White spruce is a good choice for making a hedge, since it can in fact be shorn successfully. Basically (as with any conifer you want to keep in check size-wise, or encourage to stay a bit thicker) you will cut back the "candles" of new growth when they push out in mid- to late spring. You don’t cut into the twigs behind the candles; just reduce the new soft growth or pinch it off entirely. In the early years, when you want the trees to grow a bit still, you cut part of the new growth off. Once they have reached their desired size, you can cut all the new growth off from that point onward. Do not pinch the leader, the vertical tip of the tree, until the tree has reached its desired size. Depending on the size of the trees, this shearing can be done with a range of tools. For a conifer in my yard that I love a lot and am willing to dote upon, I use a long-handled pruner to actually "deadhead" each of the new candles (though they aren’t dead, but the action is similar) every few years, so it doesn’t get too loose and too open. Various hedge-cutting devices, like hedge shears, are also possible and much faster to work with, but again, remember that you want to work carefully so that you are cutting fresh growth, not harder into the branches for best results. This is a gentle trim, not a crewcut. Remember to shape the trees so that light can reach the bottom branches, or they’ll die back. Sometimes people want to create a blocky hedge shape, but they make it too wide at the top and the lower parts get shaded and die off. There is a good fact sheet from a forestry project in the Prince Edward Islands in Canada about using white spruce as a hedge here: http://www.macphailwoods.org/nursery/hedge.html By the way, I knew a Bob Newman where I used to work at Newsday newspaper…don’t suppose you are him? Either way, welcome.
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Welcome! I’m Margaret Roach, a leading garden writer for 25 years—at ‘Martha Stewart Living,’ ‘Newsday,’ and in three books. I host a public-radio podcast; I also lecture, plus hold tours at my 2.3-acre Hudson Valley (NY) Zone 5B garden, and always say no to chemicals and yes to great plants.