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Bachman’s tips: spruce up your planters

Posted by Susan Bachman West, executive director of perishable operations
Tuesday, November 26, 2013

With the nighttime temperatures continually getting colder, even cold-tolerant annuals are being touched by frost. That means it's time to “spruce up” your outdoor planters!



The treetops used for our winter decorations are white or black spruce tips harvested in the swamplands of northern Minnesota and Canada. Although they look like more mature trees since they’re so full and lush, these spruce tops are actually a regenerative crop that can be harvested every few years.

The arduous harvest begins in October and the cutter is usually waist deep in swampland cutting the 2-4 foot spruce tops by hand in near freezing temperatures. The cutting of spruce tops is regulated so harvesting doesn’t endanger the swampland or surrounding nature. Only about one third of the trees can be cut from each location. The tops are then gathered and pulled out of the swamp or woods and bundled for sale.

Tips for Planting

  • Spruce tops look best planted tightly in pots or planter boxes that contain heavy, sandy soil.
  • Push the spruce tops down about 4-5 inches in the soil.
  • Tall or jumbo spruce tops should be used in the center of the planter to provide height and regular spruce tops should be used to fill in around the edges.
  • As a general rule a 10-inch pot needs 6-7 spruce tops; a 12-foot pot needs 8-9 spruce tops; a 14-inch pot needs10-12 spruce tops.
  • Water the soil thoroughly and continue to water until the soil in the planter freezes. If the tops are planted early in the season, spray them with an antidesiccant such as Wilt Stop. This helps seal in moisture so the tops don’t brown as quickly in warm, windy weather.

There are many accents that can be added to spruce tops planters. In the fall, arrange gourds, curly willow and fall color leaves among the spruce tops. After Thanksgiving, replace those accents with red dogwood, berry stems, holiday stems and lights. This creates a very cheerful holiday look for your spruce top planters.

Spruce tops are so versatile and so nice to have around when winter drains the color out of our landscapes. Let your imagination run wild and spruce up those planters now. In the cold gray days of December and January, you'll be glad you did!

Tags: holidaydecorating

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