MSU Extension bulletin highlights alternatives to blue spruce

As blue spruce trees continue to decline throughout Michigan, this guide provides replacement suggestions for homeowners and landscapers.

Concolor fir in the landscape.
Concolor fir is an example of a conifer that can substitute for blue spruce in many landscapes. Photo by Bert Cregg, MSU.

Colorado blue spruce trees have been planted as ornamental conifers in Michigan and the Midwest for over 100 years, and the trees have struggled with disease and pest issues for almost as long. For many homeowners, the allure of the blue needles of blue spruce is almost irresistible. However, as the name implies, Colorado blue spruce are native to the arid climate of the Rocky Mountains and face numerous issues with fungal pathogens—especially needlecast diseases—when grown in our Midwest humidity. Annual treatments with fungicides can help to forestall the progression of needlecasts in blue spruce, but for most homeowners, a more sustainable approach is to look for alternative conifers that can fulfill similar functions in the landscape.

A screenshot of the guide.
This guide provides replacement suggestions for homeowners and landscapers.

To aid homeowners and landscapers in their quest for substitutes for blue spruce, Michigan State University Extension has developed Alternatives to Blue Spruce: Top Conifers for Michigan Landscapes. This resource highlights 11 conifers that are adapted to Michigan’s climate and soils.

Available as an e-document as well as a printable PDF, Alternatives to Blue Spruce lists six conifers that are widely available in Michigan nurseries (white pine, white spruce, Serbian spruce, concolor fir, Norway spruce, arborvitae) and five conifers that may take a little more effort to find but are available at larger garden centers and specialty nurseries (Korean fir, bald cypress, dawn redwood, Swiss stone pine, Alaska cypress). All of the selections listed are medium to large conifers that can serve many of the same functions in landscapes as blue spruce, such as providing a screen from unwanted views.

While no plant is completely pest-proof, the trees listed in the guide are reliable performers in Michigan and provide an opportunity to diversify our landscapes and escape the blue spruce blues.

Download Alternatives to Blue Spruce: Top Conifers for Michigan Landscapes

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