How to care for & maintain a coniferous tree?


Hi there,

My husband and I recently bought our first home in North York (Toronto).  It is a townhouse in the Don Mills & York Mills area.  We have a small yard in the back of our unit that we have exclusive use of.  To date, it looks like the only thing that has ever been done, by the previous owners, was the planting of some type of coniferous tree.  This was likely done with the intention of creating some privacy since we are not allowed to build any fences.

I am wondering if you might be able to tell me what type of tree it is.  I’m also wondering if there are any ways to prune or maintain this tree to give it a more symmetrical shape.  I am happy to provide any further information that may be needed.



Conifers are evergreens that are cone bearing trees.  Those native to Canada include Douglas fir, Pine, Spruce, Larch, Hemlock, Cedar, Cypress, Juniper and Yew.

Evergreens (or conifers) can be grouped on the basis of whether they have whorled branches (pines, spruces, firs, and Douglas-fir) or a random branching pattern (yew, arborvitae, hemlock, cedar, and juniper).  New growth occurs on buds that were formed the previous year on the tips of twigs

Although it is difficult to positively identify your tree, you may have a spruce or possibly a fir tree – close up photos of the trunk bark and also the needles would be very helpful.

Spruces have individual, angled needles with brown pegs at the base of each needle.  The pegs remain on the twig after the needles drop, resulting in a rough twig.  Cones are long and pendulous.

It would be best to prune your tree before new growth starts in the spring or during the semi-dormant period in the middle of summer.  When pruning, it is important to follow the general branching pattern to maintain the natural shape.  You can remove broken or dead branches anytime.  Bottom brances may die as they age.

If shearing, begin in late spring or early summer when new growth begins to allow cuts to heal and new buds to form for next year.  In most cases, selective pruning (one branch at a time) is better than shearing.  Shearing creates a formal, geometric shape but it can look out of place in a natural landscape and be challenging to maintain as the plant increases in size.

Below you will find a link to a super guide on confier pruning from the Morton Arboretum: