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University of Minnesota Extension

Managing spruce-fir forests

Quick facts

  • White spruce grows best on well-drained loam and clay.
  • Balsam fir thrives on moist, well-drained sandy loam.
  • Thinning promotes healthy and vigorous trees.
  • Harvest a stand’s balsam fir and aspen when they mature to encourage spruce growth.
  • Spruce budworm, heart rot and root rot, and wind are all causes of damage to spruce-fir forests.
balsam fir branches
Balsam fir foliage

White spruce and balsam fir are often found growing in similar stands and conditions. And they regenerate in similar ways.

White spruce and balsam fir are mainly used for pulpwood and small sawtimber.

Spruce-fir stands provide a habitat for grouse, songbirds, white-tailed deer, moose and a variety of small mammals.

Growing conditions


Regenerating white spruce and balsam fir


Intermediate treatments

Thinning can be used to promote healthy and vigorous trees. Starting at age 25 to 30, thin the stand every 15 to 20 years to a basal area of about 90 square feet per acre. Basal area measures stand density using the sum of trees’ cross-sectional areas at 4.5 feet from the ground (known as breast height).

To encourage spruce growth, harvest the stand’s balsam fir and aspen when they mature (age 60).

Pest management


Mel Baughman, emeritus Extension forester

Reviewed in 2018

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