Tag Archives: Norway spruce

Five Trees in the Ground

My goal for the year was to plant an additional five trees in my yard.  Before spring the yard contained thirteen trees (1 elm, 1 sycamore, 1 maple, 3 yellow poplars, 3 Norway spruce, and 4 red oaks).  Over the years I have drawn out several plans to add to my trees.

However, the nursery stock this year was harsh.  I rarely saw a shade tree worth a second look and the conifers were wicked expensive.  Early in the season I was able to find a pair of Norway spruce for about $65 each.  This was an easy choice since I had a spot picked out:


Both trees really took to being planted and put on a thrush of new growth within weeks.  The weather this summer has been amenable to trees as well with well-spaced moisture and not too many blistering hot days.  Even the days that were hot lacked the combination of heat and sun that really seems to knock the stuffing out of plants.

Hopefully before the end of fall I can trim around the trees like the maple in the foreground of the picture above.  The surrounding mulched bed will not be planted with perennials like the maple.  Over the years the branches will spread to encompass the entirety of the mulched bed.  Also, this is just the start of what I have planned for this side of my yard.  See the disastrous “sport” court in the neighbors’ back yard?  Yeah, I do not want to see it either.  Next year is going to be a heavy year for trees.

Just this weekend I ran across a store doing a fall sale of container grown conifers for just $15 each.  Normally, I am not a fan of Colorado blue spruce as the species is over planted in eastern Iowa.  I could not turn down relatively good looking trees at a low, low price.  I picked up three and got to work finishing another planting bed where I am trying to take out all of the turf grass:


This part of my lawn is almost entirely sand.  The only soil, so to speak, is what came on the rolls of sod that were laid down and what I have added when planting trees.  The area has little soil fertility and retains very little moisture.  It is like a thin layer of soil, compacted, and sitting on a jelly roll pan.  If you pour out a bucket of water you can watch it flow downhill without really penetrating the soil.  While the rest of the yard can handle a period of drought—mowing the grass extra high and allowing clover to spread helps—this little corner dries out and dies.  I had considered top dressing the lawn in this area, but felt that it was a better use of space to plant trees and perennials, edge the area, amend the soil, and deeply mulch.  I will get to the edging, amending, and mulching next year.  I promise.

The only downside of all of this planting is that I have used up the contents of one of my compost bins.  There is some compost left and a few things that did not break down over the years, like the muslin bags used to steep grains during my homebrewing days, which will go into a mixture to improve soil health in the areas where I remove turf.  The other bin is fairly full, so in a year or so I should have a lot of nutrient dense compost to amend my sandy soil.


My house came with one tree planted in the tiny strip of land between the sidewalk and the street—the house sits on an irregular lot where the front measures a little over 50 feet wide and the parallel property line in the back measures over 200 feet wide.  In the early spring storms the lone tree—an autumn blaze maple—ended up floating out of its hole because the root ball was slightly small relative to the tree’s crown and the ground around the hole was hard packed clay.

It is a good tree, but it is ill suited to the site and every other tree on the street is an autumn blaze maple.  Ash trees, which used to be the dominant street tree following the decline of elms due to Dutch elm disease, are no longer a viable option in Iowa because of the emerald ash borer, but people need to think beyond this one species of tree.  The variety is overplanted right now and its wood strength, owing to being a cross between a red and silver maple, is lacking.

With a bare backyard:

Bare Backyard last fall

I had some work to do.  The former street tree was moved to the backyard in a location that was more suitable.  Unlike my front yard, the backyard has sandy soil that drains very well.  Since late May, the autumn blaze maple has been replanted and thriving in its new location.  What to do with the rest of the yard?

One trip to my local nursery  later and I was waiting for delivery of six trees to begin filling out my yard.  On the way home from the nursery I chanced upon some Norway spruces at a grocery store garden center that were 30% off.  I prefer the Norway spruce to the more commonly planted Colorado blue or Black Hills because it thrives in the Iowa climate whereas the other two have problems with both the seasonal heat and humidity.  The Norway spruce is also the fastest growing member of the spruce family.  So now I was looking at planting nine trees.

Up front, the replacement tree is a New Horizon elm (Ulmus “New Horizon” ).  I chose an elm because it is a rapid grower and the species is generally underplanted.  Most people are not cognizant of the new cultivars that are resistant to Dutch elm disease.  It is looking good:

New Horizon Elm

A companion tree for the front is a Royal Raindrops flowering crabapple .  The tree gets magenta pink blooms in the spring, has violet foliage, and good fall color.

The backyard was where the real work began.  The rear property line was going to be dominated by a row of alternating red oaks (Quercus rubra ) and Norway spruces (Picea abies ).  The oaks and spruces should thrive in the eastern Iowa climate.  A total of seven trees took me two days to plant.  The results, however, speak for themselves:

After the planting

For the year I have planted nine trees, replanted one tree, planted seven blueberry bushes, and completely filled in two beds on the south face of the house with perennials.  It might be time to take a break from planting for the season and leave some work for next year.