Newb-Silver Fir Field Growing/Development Advice.

GrahamM

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Brand new bonsai enthusiast here.
I found an fir specimen that I’d like some advice on. It’s a young, nursery grown Abies alba 'Pyramidalis', or Pyramid Silver Fir.

A20B5D12-8FC5-4F0B-844B-5B6486B5BB20.jpeg

My thoughts are that with some nice trunk development it would make a wonderful formal upright bonsai, but I’m not sure of the best approach to accomplish this.

A190F9FA-7508-4289-814A-4F02DA838BA9.jpegI’d like to plant it in the ground to encourage faster trunk growth, but I’m not clear on the techniques I should be using to develop the trunk.
Do I just plant it and let it grow until the trunk is as thick as I’d like?
Wouldn’t the branches become too thick to use at that point? Should I be pruning to encourage back budding on the trunk?
What about taper? I’ve read thar taper is more complicated to develop in coniferous species...

Sorry for the barrage of questions, I feel like I’m in over my head here.

I’ll probably leave it in it’s small pot until I have a clear plan of action.
 

HorseloverFat

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I missed your arrival, Traveller! The Woody Dwarves are learning woodwinds... so it get’s a tad feisty around “practice time”. Glad to have you in the Tiny Forest!

Cool Fir!

I know nothing about them... but I know a TAD about similar conifers...

You are asking a bunch of really important questions... these important questions all rely on “missing information” in your experience... THIS tells me that you are quite intelligent and SUPER eager...

My BEST advice for all your specific questions is..
Read/Learn all you can... build your BASE knowledge of horticulture and bonsai TOGETHER...

I recommend the Mirai “Beginner series” on youtube.

For now I’ll bump it for more specific Abies advice.. and attempt to loosely answer your questions..

Pleasure to make your acquaintance!
 

HorseloverFat

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I’d like to plant it in the ground to encourage faster trunk growth, but I’m not clear on the techniques I should be using to develop the trunk.
Ground-growing is the fastest way to accomplish girth.

The more “green” your tree pushes, the faster everything else BELOW it swells to accommodate.. make sense?

So the more growth you can push from “the wood”... the thicker and more robust “the wood” becomes... growing uninhibited roots in all directions allows for the most new growth “pushed from the wood” ABOVE the soil mirror.

🤓
 

HorseloverFat

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Do I just plant it and let it grow until the trunk is as thick as I’d like?
Wouldn’t the branches become too thick to use at that point? Should I be pruning to encourage back budding on the trunk?
What about taper? I’ve read thar taper is more complicated to develop in coniferous species...
The idea here, about developing branches is something you will learn as you “seek knowledge”... but basically, you are not using the whole branch... at SOME point in it’s development, you will be “pruning back” to “lower” (closer on the branch to the trunk) growth on said branches. (Which you have allowed to grow, in anticipation this moment).. this younger, newer growth, becomes the new “leader” of that branch... and when that heals to resemble realistic scale from old branch to new... that is TAPER.... in that ONE spot.
 

sorce

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You probably won't be able to get those branches exiting at an angle that agrees with any design suitable for this tree.

Welcome to Crazy!

I wouldn't cut anything for a couple years, get it established in better soil first.

After that, think about using just one of those, the one that will look best when the rest are gone.
Capture+_2021-04-09-16-10-51.png

Just keep the others from shading the one you pick to use until you cut them off. Maybe one a year.

Sorce
 

0soyoung

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A Christmas tree is a formal upright tree. A formal upright bonsai is not a Christmas tree. It is a horticultural tour de force wherein something close to a lifetime has been spent developing a dramatically tapering, yet straight, trunk and closely spaced branches. You will not achieve this on a single effort, so I suggest you change your thinking. Instead concentrate on the portion of the tree featured in your last pic.

The upper branch on the left might be your second trunk section. A variety of future forms are possible, depending upon how you direct it relative to the trunk segment below and which view you choose to be the front of your bonsai (probably later on). Once you've thickened the part of the trunk below this, you would lop off all the tree above this branch. Then, after some time in the ground you would have the beginnings of a nicely tapering trunk. So, while it is in the ground one would assure that these lower branches aren't shaded --> remove upper branches that would be shading these and keep everything above that. You might also want to wire and direct these lower branches consistent with their future positions. I would do this before or after planting it (i.e., it can be done separately or all at the same time).

It will be important to know about the back budding behavior of your fir. You can experiment on a selected branch or two to find out if it only buds at the base of a needle or will pop buds on 'old' wood. When you prune to find out, only cut back to a visible bud as it is all but certain that a branch without a terminal bud will die back to a bud/node below (branch point closer to the roots). Some species produce a stronger response if you do this in spring. as soon as you see the beginnings of a bud on new growth. But generally it is better to wait until sometime in summer (after 21 July), removing fully hardened new growth back to a bud on it. If new buds subsequently appear in areas with no needles (usually an old node) you won't need to be overly concerned about keeping foliage near the trunk as this demonstrates that you'll be able to produce a new shoot from an old node.

After you have figured this out (which will probably take at least two growing seasons), you should try pruning all of the apical branches on your sacrifice (now trunk) and find out if you get budding on the trunk. There is always the possibility that you serendipitously see back budding on the trunk before this and, hence, already know that you will be able to generate new branches on the tree which opens a lot more possibilities without having to entertain or contend with grafting to generate the bonsai you want to produce. Regardless, good nitrogen nutrition and vigorous growth are the requirements.

So this gets you about 3 years down the road with thickening your trunk. You know how to handle the foliage and how the tree responds. Then you get to ask yourself, 'what next?', leave it as a landscape planting, lop off the trunk and start developing the second section of the bonsai trunk, etc. That bottom trunk section won't thicken much once you lop off the sacrifice until the branch you are using to make the second section is nearly as thick --> this is how you make taper; where the second section goes determines the 'movement' of the trunk line (from the chosen front). Because of this, trees are often dug and potted at this point - often, but not always.

It is going to be at least 5 years, I think. A few hours of careful planning (rechecked and maybe revised as each year goes by) and the rest is gardening (and a little day dreaming) until then.

Learning by doing.
That is what this is about, IMHO.
Get more trees. Get different trees.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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@GrahamM - welcome to the forum.

If you could click on the icon in the command line on the upper right, you can edit your profile. If you could put your city and state and or country in the location field, you will make it easier to get location specific advice. We don't need your street address, just a location familiar enough that we can guess at your weather and climate.

Fir, genus Abies, are not used frequently for bonsai. No real reason other than most firs do not tolerate high temperatures as well as spruce. Firs tend to have smooth bark on their trunks until they have advanced age. Spruce tend to bark up at less than 15 years old.

One thing to keep in mind. Your fir has a cultivar name, 'Pyramidalis', which means this tree was created, or propagated by grafting. If you look carefully at the area below your first branch on the trunk. You will see the scar from being grafted. This means a branch or scion, from the original 'Pyramidalis' was grafted onto a piece of understock, most likely a seedling fir, it could be any fir, most conifers graft well when understock and scion are in the same Genus. A well done graft will heal to invisibility in less than 10 years or so. A poorly done graft may be an eyesore forever. Yours looks pretty good, as such I would not worry about it. If you get advice stating you have to air layer your tree to get it off the graft, ignore them. Those that would offer that advice are poorly informed and have never worked with firs. Firs in general do not air layer with any significant success rate. If you try to air layer this tree off the graft you are greater than 50% likely to kill it. Just accept the fact that the grafting scar will be there, and hope in time it will fade into invisibility.

About "Formal Upright" as a style. This is a "rule heavy" style. Going for informal upright is MUCH easier. As a formal upright, your trunk already has too many curves that will need to be straightened out. Too crooked already for formal upright. But for informal upright, you are fine.

You do not have to bring your branches to below horizontal as suggested by Sorce. That is what is often done for spruce and fir bonsai, but it is not absolutely required. Some spruces and firs do not have pendulous branches. You can train them to near horizontal or slightly rising. Key is choose the angle to be repeated through the tree. Then have all the branches on the tree repeat that angle. Branches near the bottom will be slightly lower, branches near the top should be slightly more vertical. Key is repeat the angle for the entire tree. "No piccolo players in with all the flutes." Google images of people playing both instruments, notice that if a piccolo player were standing with flute players, the instrument would be at the wrong angle, and opposite side compared to the flute players. The analogy works for trees. Usually with tree design you repeat a curve, repeat the angle of insertion for a branch joining a trunk. There is a regular rhythm to the pattern of branches in a tree.

Nice tree. If it were mine. I would do no pruning this year. I would repot into a mostly mineral based bonsai mix, in a shallow but wide grow out container. I like Anderson flats, they are heavy duty plastic, 16 x 16 x 5 inches with a mesh bottom for air movement. They hold about 3 gallons of potting media. You can use any container you want, or you can make a grow box out of scrap lumber. Key is the new container should hold as much or more media than the current pot. You are going to want to have growth in order to thicken up the trunk and have growth needed to add wood so that bends and curves will be held after styling. As to potting media, for spruce and fir I would use a mix that is at least 75% pumice. Other ingredients are not that important but the majority should be pumice, or its light weight substitute - perlite. A pumice & bark mix can work, as well as pumice & akadama. There are hundreds of bonsai media components, most can work if you understand how they affect watering and fertilizing. But if you can, find a source of pumice for yourself. It is one of the best components.

Repot this year. No pruning for 12 to 24 months after repotting. Allow recovering time.

With firs, it is best to not over work them. Until you have more experience consider the fir a one insult per year tree. Repotting is a significant insult. Pruning 10 to 25% of the foliage is a major insult. Never prune more than 25% of the green in any one year. Wiring is the least traumatic thing we do. You can prune and wire the same year, or the same time.

As you get more experience you will learn where you can push the limits. Fir and spruce tend to be trees we work hard on one day, then leave alone for one or more years, before we get back to them.
 
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