The Fraser fir, also called southern balsam and she-balsam, is native to southern Appalachia---making it a natural choice for the uplands of Virginia. The tree grows up to 60 feet tall in its native cool, moist climate where summer temperatures average less than 60 degrees Farenheit and fog is frequent. Fraser firs need moist, well-drained acidic soil and grow best in USDA zones 4 to 6. Fraser firs also make good landscape candidates for attentive Piedmont gardeners where summers are mild in zone 7.
Stratify, scarify or plant seeds directly for Fraser firs. Stratify by soaking in cool water for 24 hours; scarify by storing seeds in a cool refrigerator vegetable bin for 30 days before planting.
Test your soil for acidity before planting seeds or trees. The University of New Hampshire recommends a pH of 5.0 to 6.0 for Fraser firs. Use a pH test kit, available at garden centers, or contact the Virginia Tech Soil Testing Laboratory in Blacksburg for an extension soil test.
Plant seeds without treatment in fall, especially in the Uplands. Plant fall or spring seeds in well-drained soil.
Sow seeds to a depth of 1/4 inch and tamp down soil. Mulch with 1 to 2 inches of compost and pine needle mulch.
Plant Fraser firs in sun to semi-shade. Upland growers should plant Fraser firs in a sheltered area. Their shallow root systems will not hold them in the soil against strong winds.
Push a spade or planting bar into the ground and tilt it back to open a v-shaped wedge for small seedlings. For older seedlings, dig a hole an inch or two deeper and an inch or so wider than fully extended roots. For balled or potted trees, dig to the depth of the root ball and two to three times as wide; Virginia Tech advises against cultivation under a balled root to avoid letting it settle too deeply.
Set the seedling or tree into the hole so the root collar sits at the soil line. Remove the pot or pull any pins and ties and turn down burlap wrap from packaged trees. Cut overgrown roots that circle root balls inside pots or plastic wrap with a knife.
Fill the slit or hole with soil, spreading bare roots as you fill. Virginia Tech recommends adding actual nitrogen to the back fill soil when planting trees; use 1 pound or less of slow-release pellets per 1,000 square feet of planting hole surface.
Tamp down the soil and mulch the seedling, taking care to keep mulch away from the main trunk. Plant Fraser firs 6 feet apart in groups.
About this Author
Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.