Spanish fir is a beautiful conifer that is rare here but can be found in several varieties if you look hard enough.

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In the Garden

Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo) is a gorgeous conifer that is too rarely seen in Northwest gardens. Hardy to minus-10 degrees, the species originates from the mountains of Spain and Morocco, where specimens tower to taller than 90 feet.

The varieties normally available in our region, however, are much slower growing and have more colorful needles than the species. The blue Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo ‘Glauca’) is a gorgeous tree that rarely exceeds 50 feet. In youth it forms a narrow cone, but as it matures it fills out into the classical Christmas tree shape. Stiff, short, steely-blue needles are arranged in whorls around rigidly layered branches, giving the tree a succulent texture unlike any other fir tree. In spring, an added attraction appears in the form of highly ornamental, dark red buds that form at the end of the branches.

Equally spectacular and even slower growing is the golden Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’). The needles emerge bright gold in spring, creating dazzling contrast with the raspberry red buds and the older green-blue needles. Over summer, the new growth slowly age to burnished sulfur-yellow, producing a soft, golden glow that lasts until the following spring.

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

“Bodacious Borders: The Art of Making Plant Combinations”:

7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 20. A lecture by Lucy Hardiman at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Cost: $15; $5 for BBG members. No preregistration, pay at the door. Address: 12001 Main St., Bellevue.

“Enhancing Your Home with Indoor Plants”:

10 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 23. Gretchen Fowler will share her top plant picks and design trends for an interesting indoor landscape. Cost: Free. Address: Molbak’s, 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville.

Northwest Perennial Alliance presents “The Good, the Bad and Why Bother”:

1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 24 (doors open at noon for plant sales). George Lasch will examine what attributes really matter when trying to choose the best plants. Cost: $15 (NPA members are free). Address: Bellevue Botanical Garden, 12001 Main St., Bellevue.

If you see a golden Spanish fir in the nursery, don’t be shocked at its ungainly appearance. They improve with age, growing into a pyramid shape. Unlike the blue Spanish fir, which requires a location in full sun, the golden variety does best where it receives direct sun only in the morning hours. It needs sunshine to maintain its radiant appearance, but can burn if subjected to intense afternoon rays.

If you don’t have room for a 40-foot tree, Abies pinsapo ‘Horstmann’ is a dwarf variety. It features bright blue needles, and forms a low-growing mound to about 2 feet. These architectural trees are as tough as they are beautiful. As long as they’re planted in well-drained soil, they have no known pests, and once established are extremely drought-tolerant.

If you plant one, take good care of yourself so you’re able to enjoy it for a long time. Spanish firs are known to live for well beyond 200 years.

Make new plants

If you’re looking for an easy, effective way to obtain new plants, give hardwood cuttings a try. This method of propagation is relatively simple and works well for most deciduous trees and woody plants such as roses, dogwoods, figs, grapes and many others.

The best time to take hardwood cuttings is in January. Use sharp, clean pruners to take 1-foot-long, pencil-width cuttings from the ends of branches. Make the cut one-quarter inch below a leaf node. Then prune off the top 2 inches, making the cut just above a leaf node. Use your pruners or a knife to scrape a narrow, half-inch long sliver of bark from both sides of the base of the cutting. The object is to expose the light green cambium underneath.

Next, dip the bottom end of the cutting in a rooting hormone (available at nurseries and garden centers). Plant the treated cuttings in gallon-sized nursery containers filled with a 50-50 mix of peat moss and perlite, leaving the top two buds exposed.

Bury the pots outdoors in the ground or in large containers (with drainage holes), covering all but the top buds with soil, compost or wood chips to protect from freezing. Locate the cuttings where they will be protected from direct sun and wind.

In spring, you should notice growth occurring. Throughout spring and summer, make sure that the rooting medium stays moist. Your new plants should be ready to plant out in the garden by fall.