January 24, 2023
If you are looking to add an evergreen tree to your landscape, a Balsam fir may be the perfect choice for you.
The Balsam fir is a beautiful and versatile tree, ideal for many different purposes, from providing a windbreak in winter, as a Christmas tree, or as an ornamental tree in your garden.
This article covers everything you need to know about growing a Balsam fir tree.
What is a Balsam Fir?
The Balsam fir (Abies Balsamea) is a North American evergreen coniferous tree. It is a popular choice for decoration due to its fragrant needles, attractive shape, and long-lasting needles.
Balsam fir is also an important source of lumber, paper, and other products.
Its needles are flat and fragrant, and its cones are small, round, and green. The bark is grey to reddish-brown and scaly. Balsam fir has a shallow root system, which helps it to survive in areas prone to wind, snow, and other environmental stresses.
Uses of Balsam Fir
Balsam fir has various uses such as decorations in wreaths, and garlands. Balsam fir’s scented foliage is often used to produce balsam pillows.
Its resin is useful in the production of medicine, glue, turpentine, and varnish. The wood is lightweight and soft, making it easy to work with and ideal for creating furniture, crafts, and other products.
Its wood is also highly resistant to rot and decay, making it a brilliant choice for outdoor projects such as decks and fences.
We also use Balsam fir in the production of essential oils, which are used in aromatherapy and perfumes. The needles and twigs are also useful in the production of incense and other fragrant products.
Growing a Balsam Fir
The following is an overview of the process of growing a Balsam fir.
Where Does Balsam Fir Grow?
Although Balsam fir is native to North America, primarily in the eastern half of the continent, it grows in a variety of climates and soil types.
The species is commonly found in cooler climates where the temperature range remains relatively cool throughout the year. It prefers and does best in moist and weak acidic soil.
This tree species can be found from Central Alberta to Newfoundland.
How to Grow Balsam Fir From Seed
Growing a Balsam fir from seed is a fairly simple process.
It starts by collecting its small, brown, winged seeds released in the fall, and you can collect from the ground or directly from the tree.
Ensure you collect the seeds as soon as possible, as they can quickly lose their viability if left on the ground for too long.
Prepare the Seeds
Preparing the seeds involves removing debris or dirt and soaking them for 24 hours in lukewarm water.
The soaking process helps to stimulate germination by softening the seed coat and activating the embryo inside.
Plant the Seeds
After preparing and breaking the seed dormancy successfully, the seeds are ready for planting.
Ensure you’re planting the Balsam seeds in well-drained soil, at a depth of approximately ¼ inch.
It is important to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy while the seeds are germinating, as too much water can cause the seeds to rot.
Transplant the Seedlings
Once the seedlings have grown to a height of approximately 6 inches, they are ready for transplanting into larger containers or the ground.
Ensure you don’t overcrowd the seedlings for better results.
When to Plant Balsam Fir
Timing is vital in planting Balsam fir. There are certain times when planting Balsam fir does best and increases the germination rate.
One of the best times is in the early spring, when the soil temperatures are warmer and the risk of frost has passed.
Planting in the spring will give the tree the best chance to establish a strong root system and get a head start on growth. Planting in the fall is also feasible, but you should do it early before the first frost.
Avoid planting the Balsam fir during the hot summer months. This evergreen species is not tolerant of extreme heat and can not establish itself in temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Planting during winter months is also not a great option, as the soil is often too cold for the tree to grow and establish itself.
How Long Does it Take a Balsam Fir to Grow?
Balsam seedlings can take from 15 to 30 years to reach maturity.
The rate at which the tree grows is affected by various factors, including its environment, soil, water, and nutrient availability. If the environment is too hot or dry, the tree may become stressed, which can lead to slower growth.
The best soil for a Balsam is one with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. If the soil is too acidic or alkaline, the growth rate of the tree may be slow. The tree will need nutrients to thrive, hence the fertility of the soil contributes to how long the tree takes to mature.
How Tall do Balsam Fir trees Grow?
The height of this tree is largely determined by the environmental conditions in which it is growing.
Balsam firs usually reach 50 to 60 feet tall, based on their surroundings and growing conditions.
The age of the tree also plays a major role in its overall height. If you’re caring for a young Balsam fir tree, it grows at a faster rate than older trees and therefore can reach greater heights. This is because younger trees can absorb more nutrients from their environment than older trees, which helps promote their growth.
Balsam Fir Tree Care
By providing quality care and maintenance, your tree can develop to its full potential. Some of the essential care measures to be keen on include:
It is essential to provide the right amount of water. Too much can lead to root rot, while too little water can cause the foliage to brown and die.
The best way to determine the amount of water a Balsam needs is to use a soil moisture metre. If a soil moisture metre is not available, a general rule of thumb is to water the tree until the top 8–10 inches of soil is moist.
The frequency of watering is also important. It is best to water the tree once a week, although this may vary depending on the tree’s location and the weather. During hot and dry weather periods, the tree may need watering more often.
Balsams need an ample amount of light to grow and thrive.
In their natural environment, they prefer full sun, but they can also tolerate partial shade.
During the seedling and sapling stages, Balsams need at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to ensure healthy growth. As they mature, they can tolerate less light and can even survive in shade conditions.
For artificial light, Balsams need at least 10-12 hours of light per day to ensure optimal growth and health. If you grow the tree indoors, it should be near a south-facing window or other sources of bright light.
If a Balsam fir tree does not receive enough light, it is likely to suffer from slow growth, weak branches, and lack of foliage. In extreme cases, the tree may die. If it receives too much light, it may suffer from scorched foliage and other signs of sunburn.
The best soil for a Balsam tree is moist, well-drained, and rich in organic matter. The soil should be slightly acidic, and a soil test can help you know the PH of your soil.
Too alkaline soil can lead to nutrient deficiency, and too sandy soil can lead to poor growth. While a soil test is the most accurate way to check acidity, there are other methods that can be useful.
For example, adding a small amount of vinegar to the soil and seeing if it fizzes can show if the soil is alkaline.
If the soil is too acidic, adding lime can help increase the pH levels. If the soil is too alkaline, adding sulphur can help to lower the pH levels. Adding compost or other organic matter can help increase the soil’s moisture levels and nutrient content.
Balsam trees do not require a lot of fertilizer to stay healthy.
Only the young plants may need fertilizing annually in early spring before the fresh growth begins. The best type of fertilizer to use is one that is specially formulated for evergreens and conifers. It should be high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
When applying the fertilizer, the amount should be based on the size of the tree.
For smaller trees, use a light application of 1/4 cup of fertilizer per foot of height. While in larger trees, use a heavier application of 1/2 cup of fertilizer per foot of height.
Spread the fertilizer in a circle around the base of the tree, making sure to keep it away from the trunk. Water the fertilizer thoroughly and repeat this process each spring until the tree is mature.
Signs of a need for fertilizer include yellowing of the needles and slow growth. If you notice these signs, it is time to apply fertilizer.
When to Prune Balsam Fir Tree
Pruning is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and attractive Balsam fir tree. It helps improve the tree’s shape and size and reduces the risk of disease or pests.
Removing excess branches can also help increase the tree’s air circulation and light exposure, which can help the tree grow more vigorously.
Pruning is not necessary for a healthy Balsam fir tree, but it can be beneficial.
The best time to prune is in late winter or early spring before the tree begins to bud. This will give the tree time to heal and recover before the growing season begins.
When pruning, remove any dead or diseased branches. You can also prune out any overgrown branches or those crossing each other.
Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
Despite their hardiness, Balsam fir trees are not immune to pests and diseases. The most common pests to watch out for are bark beetles, spruce budworms, and aphids.
Bark beetles are small, black beetles that burrow into the tree’s bark, causing damage to the tree’s trunk and root system.
Spruce budworms are the larvae of a moth and feed on the tree’s needles, leaving them yellow and wilted.
Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that feed on the tree’s sup, causing yellowing, wilting, and defoliation of the needles.
Balsam fir trees are also susceptible to various fungal and bacterial diseases. The most common diseases are needle blight, root rot, and rust.
Needle blight is a fungal disease that causes yellowing, wilting, and defoliation of the needles.
Root rot is a fungal disease that can cause the tree to become stunted and discoloured.
Rust is a fungal disease that causes red-brown spots on the needles.
It is essential to keep the tree healthy and strong to prevent pests and diseases from infesting your Balsam fir tree. Diseases and pests take advantage of neglected trees to develop.
Water regularly and deeply, and ensure the tree is receiving enough sunlight and nutrients. Prune away infested branches and needles, and keep the area around the tree free of debris.
If the tree is in an area with a higher risk of pest and disease infestation, consider using a natural insecticide spray to protect the tree.
Growing Your Balsam Fir
Growing a Balsam fir is a great way to add long-lasting beauty to your yard. It, however, requires knowledge, patience, and dedication for better results. With proper care and maintenance, your Balsam fir tree can provide years of delight.
At Pevach Corp, we offer professional tree management services for residents across Bonnyville, Cold Lake, St. Paul, Lac La Biche, Meadow Lake, and everywhere in between in the Lakeland region of Alberta and western Saskatchewan.
We can clean, trim, or remove your overgrowing Balsam fir to ensure it serves you best and long.
Contact us today for more information.