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.
Native to the mountains of southern Oregon, California, southern Rocky Mountains, Baja California. A popular Christmas tree and one of the most commonly grown native firs in Western gardens. Large, symmetrical tree reaches 80–120 ft. tall and 15–20 ft. wide in its native range and in the Northwest. Slower growing in California gardens, where it has reached 30 ft. in as many years in lowland areas. Best as 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.
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