Every year at this time, in the mid-spring, spruce trees produce “flushing buds” of new green growth.
Many people don’t realize these are edible, but they sure are. They’re a great source of natural vitamin C too. Pick them when they’re fully green but not yet woody – they taste refreshing, almost lemony, and they’re great either fresh off the tree or in a salad. In the old days, people made spruce beer with the buds. I think there may be one or two independent commercial producers still in the Maritimes.
In my little backyard in Toronto there’s a twin pair of white spruce I planted years ago. Last year, for the first time, I had to prune them – just a few of the bottom branches so they didn’t shade the flowers around them.
This year, they’re taller than me and will require extensive pruning so that they don’t overtake the yard or shade out the neighbours.
The easiest way for me, and gentlest for the tree, is to prune by nipping the flushing buds. It’s also the tastiest way, because I can basically eat the buds as I go.
When I browse a living tree in this way, I instantly feel kinship with moose and deer and other browsers. I find myself focusing on what’s at eye level and easily reachable; in the case of my backyard spruce that’s perfect, because that’s exactly where I want to forestall further growth.
I also notice that by doing this casually, without real intent, I don’t wind up stripping the whole thing. I’ve noticed that when picking berries, too – it’s like there’s a natural instinct to move on before doing real damage.
I like to think that having its flushing buds browsed feels good for the tree, too.
To my backyard spruce, I’m a browsing moose.
Works for me.