Dwarf evergreens are an endless source of variety and interest in the garden. There are shapes and colors to suit everyone and adding them to your landscaping is a sure way to create year-round structure and texture. One of the valuable things about these plants is their constancy. Although spring foliage is often lighter and brighter in color, and in winter some take on interesting bronze or red tones, generally they give stability and permanence all year round.
You can understand, then, that when we first saw the Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce, we were amazed. Here was a dwarf evergreen that put on a display in spring that rivaled flowering shrubs, and that made a real splash of color in our beds. Not content to simply put out new shoots, this little beauty produces a crop of vibrant, rich red ‘flowers’ as the new shoots emerge. Of course, being a conifer, these are not really flowers, but for a moment we were fooled, and you might be too.
The Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce is a special form of the well-known Colorado Spruce, often also called Blue Spruce. This hardy tree is remarkable for the rich silver-blue color of its needles, and it is a greatly-loved tree in colder parts of the country. Normally it forms a large tree, 30 to 60 feet tall, but sometimes dwarf trees are found, so there are several forms that grow into mounds of blue foliage, only a few feet tall. These are useful, and widely grown, but none comes close to this unique tree.
Growing Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce Trees
The Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce forms an upright, rounded mound of foliage, growing 4 to 6 inches a year. After 10 years it may be 5 feet tall, and 5 or 6 feet wide, and it will continue to grow larger throughout its life. The spring foliage is a striking silvered blue, in a dramatic shade of teal. As the season progresses, and the foliage matures, it becomes more sky-blue. This colorful mound of blue is a great contrast to other plants in your garden, and looks wonderful among gravel and stones, in a bed of other evergreens.
The short needles radiate out in all directions around the short stems, and this plant keeps it foliage right to the ground. When the new growth emerges in spring, each branch is topped with a conical ball of rich magenta, the ‘ruby teardrops’ of its name. This creates a striking effect, making a terrific visual impact, and making this a very unique and special evergreen.
Normally, cones are only produced on mature trees, and since they are high in the tree, they are rarely noticed or appreciated. In spring the young cones are small and red, but in the Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce they are a deep, rich, purple-red, and larger and more prominent. Most important of all, even tiny trees carry a heavy crop, and it is these precocious cones, at the end of every shoot, that make the ‘flowers’ we see on this amazing tree.
Hardiness and Climate
Colorado Spruce, in all its forms, is one of the hardiest and most durable of trees. It easily survives winter temperatures of minus 50, making it hardy in the very coldest parts of the country. A temperature of minus 70 was once recorded in Montana, but even if you live in zone 2, Colorado spruce is an obvious choice for your garden. Although small, the Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce is just as hardy, and just like its grown-up relatives, it prefers the cooler parts of the country, and will struggle in the South.
This is also a very tough tree when it comes to soil. It grows in almost any kind of soil, from rocky and sandy to clay. It doesn’t like wet soil, so if you have that kind of soil, plant this tree on a mound of earth about 6 inches high, and add plenty of organic material to the soil, to improve the drainage. This tree has no significant pest or diseases, and it is very easy to grow. Deer normally leave it alone. If you are new to gardening, and want to experiment with unusual plants, this tree is a wonderful place to start.
Creating a Garden of Dwarf Evergreens
One of the easiest and yet very attractive ways to create a garden in cold areas is to use a variety of dwarf evergreens, of different shapes and colors, planted in a bed among some attractive rocks or boulders. Cover the ground with landscape fabric and mulch with gravel and stone. There will be no maintenance involved, and these plants will form a very attractive garden, that needs nothing from you, but is beautiful every day of the year. These slower-growing plants increase in beauty and value every year, and in 10 years you will have a gorgeous collection of mature specimens that everyone will admire.
History and Origins of the Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce
The Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens) is found growing wild across the Rocky Mountains, from Colorado and Montana in the north to New Mexico and Arizona in the south. It grows at high altitude, so it is very hardy. This is a tree that grows naturally in rocky places, often with very little soil, so it will also grow in almost any kind of soil. It is drought resistant too, so once established you will only need to water your tree when there are extended periods of summer dryness.
The Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce is a special, selected form of this tree. Although it is very small, and fits well into gardens of any size, it has the same hardiness and resistance of the parent tree. It was found as a seedling growing at Fisher Farms, in Gaston, Oregon a wholesale plant nursery owned by Bob Terry. After testing it, and propagating young plants, he released it to gardeners in 2010. This remarkable plant was an instant hit among conifer specialists, and in 2016 it was named, ‘Collectors Conifer of the Year’ by the prestigious American Conifer Society.