Named for a character created by comedian Bill Cosby, "Fat Albert" spruce tree (Picea pungens “Fat Albert”) is a good choice if want a Colorado blue spruce but don’t have room for the full-sized tree. “Fat Albert” is short and squat, growing 15 feet tall and 7 feet wide. Grow “Fat Albert” spruce in full sun in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8.
“Fat Albert’s” lineage originates in the Rocky Mountains. Built to handle heavy snow loads, blue spruce trees are extremely cold hardy. But these trees are not tolerant of heat. "Fat Albert" will suffer if it is planted south or southwest of a wall or structure and receives reflected heat. Brown needles that eventually fall from the tree are symptoms of heat stress. If you are growing “Fat Albert” in a warm climate, keep the soil consistently moist and spread mulch around the tree to help insulate the roots.
As with many plants, finding that perfect balance between too much water and not enough for “Fat Albert” may be challenging. Where you live -- the climate and the altitude -- has a lot to do with how much water the tree needs. If “Fat Albert” is grown in a warm climate, it requires consistently moist soil. Grown in a humid climate, you’ll need to guard against giving the tree too much water. Like its parent, “Fat Albert” has a shallow, spreading root system, so deep watering is not as important as watering it away from the trunk, at the soil that lies beneath the branch tips. Start by watering “Fat Albert” once a month and watch the tree for signs of water stress, such as wilting or brown needles.
Aphids, spider mites and bagworms are common pests on “Fat Albert.” Aphids and spider mites damage the tree by sucking the juices from it while bagworms strip the needles from the tree. The best way to control bagworms is to pick the bags from the tree in fall, winter and early spring. Use ready-to-use insecticidal soap sprays to control aphids and spider mites. These two pests can also be controlled by blasting them with water from the hose.
The most common cause of death in spruce trees is a disease known as cytospora canker, caused by Cytospora kunzei, a fungal pathogen. It typically affects trees younger than 10 years old. Symptoms include lesions, dead or dying branches, and dying bark at the base of small twigs and branches. Cytospora canker generally begins on lower branches, working its way to the top of the tree. Control the disease by cutting back all affected branches to the nearest living branch. Although there is no chemical control for the pathogen, proper tree care goes a long way in preventing the disease. Use care to avoid injuring the tree when mowing around it, water the tree during periods of drought and spread plenty of organic mulch over the root zone to insulate the soil.
- New Mexico State University: Fat Albert Spruce Problems
- WSU Clark County Extension: Fat Albert Colorado Blue Spruce
- Iowa State University: Colorado Blue Spruce
- University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension: N.E.W. Horticulture Newsletter
- National Forestry Service: Picea Pungens
- Penn State: Bagworm Fact Sheet
- University of Illinois Extension: Cytospora or Leucostoma Canker of Spruce
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