Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea): Native Plant Guide (2023)

Balsam fir trees are known for their blue-green foliage, evergreen aroma, and the balsam blisters that appear on their bark. This species has a slow growth rate for a tree, averaging about one foot per year.

The foliage of Abies balsamea is comprised of blue-green, dense needles with silver-white bands underneath. This tree has an overall conical shape. They produce 2 to 4 inch long cones that stand straight up from the foliage. These start out a beautiful purple color and mature into a gray-brown tone. The seeds and buds are used as food by a wide variety of wildlife. However, these trees are considered mildly toxic to humans and pets.According to the University of California, balsam fir trees are mildly toxic to humans.The needles are toxic to pets as well.

Common NameBalsam fir
Botanical NameAbies balsamea
Plant TypeTree
Mature Size50-75 ft. tall, 20-25 ft. long, 20-25 ft. wide
Sun ExposureFull, partial
Soil TypeLoamy, sandy, moist but well-drained
Soil pHAcidic
Bloom TimeNA
Flower ColorNA
Hardiness Zones3-5, USA
Native AreaNorth America
ToxicityToxic to people, toxic to pets

Balsam Fir Care

These aromatic trees are best planted in the spring or fall when bought as bare roots plants. For container-grown plants, they can be planted any time of year, and it is best to get them into the ground as soon as possible. Balsam fir trees are often used as privacy screens and windbreaks. They do not require much care other than the occasional watering. Pruning is not often needed except to remove damaged or dead branches.

This type of easy-to-grow fir tree is not often plagued with pests or diseases. However, they are not immune to problems from balsam wooly adelgids, bark beetles, spruce budworms, aphids, scale, root rot, cankers, needle rust, or blight. They are not very tolerant of pollution from urban areas.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea): Native Plant Guide (1)

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea): Native Plant Guide (2)

(Video) Identifying balsam fir

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea): Native Plant Guide (3)


Balsam fir trees do well in full or partial sunlight. Newly started trees prefer sheltered areas for the first year of growth.


Balsam fir trees require sandy, loamy, acidic soil to thrive. Moist, but well-draining soil conditions are key to a healthy balsam fir tree. These trees do not handle clay soils well. Try applying several inches of mulch to the top of the soil to help retain moisture.


Established balsam fir trees only require supplemental water during prolonged droughts. For young trees, water weekly until established. These trees really soak up the water, so be sure to water very heavily.It's important though that you not water quickly. Water should be released slowly over an extended period of time.

Temperature and Humidity

Balsam fir trees enjoy cool weather and do not handle heat and humidity well. They thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 5. As an evergreen variety, these trees sport their deep green needles year-round.


Fertilizing young trees once in the spring can help encourage new, healthy growth. They respond well to well-balanced fertilizer. However, too much fertilizer can cause damage to these trees. They do not need fertilizer more than once a year and mature trees do not require fertilizer at all.

Propagating Balsam Fir

Propagating balsam fir trees through cuttings is possible, though it can be difficult to achieve. Many cuttings end up dying. However, by being aware of a few things, you can tip the scales in your favor and hopefully end up with a thriving cutting.

First off, cuttings are more likely to take root when taken from shorter, younger trees. Take cuttings in the spring or summer, selecting a branch from the bottom half of the tree. Gather the following supplies: a sharp pair of garden snips, a small pot, well-draining, moist potting soil, a plastic bag, a rubber band, and a mister bottle.

(Video) Tree Identification - Balsam Fir [Conifer Series]

  1. Using sharp garden snips, trim a cutting that is about 6 inches long.
  2. Remove the needles from the lower part of the cutting.
  3. Dip the cut end into root hormone.
  4. Bury the cut end several inches into the moist potting soil, then gently press the soil around the cutting.
  5. Mist the soil to keep it evenly moist.
  6. Place the plastic bag over the cutting, securing it to the pot with the rubber band.
  7. Open the bag daily to allow it to receive fresh air and to check the soil. Mist when needed.
  8. The cutting should root in about a month.
  9. After this, remove the plastic bag and keep the cutting in a partially shaded area.
  10. Keep the new tree in a protected area for around one year, then acclimate it to full sun the following season. Plant it in your landscaping location.

How to Grow Balsam Fir From Seed

Propagating balsam fir trees from seed is the most popular and most successful form of propagation. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Cold stratify the seeds by placing them in moist sand or potting soil inside a plastic bag. Then place them in the refrigerator for one to three months. Another option is to plant directly into the garden in the fall, where the cold temperatures will naturally stratify the seed.
  2. Once stratified, plant the seeds around 1/4 inch deep into moist, well-draining, sandy, loamy soil.
  3. Keep the soil moist. Germination should occur in about a month.
  4. Once the seedling is several inches tall, replant to a larger pot and keep them in a shaded, protected area for one year.
  5. During the following year, acclimate the seedling to full sunshine and plant it in your location of choice.


Because these trees are native to naturally cold areas, they are designed to withstand cold winters. Therefore, all that is needed to overwinter these trees is to add an extra layer of mulch to help insulate the roots.

Common Problems With Balsam Fir

Balsam fir trees are rather hardy and do not often struggle with many problems. However, yellowing needles and rot resulting from various conditions can affect their growth.

Yellowing Needles and Stunted Growth

If the needles of a balsam fir begin yellowing and the tree is not growing as it usually does, this can be a sign of root rot. This is caused by too much water in the soil. If these signs present themselves, cut back on watering and allow the soil to dry out. If the soil is not draining properly, try adding in sand to increase drainage.

Weakened Structure and the Presence of Mushrooms

Another problem that may come up with balsam fir trees is the growth of mushrooms out of their trunks or branches and a weakened structure that may break easily. These are signs of heart rot, which is a form of fungus that attacks the innermost wood of the tree. This may occur from the fungus entering into a wound on the tree or from the tree weakening because of less than ideal conditions. If this occurs, remove the damaged or infected branches, if possible. Be sure not to damage the branch collar.


Article Sources

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. University of California Agriculture, and Natural Resources. “Toxic Plants (by Scientific Name).”Ucanr.Edu,

  2. “Amaryllis Toxic to Dogs.”Petpoisonhelpline.Com

(Video) How to Basal Prune your Balsam Firs! [Episode #018]


Where do balsam fir trees grow best? ›

Balsam fir grows best in the eastern part of its range in southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. This area is characterized by cool temperatures and abundant moisture.

Where is the best place to plant a fir tree? ›

Fir trees and shrubs grow best in full sun or part shade and moist, fertile soil. Sandy loam soil is best.

Is balsam fir a good Christmas tree? ›

Balsam fir has long been a preferred species for many consumers because of its strong Christmas tree scent. It has dark green needles and excellent form. Back to list of tree species.

Is balsam fir invasive? ›

Balsam woolly adelgids (Adelges piceae) are small wingless insects that infest and kill firs, especially balsam fir and Fraser fir. They are an invasive species from Europe introduced to the United States around 1900.
Balsam woolly adelgid
9 more rows

How far apart do you plant balsam fir trees? ›

Plant balsam and fraser fir at least 10 feet apart and all other species at least 15 feet apart. Plant in groups or rows. Row plantings often require two or more staggered rows to work well.

How far do the roots of a fir tree spread? ›

Only a few mature species, such as oak, pine and fir, have significant central tap roots - the main, central roots from which the others spread - and, in most instances, even these extend downwards by only about 2m.

How deep are the roots of a fir tree? ›

The root system depth in Douglas fir is determined pri- marily by the soil structure and texture. On perme- able soils with favourable moisture conditions, the roots may reach down to 60–100 cm but they may penetrate even deeper (Hermann 2005).

How far apart should fir trees be planted? ›

The spread of the tree will determine the spacing between each tree. A good rule of thumb is to plant at least 12″ –24″ apart from the center of the tree. many evergreen trees may be spaced out anywhere from 6 to 12 feet, depending on the species.

How long do balsam fir Christmas trees last? ›

A healthy, fresh-cut Christmas tree will last for four to five weeks if properly cared for. If you're itching to put up your holiday decorations earlier, start with non-living decorations whenever you like, and finish off with fresh greenery and your Christmas tree around the first of December.

What does balsam fir smell like? ›

Crushing fir needles creates a balsam sap or resin, which gives off a strong camphorous smell, very much like a medicinal balm with benzoic acid. Hence, the name. Some would even say it's a bit terpenic like a sweet and rich balsamic vinegar with a grounding woodsy fragrance that balances it all out.

What is the best longest lasting Christmas tree? ›

It's strong, stiff branches will hold up even the heaviest of ornaments. Longest lasting: The longest-lasting tree (if you take care of it!) is the Fraser Fir.

What kills balsam fir? ›

Spruce budworm is responsible for defoliating and/or killing vast acreages of balsam fir and spruce annually in Minnesota. Despite its name, balsam fir trees are most susceptible to budworm while spruces are moderately susceptible.

Is balsam fir toxic to humans? ›

Toxicity tests show that balsam fir oil is not expected to be harmful to living organisms or the environment. Earth Kind, Inc.

Are balsam fir trees poisonous? ›

Balsam fir oil is an EPA approved nontoxic rodent repellent.

Does balsam come back every year? ›

As a true annual, garden balsam dies out at the end of the growing season and must be discarded. You can, however, take stem cuttings and root them indoors over the winter to grow potted plants for the following spring.

How long does it take for a balsam fir to grow 7 feet? ›

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, "It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typical height (six to seven feet) or as little as four years, but the average growing time is seven years."

How often should I water my balsam fir? ›

Growing a Balsam Fir Inside

The root system will quickly grow, and you may need to switch pots more often if you use a smaller pot. The tree should also be watered once a week. Saplings and young trees need a lot of water, so make sure to saturate the soil each time that you water.

What tree roots grow straight down? ›

Taproots are large roots that grow straight down below the trunk of the tree. Compacted soil makes it difficult for trees to develop such a root. Most trees will never establish a taproot, but instead grow a sprawling network of woody and feeder roots, usually no deeper than 12 to 24 inches.

Which tree roots go deep down by 30 Metres? ›

A. Desert Oak is a tree that grows almost as tall as our classrooms, i.e., about 4 meters. B. The roots of this tree go down nearly 30 times its height till they reach water.

How do you stop tree roots from spreading? ›

Install root barriers before the roots reach the concrete. Cut the roots and dam them with root barriers to prevent further growth. Cut down the tree and remove the root system so you can make a smooth, level surface again.

What is the lifespan of a fir tree? ›

The largest coast Douglas firs commonly live to be at least 500 years and sometimes exceed 1,000 years. Rocky Mountain Douglas firs have a shorter lifespan, usually living no more than 400 years.

How far away from tree trunk can you cut roots? ›

For mature trees, some experts recommend not cutting roots closer than 6 to 8 inches from the trunk for each inch in trunk diameter.

Is it better to plant small or large trees? ›

New research published by the International Society of Arboriculture supports that advice by showing that big trees aren't better for planting. Because small trees experience less root loss when transplanted, they establish themselves more quickly, usually overtaking their larger counterparts after just a few years.

What do you put around the base of a tree? ›

Layer on the Mulch

Mulching around a tree is a must. Mulch can be more than just wood chips—shredded bark, pine straw, and even gravel also work well. Use the same type and color of mulch throughout your landscape to create a unified aesthetic.

How many trees should be planted per person? ›

Of trees and men: 422 for every human on earth.

Does sugar help Christmas tree last longer? ›

According to the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, plain tap water is all that is needed to keep your Christmas tree fresh during the holidays. On its website, a professor warns against adding any extra additives like sugar, aspirin, bleach or floral preservatives to the tree's water.

Is Miracle-Gro good for Christmas trees? ›

Keep your tree hydrated throughout the holiday season with Miracle-Gro for Christmas Trees. This unique formula reduces needle drop compared to water only throughout the season.

How do I keep my Christmas tree alive all year? ›

Put the tree in water as soon as possible

Remember: You're bringing home a live plant. If you want to keep it fresh, it needs to have adequate water. "Water is the absolute most important thing you can do to preserve your tree for Christmas," says Jane Neubauer, co-owner of Sugar Pines Farm in Chesterland, Ohio.

How long does balsam fir scent last? ›

And because the scent of a balsam fir pillow can last a decade or more, they make a great investment.

Does balsam fir smell like Christmas? ›

The balsam fir—a variety most commonly found in the Northeast and Great Lake states—tops the list of most fragrant Christmas trees. Per O'Connor, the balsam fir is widely known for its strong Christmas tree scent.

What tree smells good at night? ›

6 Incredibly Fragrant Trees and Shrubs
  • Night Blooming Jasmine. This is woody evergreen shrub is not known for its beauty, but it's amazing fragrance. ...
  • Miami Supreme Gardenia. ...
  • Sweet Almond. ...
  • Winter Daphne. ...
  • Banana Shrub. ...
  • Royal Empress Trees.
29 Mar 2021

Which is better Balsam vs Fraser? ›

The Balsam is a more traditional choice for a Christmas tree, since it naturally grows in this area. Balsams grow faster meaning their branch strength is less than a Fraser, however Balsams are often “fuller”, with more, closer growing branches. Unlike the Fraser, Balsams have “soft” needles.

What is the greenest Christmas tree? ›

According to many environmentalists, the greenest option for Christmas is a living, plantable "bulb" tree.

What tree is better Fraser or balsam? ›

The Balsam is a more traditional choice for a Christmas tree, since it naturally grows in this area. Balsams grow faster meaning their branch strength is less than a Fraser, however Balsams are often “fuller”, with more, closer growing branches. Unlike the Fraser, Balsams have “soft” needles.

In which season does balsam grow? ›

Growing Method of Balsam Flowers Plant:

The seeds are sown in January-February for summer flowering and May-July for flow. ering in the rainy season.

Can balsam fir grow in shade? ›

Choose a sunny or lightly shaded location for your tree. An area with light morning shade will help prevent frost damage. Water deeply and mulch heavily immediately after planting using 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) of organic mulch.

Can balsam fir grow in wet soil? ›

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and black spruce (Picea mariana) also tolerate wet soil fairly well, but neither one of them is very fond of our summer heat (especially balsam fir).

Do balsam trees smell good? ›

Balsam and white pine were the only trees with enough space between the branches for lighted candles. But, yes, they do smell good.

How long do balsam Christmas trees last? ›

Always remind customers to use large water-holding stands, and to fill them daily. A Fraser fir or Balsam fir Christmas tree will typically last well through the holiday season if it is cared for properly.

What is balsam called in English? ›

Definition of balsam

1a : an aromatic and usually oily and resinous substance flowing from various plants especially : any of several resinous substances containing benzoic or cinnamic acid and used especially in medicine. b : a preparation containing resinous substances and having a balsamic odor.

Is Balsam a herb or shrub? ›

Tanacetum balsamita L.

Tanacetum balsamita (Alecost Or Balsam Herb) is a species of perennial herb in the family Asteraceae. They have a self-supporting growth form. They have simple, broad leaves and achenes.

Are balsam trees toxic? ›

Toxicity tests show that balsam fir oil is not expected to be harmful to living organisms or the environment.

How far should a shade tree be planted from the house? ›

Strong-wooded shade trees such as oaks should be planted no closer than 20 feet from the house, but soft wooded trees such as soft maple should be planted at an even greater distance. Large shade trees should be planted about 50 feet from each other.

Can balsam fir grow in full sun? ›

Light. Balsam fir trees do well in full or partial sunlight.

What type of soil do balsam firs like? ›

The balsam fir prefers moist, cool, well-drained, acidic soil but will tolerate some salt.

What soil does balsam fir like? ›

Planting conditions

Balsam Fir prefers moist soils, but is also tolerant of wet conditions. It is also shade tolerant and can be planted in all light conditions. Balsam Fir thrives in sandy or loamy soils with an acidic or neutral pH.

Why is my balsam fir turning brown? ›

According to Home Guides, “When winters are dry or so cold that the ground freezes, evergreens don't get the water they need to make up for moisture lost through transpiration — evaporation of water through foliage — and turn brown. This is often called desiccation or leaf burn.


1. Straight From the Source Balsam Fir
(Aromatic Plant Research Center)
2. Abies balsamea & Abies fraseri
(VT Dendrology)
3. Stratification of Nordmann fir seeds for growing Christmas trees.
(Flanagan Homestead)
4. Boreal Folk's balsam fir resin products in the making
(Raphaelle Pascale)
5. Planting Christmas Tree In Garden (Comparison Of Growth Rate Over 3 Years)
(Gardening at 58 North)
6. Apprenticeship Preparation - Winter Trees: Balsam Fir
(Primitive Skills)
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