Ezo spruce, again

As promised, here’s the final ‘potted’ photo of that Ezo spruce clump styling in yesterday’s post—

Two things I’ll do in the future is move the left trunk further to the right as it’s a bit too balanced where it is. Also I’ll add a clump of broadleaf evergreen, probably a small-leafed azalea, to the back left. It looks a bit sterile as is.


I have the tree on a wooden board, which will be temporary support for about two years. After that time, I hope the roots will be solid enough (with some interior bamboo shafts) to support the entire kokedama and be able to be placed directly on a bench—sansĀ pot or slab.


  1. Scott Tice says:

    Beautiful moss work.

  2. Darrell Walker says:

    I was secretly hoping to see it in the boot, but this is good, too!

    How do you maintain this type of planting? Do you allow the rootball to expand as the roots grow, or do you occasionally clean parts out and replace some of the soil?

    • crataegus says:


      Fairly easy to maintain, if kept moist. Which works well for spruce, as Ezo in particular likes lots of moisture.
      The root system stays within the parameters of the muck walls. It can raise slightly, just like a tree rootbound over years. And yes, some removal and replacement of soil may be done, but generally this is not as frequent as repotting in a pot. For this tree the back has some original potting soil that will need to be removed eventually.

  3. Janet Roth says:

    Hi Michael,

    I dearly love spruce also though the climate down here doesn’t work so well for them.

    I look forward to seeing this one whenever Mas and I *finally* make it up there!

    meanwhile, ditto on Darrell’s question. Do you ever do the equivalent of “repotting”? and if so, how?

    • crataegus says:

      Hello Janeko,

      Repotting is infrequent, but otherwise similar to normal repotting. You generally have to make another muck dam, which makes repotting sticky and memorable. Like most established bonsai in good soil like a Boon mix or a basic akadama/pumice mix, the interior of the mass rarely needs addressing.

      I’m going to count the number of times you say you’re coming to visit…


  4. Neil says:

    Regarding the planting of the samll leaf azalea. I have found a very dwarf Holly called “Ohwi”. Don at Miniature PLant kingdom carries this plant. It is very twiggy in growth habit, self polenating. Berries are slightly larger than a large pin head. Very nice plant. Wish I had a picture when the berries were on.

    Just a thought.
    Thank you for sharing the spruce.

    • crataegus says:

      I planted a few cuttings of ‘kokinsai,’ a miniature version of ‘kinsai.’ Kinsai is a thin-leafed satsuki, and ‘ko’ in japanese indicates small.

  5. Daniel Dolan says:


    Thanks for your response to my question about watering. My question today relates to the oft quoted requirement to “balance the foliage and roots when styling a tree.

    The reduction of foliage in your “Before and After” is dramatic and beautiful. Was it accomplished in one session or several over a period of months …during what season?

    Was there a very significant root pruning that accompanied this foliage reduction?

    From an older text on Bonsai from a Japanese author I recall reading a guideline of a ratio of 6:4 ….foliage to roots.

    I appreciate your comments and will strive to keep my novice questions at a “high altitude”…that might interest most readers.

    Best regards,


  6. crataegus says:


    Great question. Yes and no is the answer, or answers. The general guideline of balancing root and foliage depends on what we’re hoping to achieve…and whether we are working on a deciduous or conifer.

    In styling a healthy, strong tree, a deciduous tree may be cut back strongly in both top and bottom zones. In styling a conifer, if we cut back on the top we should not cut back much on the roots; if we cut back on the roots we should not cut back much on the foliage. They seem to re-grow each other. Deciduous trees have greater reserves. But the OLDER the tree the more we should follow this guideline whether it’s a conifer OR a deciduous.

    In bonsai we use unbalancing of the foliage and roots to effect some shift—smaller leaves, more roots, etc. Basic bonsai technique of Japanese Black pines, for example, in the cutting of the candles—which is done at this time of year—unbalances the tree and causes a response. If we don’t unbalance the tree to a large enough degree, there will be no response. If we have an old tree and are restyling it, we might want to cut less, so that we don’t return the tree to a very youthful growth phase. We might not want the coarse foliage that will result. And an older tree really does not want to run a marathon.

    The spruce is a vigorous kind of conifer. I would not have cut back so much if there were few roots, or without strength in the shoots. I grew the tree strongly for two years to get it ready for this styling work. The tree now is throwing out strong shoots. Had I cut back the roots at the same time, and too much, it would have weakened the tree greatly. This work was done in one session; but I do not recommend this as a general practice. Cutting back the longer, strong branches over a period of a year or two will strengthen the inner branches, the ones used in styling. That is what I generally recommend. I know this comes really close to the hypocrisy of ‘do as I say not as I do,’ but please err on the side of caution until you have the confidence to ‘read’ a tree. I’m still learning it.

    Thanks for the question.

  7. crataegus says:


    Spruce may be styled in the dormant season, fall through early spring.


  8. Pauline Muth says:

    HI Mike
    Can you clarify something? I have been researching Ezo Spruce.
    There seems to be disagreement about what the species of Ezo is.
    What do you consider the species name to be?
    I have been trying to locate a source of small Ezo for a number of years to create a shohin sized forest or seikei of them.
    Pauline Muth

    • crataegus says:

      Hello Pauline,
      This is a matter of dispute with myself as well. One of the commonalities among bonsai masters in Japan is a rather indifferent attitude to Latin names, or in reality, they did not know them.

      So while I worked on a million spruce while an apprentice, I am still unsure of how many were Ezo. What I was told was there were two types, and I did notice a needle difference. The rarer type (species?) for bonsai did have a longer, grayer needle and the majority, which I took to be the Ezo, had greener, shorter needles. What species name is currently acceptable for those two I really don’t know. Good question. In Japan all spruce we worked on was ‘Ezo’.

  9. Martin R says:

    How are ‘Ezo’ spruce reproduced? If only by seed then how large to they have to be to fruit? If by cuttings or grafting I’d like to know specifics. Martin R. WI

    • crataegus says:

      Ezo spruce are normally propagated by cuttings. They will take a long time to grow that way, however, it is not a fast-moving plant. But a worthy project. You’ll need a greenhouse or some method of misting to make this have high percentage of rooting. Bottom heat would also be a good idea. Use a heating pad.

      You might also consider some of the native spruces, you have black hills spruce west of you in the Dakotas, and that has a small needle and makes a good bonsai. Also Engelmann spruce. Both these can be collected and then you’ll have an old plant to begin with.

  10. Dan says:


    I’ve come into possession of a fairly old Ezo spruce. (At least, I think it’s Ezo spruce, P. glehnii. It has the short green needles you mention).

    SInce I repotted it in March, it has been growing quite strongly, and clearly has been in need of pruning to maintain shape and develop foliage pad density.

    Where would I look for Ezo-specific directions? For my other spruces (colorado and alberta) I have been following the detailed and clear directions here:


    Do these same directions apply to Ezo spruce? Is there anything special I should know? Btw, I obtained Saburo Kato’s book on Ezo spruce, but it’s not too specific on pruning details ….


    • crataegus says:

      I was not able to have that link open. Spruce are as a group trained the same. You get good strong growth going, which may take a couple of years, then you can cut back to budding happening down the branch. Then you let those grow out. Very strong spruce will bud back on fairly old wood. Refinement, then, follows. So far you’ve just be using pruners. With refinement you’ll be pinching back the stronger shoots in springtime, when they are partially out, and leaving about 1/2 of the shoot. Approximately. The smallest you leave alone. If you try to pinch too late some spruce will not budback on the new shoot. And you wire in the dormant season. That is basic spruce work.

      Some of our native spruces seem more resistant to drying and sun. Ezo is more sensitive. Keep it well watered and protect in the summer.

      • Dan says:

        Thanks so much for the reply, I really appreciate it. Thanks for the info about the summer protection. My tree is definitely in the “refinement” stage, so I’ve been doing the pinching you describe — about a month ago. I hope it was not too late — I have not see much backbudding as yet.

  11. fh05 says:

    Great post and very educational. I like spruce very much but I do not have any because there is not much info on care of these. Could you please post some general care instructions. Is there a book or online source for this info?
    1. What time of year do you prune branches? –
    2. When do you repot? – my understanding so far is in early spring as for pines is this correct?
    3. When can heavy pruning be done – prune thick branches?

    • crataegus says:

      Branches are usually pruned in fall through late winter. Heavy pruning is done at this time as sap flow is low. Repotting is done as the buds are swelling. When you see needles it’s a bit too late. They are less forgiving than pines so be careful. Leave more root, too. And in general, Ezo likes a lot of water, like a deciduous tree, and should be protected from too intense sun in the summer.

  12. Paul says:

    Hi Michael,

    Reading your blog has inspired me to go out and get a Spruce to style. It’s rather large at the moment and I want to increase back budding and styling options lower down the tree. It’s growing vigourously at the moment with 6 inch candle extensions. Can I cut back now to let in light / air and induce back budding / branch formation further down the tree ready for styling (maybe in Jan 2015) or is it best to wait til after growth has finished?

    • crataegus says:

      Depends on the species you’re working with. Ezo backbuds down the shoot very well, whereas most of our native North American spruces won’t. So pinching is not a good idea for them. You can remove the strong shoots after growth has stopped, this will even out the energy of the tree somewhat. So yes, you have the right idea! When you style it, just by bringing the branches down those strong areas will be dampened in energy, and you’ll probably see more back budding. But don’t style until the dormant season.

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