Hemlocks: What They Are, Uses & Care Taking

hemlock evergreen tree with cones formingThere is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding hemlocks. This evergreen, which is the state tree of Pennsylvania and is also known by the names Canada hemlock or hemlock spruce, is often confused with the plant poison hemlock. This spruce got its name from the scent that its needles give off when crushed, which resembles that of poison hemlock, but the hemlock spruce is not related, nor is it poisonous. In fact, this evergreen, found along the East Coast of the United States, as well as some Midwestern states and Canada, has a number of uses.


What does a Hemlock Look Like?

The hemlock is a coniferous evergreen, meaning that it keeps its foliage year-round, and reproduces through cones. The short, flat needles needles of the hemlock are green, often with a lighter green underneath. The cones are short and round and they are located at the very tips of the branches, which cause the branches to dip slightly.


Taking Care of a Hemlock

Caring for a hemlock spruce can be time consuming. This evergreen requires more maintenance than most evergreens, though many would say the tree is well worth the work. When choosing an area to plant a hemlock, there are a few things to consider. First, the hemlock does not thrive well when doused in gas emissions, so they should be planted away from streets. This particular tree thrives well in both sun and shade, however, it does not resist high temperatures well, nor can it stand up to drought. Because of this, it is recommended during the summer to spray water on the hemlock with a garden hose at least once a week. This not only provides water, which is crucial to the tree, but it also washes away bugs that can be harmful. Wind can also be damaging to the hemlock because of its shallow roots, especially as a seedling, so it would be wise to stake the seedling for its first two or three years.

Once the tree is well established, it can stand to be trimmed periodically. If trimmed, the hemlock should be shaped to let in plenty of light and air, especially in the denser parts of the tree. However, hemlocks tend to have an attractive, pyramidal shape, and can look good without and pruning.


Uses for the Hemlock

Frozen hemlock leaves

Frost gathering on the leaves of a hemlock tree

The Hemlock became the Pennsylvania state tree because of its usefulness to some of the first settlers. In fact, those settlers used hemlocks to build log homes. The bark has also been used for a few centuries as a source of tannin for leather. Today, the wood of hemlocks is used for boxes, crates, and sometimes framing and roofing. The wood is usually too brittle to be used as a timber tree. There are also a number of more domestic uses for the hemlock. The needles of this evergreen can actually be used to make tea. Many, however, prefer to use it simply as a landscape or garden tree. It is a wonderful choice for hedges because of how easy it is to prune and shape them. For much the same reason, hemlocks are also often chosen for gardens when they are in their dwarf forms. This tree is also a wonderful choice for a landscape that is in shade because of how well the hemlock can thrive in such an atmosphere.


Why Choose Hemlocks?

Though it requires much care, the hemlock is, in the end, worth the time and effort. This evergreen is easy to transplant, unlike many other trees, many of which don’t always thrive after being replanted. Once established in its new home, a hemlock will repay its owner with a long life of shade and added charm to its landscape.  Elizabeth Farms can help you choose and plant hemlocks that will look great in your yard as well as mixing them with other tree varieties.

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