Black Spruce and Tamarack collected fall 2021. Spruce not pushing new growth. Thoughts?


I live in the James Bay area of northern Quebec (Zone 1a/1b). It’s a beautiful place but the winters are insane. The forests are primarily coniferous, consisting of Picea Mariana, Larix Laricina, and Pinus Banksiana.

Spring is a very unstable time, so collecting trees in the fall is the most practical option. Not saying it’s the “best” time, but it’s certainly easier to access areas of interest.

I collected several Larix and Picea in the fall of 2021. I overwintered them on the leeward side of the house. I placed the grow boxes on the ground, and covered them in snow to insulate them. This fall I want to create some kind of shelter for them, as I feel the former approach was a bit too risky. I believe they survived the ordeal, however.

We live in a very remote community, so my options for materials and substrates are limited. Pumice and Akadama are a write-off, as it is far too expensive for me to have it shipped in any reasonable/usable amount. I found a supplier who ships fine fir bark (same stuff used for orchids) by the cubic foot, so I’ve been using this as my primary component in the substrate. It drains well, holds onto some moisture, and doesn’t decompose quickly. For an organic component, I use living sphagnum/feather moss from the area and wrap that around the root balls.

All of the trees I collected had compact root systems with feeders near the trunk. The ground in the areas I collect from consist of a layer of organic matter (both living and decomposed) on top of sand. Collecting is very straight forward, and the trees usually come out easily.

Now that spring has arrived (though it has been an unusually cold one), the trees are out on pallets where they can get morning sun and afternoon shade. The Larix are really starting to take off, but the Piceas are slow to wake, and I’m getting concerned.

I’ve read that sometimes collected trees will “skip” a season of new growth in favour of repairing roots. Could this be the case with the Spruce? They look the same as when they were collected. Green, flexible, and no sign of excessive needle drop or browning. I water them when the substrate feels nearly dry, but I never let them completely dry out. The substrate drains very well so I don’t think overwatering is going to be a problem anyway. Any input/suggestions are welcome!

Here are a few pictures:



Yeah it can happen, of they are to stressed they’ll skip a season. Had it happen to one of my collected abies. It came out with basically no roots at all, I put in pure pumice and kept it out of sun and wind. By next year it had formed a new root system and started pushing new growth.
I’d keep them slightly moist, not wet and in the shade, especially if temps rise. Oh and watch the wind to.
Other then that not much to do, just wait.
Great trees bwt

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Thanks for the reply Kenez. I appreciate it. Glad to hear your Abies turned out!

They are definitely stressed, but they did have a decent amount of roots when they came out of the ground. However I wonder if collecting the Piceas so close to the winter freeze caused some root damage? Certainly possible. I wonder too if the Piceas will respond better to spring collecting rather than fall collecting. My Larix are going strong but they move water a lot faster… so they didn’t seem to mind the fall.

My “spring” (if you can call it that) season is starting so I’m going to be collecting more trees this weekend. Hopefully some Pinus Banksiana if I can find any nice ones.

I suspect you are right. I’ll stay diligent with the aftercare and time will tell. For now they are positioned to get morning sun/afternoon shade. They are on the leeward side of the house so they don’t get pummeled by the winds we get coming off the James Bay. And I only water them when they need it (not on a schedule). I’ll monitor and post any changes as the growing season continues.


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I collected them in spring, it’s a lot safer.
Frosts can really have a huge negative impact on freshly collected trees.

Good luck with them!

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I wouldn’t panic over your spruce just yet. It’s been a very late spring here in Winnipeg, even our landscape spruce are not pushing yet.


Same here Walt. I’ve been checking up on the wild trees on my walks to work and noticed the only thing pushing are the Tamaracks, the Alders, Aspens and Willows. Spruce seem to be very late save for some of the younger, more vigorous individuals.

Side note: I watched Yamadori Aftercare with Randy Knight (which was amazing!) and I changed my setup a bit according to his advice. I took the trees off the pallets and I placed them directly on the ground in groups to take advantage of the heating/cooling effect of the earth. They are already positioned in a way to get morning sun/afternoon shade so that won’t change. They have reasonable protection from wind on the leeward side of the house so I think I just need to be patient and enjoy the trees for what they are at this point. Works out for me since I can stop worrying about building a bench for at least a few years. I don’t expect to work on any of these trees until at least fall 2023, possibly 2024.

I’m also getting a head start on planning for winter protection. I’m going to use the deck again, but I’m going to cover the frame with a tarp/plastic. I’ll likely also build an extension just to give myself a bit more room. I don’t want to leave them in the snow again.

Appreciate the advice!

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The smallest of the Piceas did not survive. The tiny twin trunked one.

The needles all went dry suddenly and within two days they dropped off the branches. I don’t think I collected enough roots with that one. It came from an area which was pure sand (no organic top layer), and I remember the roots were pretty spindly. I think once its energy reserves were depleted it just couldn’t keep up and dried out. :frowning:

I have another one which I’m concerned with. Similar situation. It was one of my very first trees I collected and I don’t think I got enough roots. The box also fell over in a wind storm earlier this spring. It’s looking a bit sad so I’m keeping it in the shade being careful not to disturb it too much.

However the rest look alright. Some are dropping some interior needles but I sort of expected that. No new growth yet but they are still looking flexible and green. I’ll update with any changes.

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Update: I’m sad to report that all of my Black Spruce except for the one collected in spring have died (6 trees total). They seemed alright until the summer heat killed them off one by one. I had a feeling many of them wouldn’t survive since they weren’t putting on any new growth (as stated above). The culprit appears to be mishandling of the root system, poor anchoring, poor substrate, and frost damage during our cold winters. All of the trees that died rocked in their substrate during high winds. My surviving Spruce was anchored much more securely and survived.

Currently, I have one Black Spruce and my Tamarack clump. Both did very well all growing season and set buds for next spring. I plan on bringing them into our unheated porch for the winter once temps hit -10 or so.

I’ve since made changes to my approach to collecting. The most significant being better substrate. After much searching, I found a reliable supplier of Pumice and Akadama who will ship to my remote community. NO MORE FIR BARK!

I’m just trying to be honest about my mistakes/failures. I don’t believe in hiding my mistakes. Trial and error is my only option since I’m so remote.