Abies balsamea, commonly called balsam fir, is native to moist woods and bottomlands from Labrador to Alberta south to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, New England, New York and further south in the Appalachians to Virginia. It is a primary component of the boreal forest that stretches across Canada. This is an aromatic, symmetrical, narrow, pyramidal to conical evergreen conifer with a spire-like crown. It typically grows to 50-70' (less frequently to 90') tall and to 15-25' wide. It appears, albeit in a diminished shrubby form, as far north as the timber line. Resinous branches are densely clad with flattened, shiny, dark green needles (to 1" long). Needles are unstalked with circular bases and are white-banded beneath. Smooth gray-brown bark (greenish when young but brown and scaly on older trees) is covered with blisters which contain a sticky aromatic resin. Cylindrical seed cones (to 2-4" long) appear at the crown. Cones are purple when young. As is distinctive with the firs, the cones appear upright on the branches. Cones disintegrate (scales drop) after the seeds ripen, often leaving only the erect central spike of the cone axis.
Best grown in rich, consistently moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best in full sun. Trees grow poorly in heavy clay soils. Trees are native to cool climates, and are not recommended for planting in the hot and humid summer conditions south of USDA Zone 5. Garden Uses. Specimen fir for the landscape. Ornamental yard tree. Popular commercially grown Christmas tree because of its attractive fragrance and long retention of needles. Hardy in zones 3-6.
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the fall or winter for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year.
- Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours.
- Put the mixture in a ziplock bag.
- Put the bag in the refrigerator and leave it there for 6-8 weeks.
- Fill a container with a good quality potting compost.
- Sow the seeds on the soil.
- Cover the seeds with a layer of soil a couple of millimeters thick.
- Water the soil so that it is moist but not wet. The seeds begin to germinate several weeks after they are sowed.
- When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.