Miracle conifers?

Jim Timber

5 year old buck +
I'm wondering what to wrap the North side of my orchard with. I'd like a big, I mean BIG tree that'll have full branches to the ground and create a wind row, but it also needs to be shade tolerant, and live on sand.

Growth rate will obviously be turtle speed given the oak canopy, but I'd like something capable of duking it out with the established trees rather than needing to remove them and start over.

Last, but not least, it can't have a negative impact on the apple trees. I'm not opposed to removing needles if needed, but CAR is a no-go.

I've been wondering if Colorado blue spruce would be a good candidate, or if there's something better?
We are trying Leyland Cypress. They grow fairly quickly. They are quite common down here in SC but we have planted them in PA. The valley our property lies in is one of the coldest places in all of SW PA. Down here the soil is quite sandy and they do well also. Leyland gets 40 feet tall and very thick to the ground.
I should've mentioned the zone 3 part.

Eastern Hemlock could be good, but it sounds painfully slow growing. I'd like a 5' tall visual barrier by the time my apples start putting out large volumes of fruit - so maybe 8 to 10 years?

The ultimate goal is to provide seclusion and food to hold deer inside the perimeter.
I think you are going to be limited to some form of spruce. All spruce that I am familiar with are slow growing. We have Blue Spruce that is 7 years old and only about 4 feet tall. I think some of the others are Black Spruce or Norway Spruce. They are even shorter. They were all bareroot seedlings when we got them. The deer won't eat them, but they sure like to rub on them. We wanted a windbreak and screening so we chose species that have thick limbs to the ground. Trying to create a thermal zone for bad snow and winds in winter.
I'm on year 3 with my Norway Spruce and the best growers are about 14". :(
I didn't think anything would grow in zone 3. Isn't that considered Tundra? :)
Pretty close! :D

They rezoned us 4a or some horse-apple a couple years ago, and then we had the coldest winter of my life this past year. I figure rather than playing roulette with zone 4 plants, I'll stick with ones that think they moved south out of the cold instead.
I'm almost exactly 30 miles due North of Sandbur's Southern place if that helps any.
I'm almost exactly 30 miles due North of Sandbur's Southern place if that helps any.
Some might call that a bad thing to be close to sandbur!

Jim-Those spruce sit still for about three years when I transplant them. All of a sudden they start to grow. Just the way it is with about any spruce. They must spend three years setting out new roots or some such thing.

You might consider jack pine with a row of spruce inside of them. Take the jack out in a few years.
Black Hills Spruce....keep them weed free and they will be 12 feet tall in 10 years. Possibly taller if you pamper them.

Norway Spruce should work as well and they get much taller long long term
You mention "oak canopy" .... if you have dense shade with little or no sunlight, my experience with blue spruce in zone 6 is very little growth with a weak and spindly tree. If I plant any type of spruce, it is in a place with 6+ hours of direct sunlight. Good luck with your efforts to create a screen; hope it works for you.
It's the top of a ridge, it's not damp to my knowledge. This is one of the few places I don't get perma-mud all summer.
The area in question only has about a 40-60% canopy. Given the earlier season growth habits, and potential light bleed from the orchard clearing, is it likely to behave more like partial shade than partial sun?

I'm sure sun angles will have a big impact on this, but I'm thinking the canopy height is going to limit it's shade effect just like raising the brim of your cap too high defeats it's effectiveness on keeping the sun out of your eyes. With the earth's tilt in spring and fall, the sun angle comes in below the crowns, so it's possible I'd have more light than you'd think.

Maybe Stu can confirm or dismiss this theory if he can make it out here this week.

I'd like to put a tree order in for spring delivery if we can figure out what to go with.

I appreciate everyone's suggestions and advice so far. Photo's of the orchard site are in my "ground work" thread in the fruit tree forum.
Fast is gonna require some care. Are you able to prune your oaks at all? I know it's probably a long shot if they have a canopy. Here's some things I'd consider:

*Soil sample and amend for optimal spruce/pine growing.
*Invest in larger tree plugs if the budget permits.
*Mulch them to retain moisture.
*Do not allow any competing vegetation withing 2 fee of the drip line.
*Supplemental watering if it gets dry.
*Fight for any sunlight you can get. Perhaps thin out the oaks with a select cut?

Remember, when you plant a tree, the early growth stages look like this:

Year 1: Sleep
Year 2: Creep
Year 3: Leep

But that takes ideal conditions. I haven't seen full life cycles on an array of spruces and pines yet, but I think most pines will grow taller quicker, but won't have the wall effect you're looking for. Most descriptions of Norways I've read rate them as excellent droopers that drop branches right to the ground a make a full barrier and they grow fast. Itasca rates blacks as "medium" growth rate, whites "medium to fast," and norway "fast."
Stu just left a bit ago and we had a good time discussing all sorts of stuff about my place.

I think I'm going to do a mix of trees and try layering and clustering them for various effects in a few differen't areas.

If my Norways are close to springing into high gear, that'd be great. I also have work to do in getting them more light.
I've planted a LOT of Norways over the past 18 yrs. SD51555 hit it right when he said year 3 they start to take off. In year 2 I sprinkle a little 10-10-10 around the spruce seedlings. Not much - a little. Then each year for the next 4 or 5 years I spread a little more - 2 or 3 hands full in a circle around the drip line. That gets 'em going. Keep weeds & grass down if possible. They just rob nutrients from the spruce. More light = faster growth & thicker tree. Limbs to the ground, thick, great windbreaks - we love spruce here.
I just consulted with Al Gore and he said you should planting sub-tropical palms and palmetto bushes. Plan ahead!! :)
I just consulted with Al Gore and he said you should planting sub-tropical palms and palmetto bushes. Plan ahead!! :)

I'd really like to plant Al. :p
See if you can find some where to dig up some knee high or smaller spruce in the spring. It's more work and it seems to take the year or three to get them going but in ten years with the right conditions you have a pretty good tree on your hands. I have done this with good success.