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Alberta Spruce Problems
Answered by Tom Mugridge

Q: What is the best food for this plant?

A: For fertilization, I recommend using a product that has a combination of slow and quick release nitrogen, and with at least 50% WIN (water-insoluble nitrogen).

This will provide a long-term fertilization period for the plant by keeping the necessary elements available for whenever the plant can use it.

If you are unable to find such a combo, garden centers generally offer fertilizers for different types of plants, so you can pick up one formulated especially for evergreens.

Dwarf Alberta spruces prefer a slightly acidic soil, so I suggest testing the pH as well. The best range for a spruce would be around 5.5-6.5. If it's too high, you can gently reduce the pH with products designed to do so, also available at local garden centers.

Q: We have 3 Alberta spruce trees that look like they are dying. We have had them for 3 years and have had to spray for spider mites twice. They started turning brown a few months ago in the winter time.

Could spider mites be the culprit during the cold months? If not what could it be. They have been healthy except for the spider mites and after treatments have responded very well.

Thanks for your help,
Mary

A: Yes, it is certainly possible for spider mite damage to show up long after the little scoundrels have fed and "skipped town", so to speak. It is necessary to check for spider mites almost constantly from spring through fall on Alberta Spruces, as they are spider mite "magnets".

The spruce spider mite is a cool season mite, preferring months like April and September (here in Cleveland, that is) to do their thing. Unfortunately, the two-spotted spider mites also love Alberta spruces, and they'll feed during the warm and hot summer months. Thus, it is somewhat possible to have spider mites feasting on your Albertas just about all season long, other than during the coldest months.

Become vigilant in checking for mites, and treating when necessary. If you have have good success with treatments in the past, you'll likely have to continue to treat, and likely every year.

I would also recommend fertilizing the plants, and being sure to water properly when necessary. Well-nourished and properly-hydrated plants are able to tolerate pests much much better, plus they tend to respond to treatments better than weakened plants.

Q: We have three Dwarf Alberta Spruces that were severly affected by spider mites last fall. We treated them with miticide. Now they are now almost completely brown. Can they still be saved? Thank you.

A: This is a tough call to make at this time. I would do the "thumbnail test" where you gently scratch some of the bark on the twigs to see if there's a little bit of moist green tissue beneath.

If so, the plants may have enough wherewithal to produce new growth this spring, but it's something you just have to wait out to see. Be sure to check several different areas, to get an overall picture.

If there's no moist green beneath, the plants may be dead, but if you're willing to wait it out just to be sure, you might. I would water during any dry spell this spring (a dry spell would be a week without 1" of cumulative rainfall) to alleviate low-moisture problems.

If there's no moisture in the ground for the plant roots to absorb, the plant doesn't have much of a fighting chance. Good luck!



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