see it clearly
Fir Tree
Leaf Shape Needles
Mature Height Up to 90 feet depending on type
Best Habitat Moist, well-drained soil and full sunlight
Best Climate Cool to cold
Output Cones
Uses Mulch, stuffing, fragrance

Fir Trees

Fir trees are not exclusive to Christmas tree lots. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners the world over grow their own Firs, so they can enjoy the tree's beauty year-round. With more than 50 different species of Firs to choose from, it's not surprising that the evergreens are among the most popular landscaping specimens in the Northern Hemisphere.

Appearance of the Tree

Fir Needles
Fir Needles

While their color and shape may be well-known, not very many people realize that Fir trees comprise their own genus named Abies.

The botanical family has several noteworthy characteristics, including:

  • Leaves: Fir trees have needles instead of traditional leaves. The smooth, flexible needles are short, flat and stick up like toothbrush bristles and remain green year-round.
  • Branches: The branches grow in whorls around the tree's trunk to form a pyramid-like shape. The Fir's cones hang from the branches.
  • Cones: Taking on a cylinder to oval-like shape, the Fir tree's cones are brown and spiky. On some types of Firs the cones collect in dense clusters while others appear sporadically on the branches.
  • Bark: Young trees feature a smooth, thin bark, while older Firs have a thick, furrowed bark with deep ridges.

 

Fir Tree at Christmas
Fir Tree at Christmas
Bark of Fir Tree
Bark of Fir Tree
Alder
Fir Tree Cone

Fir Tree Types

Noble Fir
Noble Fir

The Abies genus grows in mountainous areas with other evergreen conifers. However, not all Fir trees are true Fir trees. For example, while it may bear some resemble to other members of the Abies family, the Douglas Fir is not a true Fir; rather, it hails from the genus Pseudotsuga.
Among the most popular true Fir trees are:

  • Balsam Fir: The Balsam is especially popular in North America where it is considered a top-selling Christmas tree. This type of Fir is also prized by landscapers who use it as an ornamental tree in both large and small spaces. In the wild, the Balsam can reach heights exceeding 50 feet with a spread of 30 feet.
  • Alpine Fir: Also known as the Rocky Mountain Fir, the tree is narrow and shaped like a steeple. Alpines can withstand severe cold and grow up to 90 feet tall. The tree features blue-green needles, which grow on branches that can be pruned to a manageable density.
  • Siberian Fir: This type of Abies is among the largest Firs in the world, growing to heights that top 90 feet tall. The triangular-shaped tree features fragrant greenish-gray needles and can withstand temperatures to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most Fir trees have shallow root systems which make them highly susceptible to wind damage. If you are planning to add a Fir to your landscape as an ornamental tree, you will have to provide it with protection from the wind, especially if the ground it is planted in experiences excessive moisture.

The Many Looks of the Fir Tree

Firs on Mountain

Firs on Mountain

Firs in Winter

Firs in Winter

Balsam Firs

Balsam Firs

Noble Fir Needles

Noble Fir Needles

Fir Branch

Fir Branch

Fir Cone

Fir Cone

Example Frame

Where the Fir Grows

Lone Fir
Lone Fir

True Fir trees are found throughout the world, but thrive best in the mountains of:

  • North America
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • North Africa

In the United States Fir trees prosper in:

  • Alaska
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Idaho
  • Maine
  • Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • New York

The trees prefer high elevations where they can grow in cool, moist, well-drained soil. Fir trees also need plenty of water and full sunlight to prosper.


Popular Uses

Fir trees are often stereotyped as a Christmas-only accessory. However, the tree offers several other uses including:

Fir Wreath
Fir Wreath
  • Wood: Fir tree wood can be used for frames and other smaller scale wood projects that don't call for an extremely durable wood.
  • Pulp: The timber from the tree is made into wood pulp.
  • Mulch: Old Fir trees that have been tossed out after Christmas are often pulverized and used as mulch.
  • Stuffing: Chopped up Fir wood is used to stuff pillows and mattresses in some parts of the world.
  • Fragrance: Oils from Fir trees are extracted and used in commercial products labeled "pine scented".

If you are looking to add a Fir to your yard, but don't want to deal with shedding during periods of drought, then select the Balsam Fir which maintains its needles despite lack of water.

 

Interesting Facts

Firs are fast growers, though what's so interesting about their aging process is that you can determine how old they are by simply looking at the trees' branches. A whorl of branches emerges each year, so by counting the tiers of branches on the tree you can estimate the age of the Fir.

Other interesting facts about the Fir include:

  • Fir Tree Appreciation Day is June 18th.
  • Deer are extremely attracted to Balsam Firs. The animals love to chew on the tree's bark, though this can damage the Fir.
  • Mowing grass around a Fir is highly discouraged, as the blades from the machine can knick the tree and cause an infection.
  • Dwarf varieties of some Fir trees are used to decorate rock gardens.

Birds and small woodland creatures, such as chipmunks and mice use the Fir as a home. Consequently, if you are a lover of wildlife, you might consider adding a Fir to your property so that you can see nature's critters in action.

Fir Diseases

Mature Alpine Fir
Mature Alpine Fir

Like all tree species, Firs are vulnerable to diseases, such as:

  • Annorous Root Disease: The fungal disease produces formations called conks which look like mini seashells and develop on the tree's roots. If left unattended, the conks will eventually cause the bark of the Fir tree to separate from the inner wood. In serious cases the disease will kill the tree.
  • Needle Cast: This common Fir disease causes dark-colored lesions to form on the tree's needles and stems. The fungus typically attacks trees that are made to sit in standing water.
  • Grey Mold: This disease can destroy young Fir trees as the mold wilts branches and causes them to fall away from the trunk.

Another enemy of the Fir tree is road salt. When salt seeps into the soil surrounding Firs it can be absorbed by the tree's roots and cause the needles to turn yellow or red.

 

Fir Care

Once you decide on the type of Fir that will work best in your yard, consider the following growing tips:

Forest of Firs
Forest of Firs
  • Size: Keep in mind that Fir trees grow tall and fast. As such, you don't want to plant a Fir tree too close to your home or other structure. Nor do you want to plant it under power lines.
  • Watering: Firs need to be watered on a regular basis; however, you don't want the tree's roots to be submerged in water for long periods of time.
  • Mulch: It's a good idea to spread at least three inches of mulch around the base of a young Fir tree in order to keep the soil moist.
  • Pruning: You should only prune in mid- to late spring, and keep in mind that once a branch on a Fir tree is cut, another one will not grow back in its place.

Finally, remove any fallen branches, cones or needles that may gather around your Fir as diseases can form from the detached tree parts.