to be planted. You can set them in a bucket or tray of water, but they can’t be left there for more than an hour without risking the death of the trees. It's a good idea to sprinkle the roots with water when you open up the plastic to take a seedling out for planting, then wrap them back up until you need them. Be sure the plastic stays in place, since even if you have added water the spruce seedlings can still die very quickly if they dry out.

If you absolutely cannot plant the trees within a few days of when you receive them, you can use a technique called "heeling in" to protect the spruce seedlings until you can plant them. This is a form of temporary planting and provides protection for the roots. The trees will survive for as much as a few weeks if they are heeled in, but only if the weather is cold enough that they are dormant.

To heel them in, dig a v-shaped trench that is deep enough to allow you to place the trees and a bit of the stems slightly below ground level, and set your spruce seedlings in a row so that they are all leaning on one side of the trench. The trees can be piled two or three deep in the trench, as long as the tops of all of them are above ground level. Fill the trench back in with the soil you removed, carefully pack the soil down, and water the trees.

Spruce seedlings can also be stored in the refrigerator if you need to keep them awhile before planting. The temperature should be set to about 40° F (4.4° C), and you can dampen their roots somewhat at the time you put them in. They must be planted before they begin to grow or they will not be likely to survive once you do plant them, so plant them as soon as possible for best results.

When you are ready to plant them, place each seedling in a sunny spot in a hole that is several times larger than the roots. If the soil is poor you may want to add compost, but be careful not to burn the roots of the trees by applying fertilizer directly on them. Pack the soil in around the spruce seedlings to hold them in place, and then water them to help them begin to grow.

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