Blue Spruce Long Term Plan

Woocash

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Hey all. Yesterday, I popped in to a nursery near where I was working just to have a scout about when I happened upon this Blue Spruce, Picea Pungens Glauca ‘Globosa’. It didn't have a price and was looking pretty dishevelled so chanced my arm and the owner said it was priced at £200 but I could have it for £50 just because they’d had it for a couple of years and they wanted it gone. I’d hoped it would be more because then I would be able to say no, but it ended up squeezed in the boot of my car...

I was told that not long after they had gotten it they discovered it had spruce aphids which decimated pretty much all of the interior growth but they had treated it and after a good couple of growing seasons they were confident the aphids were gone. It looks happy and healthy now with many nice, fat buds forming on lovely blue growth.

I know it needs repotting (but is not desperate) and new growth needs chasing back into the interior, but I also would like to select some branches and an image that I will use in the final design, so, what should be my first port of call with regards turning this into suitable bonsai material? Do I select branches to keep and chop the others first to encourage growth where I want it the most? Or do I repot in spring (allow to recover) and work from there when I know what base I’m dealing with? Or do I leave alone to allow for more recovery from the aphids?

This is my biggest purchase to date (physically and financially) so I am keen to do the right thing and I’m in no real hurry with it because around here the opportunities to work on spruce this size are few and far between. Thanks guys.

Before deadwood removal
1009C641-2D95-42F7-A19A-9A83F9D0CFCF.jpeg
07692879-E184-4912-B0B4-73A1791D2AEC.jpeg

After deadwood removal9EBED559-7E98-49AA-8326-C4052C952E3A.jpeg453BA3B2-8F55-49DD-B7C7-BF867D267F25.jpeg

Interior
14ACED89-04AA-4FE6-95DA-5380385DCC42.jpeg2024579F-5E14-4DCB-9AE5-F8026943F244.jpeg086E220D-C09F-42AB-8080-A92F3A45567E.jpegBD9752D5-3D2F-42FB-ADE2-5983454E5BF0.jpeg
 

sorce

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Digging for a base that may not exist is the second way to not have to buy something!

If there is no good basal flare and rootage, it might be best to clean up and use for a trade when asking to dig someone's yard bush.

Can it clean down or is the duff too thick?
I'd find the base or lack of first.

If it is worth keeping, I reckon I'd want to Repot it whole next summer, without doing anything else till it recovers.

The hardest part is going to be having it 200% healthy, so you can chop off enough folaige to get it to bud where you need future branches.

Since most of the lower stuff is going to have to go, since it's too thick. I'd pick a trunk line, and start 2023, strategically cutting off sections that may prompt budding.
Step one would be, removing most of the branches around the first whorl you want a new first branch at, see of you get a freshy. If so, try it on the next one up next year. And when it's Really top Strong, make that drastic cut to pop buds on your highest part, by then your lower branches may contain enough to sustain it, but keep sacrifices everywhere possible anyway.

Unless there is a "higher tree" in there with branches small enough to bend already, but it all seems too high.

Fattie.

Sorce
 

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First, this is a very long term project, but one that I think could end up with a very nice tree.
FIrst and foremost is getting it healthy to work on. It doesnt look like its in absolute terrible shape but it has had a rough life.
It looks like it has buds forming for next year so that is a good sign.

There are a couple of things you can do now or next spring.

I think it would be ok to repot it in early spring but I would repot to a rather large container, like an anderson flat Product AFLAT5 on this web page
https://www.stuewe.com/products/anderson.php and try not to remove more than about 1/3 of the roots at most. I would cut off the roots from the bottom of that pot so you can get them into a shallower container. Do not bare root the tree, but gently remove the soil a couple of inches around the edge and from the bottom of where you cut off. You can remove more from the bottom and cut back some of the larger roots from the bottom of the soil mass to get it into the shallower tray. You can work on getting more soil out on subsequent repots over the years.

You need to decide on a trunkline. If the first 5 or so low branches are not part of any future plan, you can probably remove those.

Then I would feed the tree heavily for a year and let it grow. Then the following year (2022), if the tree looks like its recovered from repotting, start removing/cutting back a few branches a year to enduce back budding and keep feeding it heavily through that process. If not wait another year and keep feeding heavily. Look up techniques for enducing back budding on these (ie cutting back new growth every year). You can start doing that once the tree is stable and growing vigorously again.

@M. Frary has worked with some of these and says they will back bud.

Good luck with it. It will be an interesting journey.
 

Mayank

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Hey all. Yesterday, I popped in to a nursery near where I was working just to have a scout about when I happened upon this Blue Spruce, Picea Pungens Glauca ‘Globosa’. It didn't have a price and was looking pretty dishevelled so chanced my arm and the owner said it was priced at £200 but I could have it for £50 just because they’d had it for a couple of years and they wanted it gone. I’d hoped it would be more because then I would be able to say no, but it ended up squeezed in the boot of my car...

I was told that not long after they had gotten it they discovered it had spruce aphids which decimated pretty much all of the interior growth but they had treated it and after a good couple of growing seasons they were confident the aphids were gone. It looks happy and healthy now with many nice, fat buds forming on lovely blue growth.

I know it needs repotting (but is not desperate) and new growth needs chasing back into the interior, but I also would like to select some branches and an image that I will use in the final design, so, what should be my first port of call with regards turning this into suitable bonsai material? Do I select branches to keep and chop the others first to encourage growth where I want it the most? Or do I repot in spring (allow to recover) and work from there when I know what base I’m dealing with? Or do I leave alone to allow for more recovery from the aphids?

This is my biggest purchase to date (physically and financially) so I am keen to do the right thing and I’m in no real hurry with it because around here the opportunities to work on spruce this size are few and far between. Thanks guys.

Before deadwood removal
View attachment 331425
View attachment 331424

After deadwood removalView attachment 331427View attachment 331426

Interior
View attachment 331428View attachment 331429View attachment 331430View attachment 331431
Holy crap! Great buy. Although a long term project I think it can make an incredible tree. Did you remove all the deadwood or can some be kept for carving etc to add a layer of complexity.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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@Woocash - wow, nice spruce. Tons of potential. You gotten some good advice. I would initially try to keep as much as possible, both living and deadwood, don't "willy nilly" take out branches. Any branches you eliminate, just cut off foliage, strip bark and leave as deadwood. Deadwood can always be shortened, but is difficult to add back.

If it were my tree I would:

Repot to a wide, shallow container before anything else. I use Anderson flats, roughly 16x16x5 inches, or roughly 40cm x 40 cm x 13 cm trays, with mesh bottoms. Do the repot first. Keep at least 90% of the foliage, allow 2 years to recover. You can be BRUTAL with the root work if you kept most of the foliage and do no further work until the tree has recovered. As I've posted elsewhere, the tree is not recovered until you have new growth (Blue Shiners) everywhere, not just the tips of older foliage. When you see some recovery, that is the time to "go heavy or at least heavier" with the fertilizer. The growth plus fertilizer will give you the back budding.

IMG_20200604_114235022.jpg
Blue Shiners - note even a few back buds onto the bare branch.

Once you have full vigor, you can then be aggressive with your styling. I see several options. You could make a tree just using one of the branches in the first whorl of branches. I see a tree using one of the branches in the second whorl. And I see a couple options going taller using almost all of the height of the existing tree. It is up to you. If you repot first, and then allow ample recovery, you have plenty of time to see the best options.

So that is what I would do. Repotting first allows you to find your nebari. Plan which side of the trunk is the best, and then from that, you can plan out everything else.
 

Woocash

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That’s not very nice. I am not! 😅

Yea I had a little scrabble around the base, but it was chockablock and I didn't expect the nursery would be best pleased with me going in hard trying to find the nebari, so I thought I’d chance it anyway. It’s got a lot going for it aside so I‘m happy enough.

I like your plan though, but I still can’t bring myself round to seeing the overall benefit in summer repotting from nursery stock like this. It will be unlikely to go through such major root work again in its life so would it not make more sense to use the spring and the summer for recovery? It sort of seems like I’d be wasting a season, no?
 

Woocash

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First, this is a very long term project, but one that I think could end up with a very nice tree.
FIrst and foremost is getting it healthy to work on. It doesnt look like its in absolute terrible shape but it has had a rough life.
It looks like it has buds forming for next year so that is a good sign.

There are a couple of things you can do now or next spring.

I think it would be ok to repot it in early spring but I would repot to a rather large container, like an anderson flat Product AFLAT5 on this web page
https://www.stuewe.com/products/anderson.php and try not to remove more than about 1/3 of the roots at most. I would cut off the roots from the bottom of that pot so you can get them into a shallower container. Do not bare root the tree, but gently remove the soil a couple of inches around the edge and from the bottom of where you cut off. You can remove more from the bottom and cut back some of the larger roots from the bottom of the soil mass to get it into the shallower tray. You can work on getting more soil out on subsequent repots over the years.

You need to decide on a trunkline. If the first 5 or so low branches are not part of any future plan, you can probably remove those.

Then I would feed the tree heavily for a year and let it grow. Then the following year (2022), if the tree looks like its recovered from repotting, start removing/cutting back a few branches a year to enduce back budding and keep feeding it heavily through that process. If not wait another year and keep feeding heavily. Look up techniques for enducing back budding on these (ie cutting back new growth every year). You can start doing that once the tree is stable and growing vigorously again.

@M. Frary has worked with some of these and says they will back bud.

Good luck with it. It will be an interesting journey.

Thanks very much. I’m quite excited about it actually, because I’ve not really seen anything like this in my budget around here and it’s got plenty of options.

Obviously (or maybe not), we don't have Anderson flats over here or anything like them really, but luckily I have a substitute that a christmas tree contest entry is currently in, but that will probably be repotted in spring. Either that or I’ll make another.
1C59742D-265B-4479-8869-C7C44D27A64A.jpeg
Do you mean to literally cut off enough of the rootball so that the remainder is the same depth as the new container as opposed to spreading out what would be the deeper original roots?
 

Woocash

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Holy crap! Great buy. Although a long term project I think it can make an incredible tree. Did you remove all the deadwood or can some be kept for carving etc to add a layer of complexity.
Cheers! I left stubs of all the larger dead branches, but it was mainly all the small stuff too small for deadwood features that had died off. Fortunately none of the main branches have died at all so that leaves plenty of options, dead or alive!
 

Woocash

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@Woocash - wow, nice spruce. Tons of potential. You gotten some good advice. I would initially try to keep as much as possible, both living and deadwood, don't "willy nilly" take out branches. Any branches you eliminate, just cut off foliage, strip bark and leave as deadwood. Deadwood can always be shortened, but is difficult to add back.

If it were my tree I would:

Repot to a wide, shallow container before anything else. I use Anderson flats, roughly 16x16x5 inches, or roughly 40cm x 40 cm x 13 cm trays, with mesh bottoms. Do the repot first. Keep at least 90% of the foliage, allow 2 years to recover. You can be BRUTAL with the root work if you kept most of the foliage and do no further work until the tree has recovered. As I've posted elsewhere, the tree is not recovered until you have new growth (Blue Shiners) everywhere, not just the tips of older foliage. When you see some recovery, that is the time to "go heavy or at least heavier" with the fertilizer. The growth plus fertilizer will give you the back budding.

View attachment 331512
Blue Shiners - note even a few back buds onto the bare branch.

Once you have full vigor, you can then be aggressive with your styling. I see several options. You could make a tree just using one of the branches in the first whorl of branches. I see a tree using one of the branches in the second whorl. And I see a couple options going taller using almost all of the height of the existing tree. It is up to you. If you repot first, and then allow ample recovery, you have plenty of time to see the best options.

So that is what I would do. Repotting first allows you to find your nebari. Plan which side of the trunk is the best, and then from that, you can plan out everything else.
Thanks Leo. Yes good advice and all pretty consistent which is nice! Great tip on the blue shiners, ta, and nice to know I can work the roots hard at first. It’s quite a large rootball so some serious reduction will be necessary, and like I said, no rush so I’m happy to wait for proper recovery. It’s quite a nice tree to look at in itself so i’m not going to be desperately waiting with the loppers in hand. 😁

When they do come out, however, I am kind of gravitating towards a taller tree. I do like a more sinuous conifer than a shorter form as it shows off more of the trunk, but like you say, I’ll have loads of time to ponder it.
 

Paradox

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Thanks very much. I’m quite excited about it actually, because I’ve not really seen anything like this in my budget around here and it’s got plenty of options.

Obviously (or maybe not), we don't have Anderson flats over here or anything like them really, but luckily I have a substitute that a christmas tree contest entry is currently in, but that will probably be repotted in spring. Either that or I’ll make another.
View attachment 331540
Do you mean to literally cut off enough of the rootball so that the remainder is the same depth as the new container as opposed to spreading out what would be the deeper original roots?

The "deeper original roots" are probably going to be thick roots. The goal is to eventually put this tree into a bonsai pot which is shallow. You have to gradually reduce the height of the root ball to do that.
We usually take a tree in a pot like yours is in now and cut off the bottom of the root ball and spread out the roots around the top of the root ball. The thick down pointing roots will prevent you from getting into a shallower pot some day so they have to be removed.

Now youll have to see what it looks like when you get it out of the pot. If it is typical of most trees, you will have a lot of finer roots around the top 2/3 of the root ball. These are what you want because they are what feeds the tree. However I will repeat myself that you dont want to remove more than about 1/3 of the root ball by sawing off the bottom of what comes out of the pot. You want to be careful not to remove to much at once so if you can build a box that will accomodate that, all the better. You will gradually reduce the root ball further from the bottom (ie make it shallower) in subsequent repots over the next several years as it grows more fine roots around the top of the root ball. You are probably going to be repotting every 2 or 3 years. You dont need nor want to repot a spruce every year.
 

Woocash

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dont want to remove more than about 1/3 of the root ball by sawing off the bottom
Do you know, I read your first post several times and still managed to miss this. It just didn't stick for some reason, but now it has so thank you.

Okay, so next section of confusion, with spruce apparently being fairly temperamental when it comes to “insults”, does this mean I shouldn’t do any heavy work up top either until the root mass is contained in a small enough vessel? I know you said remove the branches from the lowest whorl, if desired, and obviously it needs foliage to regain strength, but I’m guessing this then means no real touching of the upper branches for maybe 6 years if major root work is a regular thing. Or, am I looking like (hopefully with all things being well) 2021 repot, 2022 basic branch selection, 2023 repot, 2024 work on back budding, 2025 repot, 2026 initial styling, 2027 repot into bonsai pot, 2028 Noelanders? :cool:
 

Cosmos

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Do you know, I read your first post several times and still managed to miss this. It just didn't stick for some reason, but now it has so thank you.

Okay, so next section of confusion, with spruce apparently being fairly temperamental when it comes to “insults”, does this mean I shouldn’t do any heavy work up top either until the root mass is contained in a small enough vessel? I know you said remove the branches from the lowest whorl, if desired, and obviously it needs foliage to regain strength, but I’m guessing this then means no real touching of the upper branches for maybe 6 years if major root work is a regular thing. Or, am I looking like (hopefully with all things being well) 2021 repot, 2022 basic branch selection, 2023 repot, 2024 work on back budding, 2025 repot, 2026 initial styling, 2027 repot into bonsai pot, 2028 Noelanders? :cool:

Well, as it stands now, the only thing you can do to the top of the tree is branch removal. There is nothing to wire as such that is close enough to the start of the branches. This will come with years of good care and vigorous growth.

I concur with the advice of finding the real nebari right now and do nothing else for this year. Live with the tree, look at it from all sides, play with the base and planting angles. Put it in full sun, water only when needed (which shouldn’t be a lot between now and the spring in a UK climate). And repot next spring just before the opening of the buds (or August, but most people would recommend spring).

There is no way you’d want to repot in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027. This is way too much. Your goal should be to have a perfectly functional root system in the container you choose for next year’s repot (you will have no choice but leave a core of dense soil that will be removed several years down the road, but roots will quicky start colonize the new substrate where growing conditions are much better). I’d shoot for a container that will allow you to concentrate on the top of the tree for 5 years at least. This won’t be a quick project. Good news is spruce can grow in a wide variety of soils, as long as all the roots get enough water.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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I went from a root bound 10 gallon nursery pot to a 5 inch deep Anderson flat, in one move. Sawed off roughly 75% of the root system. It is risky to do this,

IF you do NO PRUNING OF TOP. If you leave the growth alone. And you allow multiple years to recover, you will be fine.

I had to allow 3 full growing seasons for recovery, began pruning in the 4th growing season. I have no plans to repot for at least 5 years or more. When I did the work, in the new pot, I used a pumice-lava mix that will not break down. So it can stay put for 10 years if needed. Plenty of time to work the top of the tree.

Key was, the top was unmolested, I had 100% of my foliage. I did the radical root pruning, removing 75%. Then I allowed 3 full seasons for recovery. Did a hard prune the forth season, and have allowed 2 additional seasons for recovery, 2021 summer will be the 7th summer for this tree in my care.
 

Paradox

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Well, as it stands now, the only thing you can do to the top of the tree is branch removal. There is nothing to wire as such that is close enough to the start of the branches. This will come with years of good care and vigorous growth.

I concur with the advice of finding the real nebari right now and do nothing else for this year. Live with the tree, look at it from all sides, play with the base and planting angles. Put it in full sun, water only when needed (which shouldn’t be a lot between now and the spring in a UK climate). And repot next spring just before the opening of the buds (or August, but most people would recommend spring).

There is no way you’d want to repot in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027. This is way too much. Your goal should be to have a perfectly functional root system in the container you choose for next year’s repot (you will have no choice but leave a core of dense soil that will be removed several years down the road, but roots will quicky start colonize the new substrate where growing conditions are much better). I’d shoot for a container that will allow you to concentrate on the top of the tree for 5 years at least. This won’t be a quick project. Good news is spruce can grow in a wide variety of soils, as long as all the roots get enough water.

I would agree with this, Repotting every other year is probably too much at this point even though I said 2-3 years. Most mature evergreen trees get repotted every 3-5 years because they do tend to grow slower unlike my Trident maple that needs to be repotted every other year. Although this is a "large" tree for a bonsai, I dont think it is a "mature" spruce by any means.

Once a tree in development is healthy and growing vigorously, the matra is ONE major insult per year.
Repotting is a major insult.
Removing a number of large branches is a major insult.

So yes, when you repot, you do minimal work to that tree for the rest of the year and do other major work in the years between repots.
 

Woocash

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Ok, I am sensing a pattern here...


I did somewhat of a nebari excavation but the low branches, weight of the thing and the non necessity of it became prohibitive at this time so I’ve mulched in place of the soil I did remove and will wait ‘til spring for a full repot I think. The soil is not as dense or rather, as tightly packed as I had first thought so there will be enough room for new roots and original to expand into in a new container. Also, the nebari doesn't appear to be near the surface either so again that probably means there will be a lower percentage of roots that will need removing to accommodate the new planter.

Much obliged people, thank you very much for all your advice. This is very much a tree worth waiting for and I think that by the time it is actually ready for any serious work above ground I will hopefully have acquired the requisite skills it will deserve.
 

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