It’s the irresistible shade of blue that just cannot be denied.

Even though we hear time and again that Colorado blue spruce is overused – and, admittedly, in some areas it is – there’s room for its smaller cousin, Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ (often sold as ‘R.H. Montgomery’). It shares the intense, compelling color of Colorado blue, but its relatively diminutive size is ideal for use as a focal point in smaller properties, as well as for siting among suitable companions in mixed borders.

Name: Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’

Common name: Montgomery blue spruce

Hardiness: Zones 2 or 3 to 7(8)

Mature height: 2 to 3+ feet; may reach up to 8 to 10 feet

Mature spread: 3 to 6 feet

Classification: Evergreen shrub

Landscape use: Exceptional specimen in borders or mixed gardens, creating a dramatic focal point; also a standout in rock gardens and in containers

Ornamental characteristics: Distinctive, silvery, blue-gray to blue-green needles; relatively low, mounding habit

‘Montgomery’ is slow growing, and it’s categorized by the American Conifer Society as a dwarf, reaching 3 to 6 feet in 10 years. Its potential size is greater than that, however, as it develops a leader that directs its growth from a rounded, mounding shrub to a conical shape, and it eventually may reach up to 10 feet tall if not pruned. The dense branching lends itself to easy, selective shaping – no meatballs, please – and plants may be pruned to maintain the desired size without sacrificing health and vigor. ‘Montgomery’ generally retains its lower branching and foliage, so understory plantings are not necessary.

The small, 3-gallon ‘Montgomery’ I planted in my parents’ garden, which we chose to commemorate their wedding anniversary, began as a petite but bold companion to the larger Colorado blue (yes, I know … but it was my father’s favorite), looking every bit the offspring. By the time we sold the family home, some 14 years later, the shrub had claimed its territory and stood about 3 feet tall by about 5 feet wide, with a beautifully rounded habit. We didn’t prune at all, and didn’t need to do so.

Reliably hardy in zones 2 or 3 to 7(8), this remarkable shrub generally does best in cooler climates. Somehow it manages to perform well in hot, humid summers of the Midwest to southern Midwest, but will not tolerate the climate of the deep South.

Full sun is best, allowing the glowing, silver-blue foliage to shine. And it tolerates most well-drained soils; rich and moist is ideal. ‘Montgomery’ is somewhat drought-tolerant once established, but it should not be allowed to dry out completely in its young years.

Although very few pests or diseases plague Picea pungens in general, the species can occasionally be bugged by aphids and spider mites. Deer tend to ignore it, as do rabbits and other mammalian munchers.

Low in maintenance requirements but high in ornamental impact, ‘Montgomery’ blue spruce is at home in a broad variety of landscape settings. It’s well-behaved, it’s beautiful, and it’s easy to grow. For those clients and customers who love blue but don’t have a lot of room, it’s an exceptional alternative to its larger, often-criticized relative.

Cover and photos courtesy of Sally Benson