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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mid-America Show, Part 2. The Taming of the Spruce.

(With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare.)

     I didn't make it to Peter Warren's Exhibit Critique on the Friday evening of the Show, but I was in the front row for his styling demonstration the next day. (I sat next to Paul Stokes, who recorded the whole thing for his ofBonsai site. I was impressed at Paul's steadiness of hand, holding that camera in position -- no tripod -- for well over two hours.)

Peter's demo tree was a huge spruce (huge from a bonsai perspective,) a Picea abies 'Gregoryana'. It was so full, before he started, that my first thought was, "It's a bush!" By the end of his demonstration, tho, he had created a very credible tree image.

Again, I apologize for the quality of the some of my pictures from the Mid-America. I don't know yet why their resolution is poor. These are the best I have from Peter's demo.

Peter Warren starting his styling demonstration at the 2012 Mid-America Bonsai Show.
The work progresses: find the tree image, and remove everything else.
Demonstration finished; intended front. (Al was very interested in what Peter had done, and I didn't have the heart to ask him to move.)
 I believe this tree belongs to the Chicago Botanic Garden, and, once it is considered ready, it will be displayed in their permanent collection. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.)

I had read, in other blogs, that Peter takes any opportunity to teach, and I saw that for myself that afternoon. Besides soliciting questions, he kept up a fairly steady stream of comments. Here are some of my notes.

     Peter had his choice among several possible demo trees. He picked the one he did, he said, primarily for its vigor. The spruce’s vigor told him that there were probably a number of healthy inner shoots, having which would allow the branches to be cut back. (He was right.)
Other reasons he chose that candidate:
  • a strong trunk that would lend itself well to the image of a mature tree;
  • an upright line that would fit the natural growth pattern of a wild spruce;
  • a trunk base with a round cross-section, which suggested the presence of a well-rounded root system;
  • there was no single dominating feature, which meant more styling options were open.
An important first consideration in styling: what about this tree can be changed, and what can’t? For example, a branch’s position can be changed, but not its point of attachment.

Spruce can stand to have more foliage removed at one time than a juniper can, but less than a pine will tolerate. The best time to prune spruce is in mid-late summer; the best time to wire them is in the fall.

To some degree, you can get away with a procedure at the “wrong time” if you provide good enough aftercare: more light, partial shade, higher ambient humidity, whatever may be needed.

Pruning is more important than wiring in determining a tree’s shape.

When pruning, remember that inner foliage is not acclimated to full sun and may sunburn easily. Best to retain some extra, sun-tolerant foliage on a keeper branch, to make sure photosynthesis keeps going while the inner foliage adjusts. Once the inner foliage hardens, the extra can be removed.

When selecting branches to keep, try to visualize, as best you can, how they will bulk up over the next 5-10 years.

Before you cut back a keeper branch at all, make sure that there are healthy buds remaining among the needles that will be left. (This is most important when pruning needled conifers, but can make a difference with other conifers too.)

Once major branches are positioned, you can see which secondary branches are needed and which can be removed; then you can do the same with tertiary branches.

Peter recommends organic fertilizers, primarily for two reasons. First, he says, they enrich the soil itself and thus support the microbiota that help a tree flourish. Second, if a tree adapts to frequent heavy doses of fertilizer, the roots have no reason to spread very far.

Thanks, Peter!

:-)  :-)  :-)


  1. This is a very interesting post Steve and some tree. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome, Mike. It was hard to see at first how Peter would get a tree-like image out of it -- it looked like an amorphous fuzzy green mass! He did a fine job!

      I'd like to hear any feedback he has on this post, but that's up to him, of course.