In nature, firs are tall, erect, symmetrical trees with uniformly spaced branch whorls. Though sometimes confused with spruces (Picea), they have softer needles that fall directly from the stems (spruces leave short pegs behind), and their large cones grow up rather than down. Cones shatter after ripening, leaving a spiky stalk. Most are high-mountain plants that do best in or near their natural environments. They grow slowly if at all in hot, dry,windy areas at low elevations, though firs from some other parts of the world do well in warm, dry climates.
Christmas tree farms grow native firs for cutting, and nurseries in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California grow a few species for the living Christmas tree trade. Licensed collectors in the Northwest dig picturesque, contorted firs at high elevations near the timberline and market them through nurseries as “alpine conifers.“ Use these in rock gardens; small specimens are good container or bonsai subjects. Birds are attracted by fir seeds. New growth on firs is susceptible to aphid damage.
Allow ample growing room at planting. Trying to restrict a fir tree's size by pruning usually ruins its naturally attractive shape. Pruning is rarely necessary; plants are more attractive with branches all the way to the ground.Abies amabilis
Native to southern Alaska south through the Coast Ranges and Cascades of Washington and Oregon. Grows 20–50 ft. tall and 12–15 ft. wide in gardens, much larger in the wild. Dark green needles,silvery beneath, curve upwardalong the branches. ‘SpreadingStar’, a prostrate form, createsa thick, lush mat to 3 ft. high,6 ft. wide, with minimal pruning.Abies concolor
Native to the mountains ofsouthern Oregon, California,southern Rocky Mountains,Baja California. A popularChristmas tree and one of themost commonly grown nativefirs in Western gardens. Large,symmetrical tree reaches80–120 ft. tall and 15–20 ft.wide in its native range and inthe Northwest. Slower growingin California gardens, where ithas reached 30 ft. in as manyyears in lowland areas. Bestas a container plant in Southern California. Bluish green needles. Needs no irrigation where native; some elsewhere. Some consider ‘Candicans’, with bluish white foliage, the “bluest” of all conifers.Abies grandis
Native from British Columbia inland to Montana and southward to coastal Northern California. Many Northwest gardeners live and garden successfully under this fast-growing tree; they just prune it high. One of the largest firs, it grows to 300 ft. tall in the wild (in gardens, it reaches 80–200 ft. tall, 15–25 ft. wide). Fragrant, deep green needles are glossy above, with white lines beneath; they grow in two rows along branches. ‘Johnsonii’ is suited to urban gardens, growing to 65 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide.
Native to Korea. Grows slowly to 30 ft. tall, 20 ft. wide, often much less. The white backs of the needles show beautifully from below, and contrast well with their green tops. This is especially true of the form with strongly curved needles. The prize feature of this tree is its purplish-blue cones, whose contrasting green bracts poke out in spirals from the bottom of the cone to the top. Cones seem to come on strong in alternate years.Abies lasiocarpa
Native to Alaska, south through the high Cascades of Washington and Oregon; nearly throughout the Rocky Mountains. In the wild in good, moist soil, it is a narrow, steeple-shaped tree 60-90 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide. In gardens, usually grows much shorter and loses its narrow shape; allow for 15–20-ft. spread in Northwest. Extremely slow growing in California gardens. Bluish green, 1 – 1 1/2-in.-long needles.Abies lasiocarpa arizonica
Thick, corky, creamy white bark gives the tree its common name, “cork fir.“ Blue, often silvery needles. Very handsome as a youngster; good bonsai. Excellent substitute for blue spruce (Picea pungens) in smaller spaces, and more disease free.
From Australia, New Zealand. Grows 1 to 2 ft. high, 2 ft. wide. Spreading stalks hold small, evenly sp...
Graceful, airy plants grow about twice as high as wide. Bloom in early spring, just before or during l...
Once highly prized shade trees, elms have fallen on hard times. Dutch elm disease (spread by a bark be...