Picea rubens (Red Spruce) - Qt Super Plugs


Available September 2022

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About Red Spruce

Growing from New England and the Maritime Provences of Canada south to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, red spruce (Picea rubens) is a very stately native evergreen.

Red spruce features deep green needles set thickly on rusty red twigs.  It can be distinguished from White spruce, which has much lighter and longer needles, and Black spruce, which has shorter needles with a bluish tint, fairly easily.  Old red spruce can be huge, with 4-plus foot diameter trunks and 150-foot tall crowns.  As the trees age, the bark takes on a uniform, platy appearance - Since lower limbs often drop off in closed-canopy situations, you might confuse an old red spruce for a hardwood if you don't look up at the crown.

Estimated to have covered as much as 10 times the area in the Appalachians as it does today, red spruce was extensively logged in the 1800s and 1900s.  Today, it has become a sort of poster child for conservation efforts, and thousands of acres of spruce seedlings are planted every year from Maryland and West Virginia into the Southern Appalachians.  These efforts have been successful, and in 50 to 100 years, extensive spruce forests may once again crown the Appalachian Mountains.

For a spruce, red spruce is very shade tolerant, as much so as Eastern Hemlock and White Cedar - This feature enables it to establish in the cover of hardwoods, slowly growing as an understory tree until a disturbance in the canopy allows it to take over.  Capable of living 300 to 400 years, red spruce is the longest-lived of the eastern spruces.

In the landscape, red spruce is often as wide as it is tall, unless planted closely together - In the wild, red spruce can be found both as single, spread-out trees in open glades as well as in dense, closed-canopy forests where little light is able to reach the forest floor.  Both settings are beautiful in their own right.

Our Picea rubens North Carolina strain is from the Southern Appalachians, and is ideal for higher elevation habitats throughout the Central and Southern Appalachians.  Our Picea rubens Nova Scotia strain comes from the heart of Red Spruce populations in Coastal Nova Scotia, which is great for planting from New England to the Central Appalachians as well as the wider landscape.


Red spruce is a highly valuable tree - It is one of the most important lumber trees in the Northeast, being mixed with white and black spruce as "eastern spruce".  With its light density, clear straight grain, and resonant qualities, Red Spruce is highly preferred for making musical instruments.  Red spruce is also used by the paper pulp industry.  

Red spruce is an important wildlife species - Many animals rely on spruce groves for winter shelter, and hares and grouse browse the buds and young growth.  Red Spruce seeds are eaten by Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Crossbills, Pine Siskins, and other seed-eating birds.  Red spruce is reported to be unpalatable to white-tailed deer - An excellent evergreen tree in areas with high deer populations!

Red spruce, when growing in a closed canopy stand, creates its own microclimate - red spruce forests are characterized by low evaporation rates, damp peaty soils, and a ground cover of incredibly lush moss.  Peat soils are partially decomposed organic matter, which stores carbon in a stable state deep in the soil.  These features make Red Spruce well-suited to offset carbon emissions, and initiatives are under way to restore the vast spruce forests that once existed from Maryland to Tennessee and North Carolina as a means of sequestering carbon.

How to Grow Red Spruce

Red spruce is said to be slow-growing and difficult to cultivate; we have grown it easily enough here at the nursery in Central Indiana. The key to success is a site with rich soil that never dries severely and a little afternoon shade.  Red spruce grows best in areas with cool summer temperatures and high rainfall.

Widely adaptable to different soil types, red spruce is typically found on gravely soils and muck soils - however, it achieves its best form on the well-drained, organic soils of the Southern Appalachians.  In the garden or landscape, Red Spruce grows best in moist, well-drained soils, although it will tolerate slightly boggy or clay soils.  Red spruce grows very well in "shelterwood" stands, where canopy trees have been thinned to allow more light into the ground layer.

Red Spruce is an excellent medium-sized evergreen for windbreaks, grouping, naturalizing, and specimen planting.  Though uncommon in the landscape, Red Spruce makes a beautiful specimen, with full, dense growth and an excellent tiered structure.  Space 8-15 feet apart for naturalizing and windbreaks; To allow full natural growth, space at least 15 to 30 feet apart.

Red Spruce is best planted in early Autumn, preferably with at least 8 weeks of frost-free weather for establishment.  Spring is the second-best time;  However, in the North, soils can be frigid late into the spring, hampering root development.

We grow Red Spruce in our fabric SuperPlug containers, yielding excellent, healthy root systems.  We do recommend removing the fabric pot; to do this, simply cut a slit down one side and peel back the fabric.  To plant, dig a hole 3 times the width of the rootball, and only as deep as the rootball.  (Soil will settle over time, so it is important to plant at the correct depth - If in doubt, plant high)  Water well; do not tamp the soil.  If the weather is dry, the plants will need watering once a week.  Red spruce is not drought tolerant at all, be sure to supplement water if the weather is very hot and dry.

 Red Spruce can be a bit slow-growing at first; However, it is capable of growing 1 foot or more a year in good conditions.

Common Name: Red Spruce
Botanical Name: Picea rubens


  • 5

    Posted by John on May 5th 2017

    I got 3 of these new york strain Red Spruce and they are fantastic. Last year I ordered a few from the NH State Nursery and while they are also great, I noticed that they break bud much later and grow a little slower. I guess I prefer the NY strain, maybe it just does better in my area (northwest NJ zone 6B, around 700ft elevation). Will definitely order again!

  • 5
    excellent but . . .

    Posted by Neil McArthur on Apr 27th 2016

    Seedlings arrived all the way to Alaska promptly, were in very good condition, and a few extra included. Somewhere on the page the seedlings were described as 6-12" size, but 3-5" would have been more accurate, unless you measure from bottom of liner to top of seedling that is. Either way at 74 years old I may live long enough to see these as trees, but someone has to try it. I reached the P. rubens page directly from Google Search, and after ordering noticed too late that you also sell a Nova Scotia strain, which might or might not be better here where winters are cruel from intermittent thawing rather than from being very cold.

  • 5
    Great looking plants

    Posted by Chris on Nov 1st 2015

    Red spruce is hard to find.

    These New York strain plants look good and healthy.

  • 5
    Vigorous, healthy seedlings!

    Posted by Unknown on Oct 21st 2015

    Very pleased with seedling quality, vigor, and timeliness of shipping. Seedlings are now off and running in their northern Michigan planting site!

  • 3
    Red Spruce Rootmaker Flat

    Posted by Unknown on Oct 14th 2015

    The trees arrived healthy, although smaller than anticipated. Most were about 6". Some of the trees were dislodged during shipping, however they still appeared to be in satisfactory condition due to the significant root development.