Are you considering some new landscaping trees for your yard? Perhaps you’ve looked at some options and narrowed it down to evergreens because of the lovely year-round color. Maybe you also know that you want a coniferous tree with needles and cones, as opposed to a broad-leaved species. Seems simple enough!
Actually, there’s still more to consider when deciding on what type of coniferous evergreen is right for you since there are many distinct species within this family of trees. These include firs, hemlocks, spruces, pines, junipers, yews, and more. Telling the difference isn’t always easy, but when selecting trees for your yard or garden, you should have a good sense of the necessary maintenance, care, and conditions a specific tree species will need.
Similarly, think about what purpose you’d like your evergreens to serve – ornamental, providing shade, etc. As with any tree, planting and caring for evergreens is an investment of both money and time, so it’s important to make the right decisions when selecting the right varietal for your home.
With so much to choose from, let’s focus on two common conifers – the pine tree vs spruce tree – and how each one might be of interest to you.
Pines (Pinus spp.) are some of the most well-known evergreens. Of the 125 species that exist, most are hardy and typically handle a range of climates. Pine trees are usually easy to plant, simply taking time for the roots to establish and requiring little intervention. They generally do well in a variety of soil types, needing at least partial sun and adequate drainage, but each variety of pine will have its own specific requirements to thrive.
Pine trees typically bear needles in clusters of two, three or five, depending on the species. The needles may be long or short, but the clustering is a distinct feature that helps identify an evergreen as a pine. The needles are soft and flexible, especially when compared to those of a spruce.
Some examples of pine trees you might consider for your yard include:
These fast-growing trees are commonly used in landscape design as the 3-5 inch needles give the tree a soft and attractive appearance. White pines are also functional trees that provide ample shade and are often used as a screening plant for added privacy or to provide a windbreak for winter winds. They prefer moist and well-drained soil that is slightly acidic and do best with full sun.
Gardeners with small backyards should consider avoiding white pines as they are some of the tallest pine species and can grow to 80 feet tall with a 40-foot spread. Occasionally, white pines grow to 150 feet or more!
This dwarf variety produces a small-to-large shrub with a pleasant dark green color and fresh pine scent. The compact size is ideal for smaller yards, with heights ranging from 5 to 20 feet. Mugo pines have dense foliage that can also offer privacy or act as a low-maintenance ground cover. They can be planted in a garden to create natural separation throughout the landscape or direct the flow of foot traffic.
While this pine species has a much slower growth rate than the white pine, the Mugo is adaptable to many soil types and is quite drought-resistant so little watering is needed. It’s also one of the few pines that can handle partial sun and wind relatively well.
Japanese Black Pine:
This native-to-Japan variety is unique in appearance due to its irregular form, wide branches, and dark-gray bark with grooves, but these features create a “rugged” aesthetic that works tremendously well in many garden and landscape settings. It grows between 20 and 60 feet tall and is quite tolerant of drought, heat, and wind.
This species does well in moist acidic soil with proper drainage, but also adapts well to sandy soils, making it an excellent choice in coastal areas. It does require full sun, so keep that in mind when considering placement.
The spruce is another well-known evergreen conifer with 35 different documented species. Spruce trees typically require very little pruning and naturally grow upright and in a pyramidal shape. They are known for straight trunks and horizontal branches, which makes them a visually appealing addition or focal point within a landscape. This also explains why some types of spruce are grown to be used as Christmas trees. When planted ornamentally, they can provide the added benefits of shade and serve as a wind barrier.
Unlike pine trees, the needles of a spruce tree grow from small, peg-like wooden attachments directly connected to the branches. The needles are sharply pointed and have a square shape, such that you can roll them between your fingers. The color of the needles varies by variety, ranging from a rich green, greenish-gray, or even a bluish tint. Spruce needles tend to be shorter – usually about an inch long – and noticeably stiffer than the softer clustered needles of pine trees.
Popular spruce trees for landscapes and yards include:
Colorado Blue Spruce:
Sometimes simply referred to as “Blue Spruce,” this is a very popular ornamental and landscaping tree due to its pyramid-like shape and blue-tinted hue. It was discovered in 1862 growing in the Rocky Mountains and later became the state tree of Colorado. It’s a slow-to-medium grower that adds about 12 to 24 inches per year, eventually reaching heights of between 30 and 60 feet.
When planted in a row, the Blue Spruce can provide privacy. It’s also known to withstands wind better than most spruces due to a widespread and moderately deep root system. This particular species does best in full sun and can adapt to many soil types as long as it has adequate drainage.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce:
This is another evergreen that features dense foliage and that classic, conical, Christmas-tree shape. This species rarely exceeds 12 feet and is therefore quite popular for landscaping purposes; for example, you may see these placed on either side of a doorway to create a framing, “balanced” effect. Dwarf Alberta Spruce grows slowly, at about two to four inches per year and requires almost no pruning. It also does not produce pine cones.
In contrast to the Dwarf Alberta, the Norway Spruce is the fastest-growing of all spruce species adding anywhere from 13 to over 24 inches per year. It produces long, cylindrical cones that hang like ornaments against a dark-green backdrop. This tree is a sun-loving variety, so consider this when thinking about placement. The Norway Spruce also grows relatively tall – up to 80 feet – and is, therefore, best suited for larger spaces, unless you seek out a dwarf variety.
Which is best?
The choice of pine tree vs. spruce tree may depend largely on what your ultimate goals are when featuring these evergreens in your yard. Consider your space constraints, aesthetic desires, and functional needs.
Both species of tree offer many overlapping benefits such as year-round color, low overall maintenance, and the ability to provide natural barriers and windbreaks. However, the different individual varieties of pine and spruce trees offer distinct and unique features that can help inform your decision.
Maybe you’ve always wanted a tree with near-perfect symmetry or eye-catching blue-tinted needles? Or perhaps it’s a fast-growing, tall, and graceful conifer that you seek?
Take time to think about what you’re looking for because choosing a tree species for your home is an investment. And as with any tree-related decisions, know that a local arborist can always offer expert advice and insight to help you create the landscape of your dreams!