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Douglas Fir: A Seattle Arborist's Guide to History, Care and More

Douglas Fir cone in snow


As a leading arborist tree care company in the heart of Seattle, we understand the importance of preserving and nurturing the lush greenery that graces our beautiful city. Among the various tree species that thrive in our region, the Douglas Fir stands tall, both literally and figuratively. In this blog post, we will delve into the history, characteristics, and essential care tips for Douglas Fir trees, highlighting our expertise in tree pruning and tree healthcare.

But first off -- you should know that a Douglas Fir is not a "true fir" tree. The "fir" genus is abies. It's also not a "hemlock", which is tsuga. A Douglas Fir's scientific name is actually Pseudotsuga menziesii. So, it's a "false hemlock", given the "pseudo" in the genus name. 

The History of Douglas Fir Trees

The Douglas Fir, is not only one of the most iconic trees in the Pacific Northwest but also an integral part of its history. Named after Scottish botanist David Douglas, who first introduced the species to Europe in the early 19th century, these majestic conifers are native to the western United States and Canada.

Douglas Firs have been a vital resource for indigenous communities for centuries. The Coast Salish people, who inhabited the region for thousands of years, used Douglas Fir for various purposes, including building canoes, shelter, and tools. European settlers later harvested the tree's commercial potential, and it became a cornerstone of the timber industry that played a significant role in Seattle's growth as a city.

Characteristics of Douglas Fir Trees

Douglas Firs are known for their towering presence, reaching heights of up to 250 feet or more. They have distinctive characteristics that set them apart:

  1. Needles: The needles of Douglas Firs are flat, about 1 to 1.5 inches long, and radiate from all sides of the twig. They are dark green in color and have a sweet fragrance when crushed.

  2. Cones: The cones of Douglas Firs are distinctive, with three-pointed bracts extending from each scale. These cones can be around 2 to 4 inches in length and are often found hanging downwards. Hint: To help identify them, it looks like a mouse is scurrying up into the cone! Just look for the hind legs & tail poking out.

  3. Bark: Young Douglas Firs have smooth, greyish bark, while older trees develop thick, corky bark with deep furrows -- more furrowed than most trees in our region.

Caring for Douglas Fir Trees

As an arborist tree care company, we specialize in the well-being of trees, and Douglas Firs are no exception.

Proper care is crucial to ensure their longevity and vitality:

  1. Regular Pruning: In a city/suburban environment like the Greater Seattle Area, pruning Douglas Firs is essential for maintaining their long-term health. This includes removing dead or diseased branches, completing structural pruning to prevent overcrowding and allowing for light. On mature trees, tree pruning should ideally be done during the dormant season in late winter or early spring.

  2. Soil and Water: Douglas Firs thrive in well-draining soil. Ensure the soil is consistently moist but not waterlogged. A layer of mulch around the base of the tree can help retain moisture.

  3. Sun: Douglas Firs would prefer sun, but can tolerate partial shade. The good news (for the Douglas Fir) is they grow so tall, they'll usually be the ones shading out other trees to begin with.

  4. Fertilization: These trees benefit from occasional fertilization or soil treatments to provide essential nutrients and biologic supplements. Consult with one of our ISA-Certified Arborists to determine the right tree healthcare treatment for your Douglas Fir.

  5. Pest and Disease Management: Regular inspections can help detect and address pest infestations and diseases promptly. Effective management can prevent significant damage to your trees.

  6. Protection from Construction: If you're planning construction or landscaping projects near your Douglas Fir, take precautions to protect the tree's root system from damage. We can refer you to a consulting arborist to help with a construction-related Tree Protection Plan.


Douglas Fir trees have deep roots in the Pacific Northwest's history and are a vital part of our city's natural beauty. As Seattle arborists providing tree care to residential homeowners, we work on these trees day-in, day-out. We are committed to preserving and enhancing the health of these iconic trees.

By following the care tips mentioned above and consulting with experts when needed, you can ensure that your Douglas Fir thrives for generations to come. If you require professional tree pruning or healthcare services, don't hesitate to contact us for expert assistance. Together, we can continue to nurture the green heart of our beloved Seattle.

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