Three Years Of A Spruced Up Engelmann

This Engelmann spruce was originally owned by a guy up in Seattle and I suspect it grew in a mica drum pot for a couple decades. Collected in the Cascades many years ago, it has nice flaky, mature bark and sports a healthy community of lichen up and down the main trunk.

It was growing wildly and moppish when I bought it in 2008, and was styled in 2009. When wiring spruce, be careful to spray the foliage with water first. Otherwise many healthy needles might simply drop off, which really weakens a tree. Ezo spruce is especially sensitive to agitated needles; hydrating them first makes them more durable.

I like the calm, peaceful feeling of spruce. This one would look good in a tokonoma display, maybe with a water stone to suggest a serene high mountain lake. Or, for the ironically inclined, a small figurine of a panting, exhausted hiker, leaning on a stick…

The Engelmann before work, 2008.

An early shot of the styled tree, October 2009, 31″ high.

After a two years of growth, August 2011. The plywood base is temporary. I’m considering leaving this without a pot at all, just a solid root ball with, eventually, a hidden support underneath. Something my Seasonal students will play a hand in…

View of mature bark, lichen, and nebari.

An evergreen penstemon serves as an on-board accent. This one is native to the Cascade Range where the Engelmann lives. Small purple flowers come in late spring.

Same day, different lighting. Interesting how the character of the tree changes with the lighting, yes? This photo is very close to the natural blue/green of the foliage.


  1. bonsai eejit says:

    Beautiful tree. I love it without the pot, makes a big difference, very natural.

    • crataegus says:

      Thanks, it is a new direction for me and I have a couple of trees that will be shifted off their plywood platforms and onto something more permanent this spring. Having been a potter is an odd direction to do away with pots altogether…!

  2. Daniel Dolan says:


    We met last year at the Midwest Bonsai Society August Show.
    Your work on this spruce is exceptional.
    My question relates to the characteristics of Engelmann Spruce and true Ezo Spruce, which I understand is different…and rare.
    You referred to this as an “Ezo” Spruce….are they nearly the same?
    A few more views of the stages in between would be helpful for the rest of us.

    Please tell Andy Smith to start collecting Engelmann Spruce.

    Best regards,

    Daniel Dolan

    • crataegus says:


      Hello! Thanks for your comments. I have enjoyed working with Engelmann on returning from Japan. There do seem to be a few differences between spruce species. This tree, I should clarify, is an Engelmann and I only mentioned the Japanese species, Ezo, as the needles seem more sensitive to falling off on that species. One of the differences. But Engelmann is susceptible too. Also, it seems Engelmann is more resistant to strong sun, and even drying out, than Ezo. Ezo needs to be treated very much like a deciduous tree, with more shade in the summer, and care that it does not dry out. And Engelmann has a longer needle with a blue green color. The Ezo is short needled and bright green. The budding is different as well. Ezo will bud all down the new year’s shoot, whereas the Engelmann usually will only bud in a multiple fashion at the tip. I’d work with more Ezo if it were available (imported), but I do like Engelmann all the same.

      Andy has collected Black Hills spruce which is a very nice plant. You might try them.

  3. Scott Tice says:

    Excellent, love it!

  4. Graham says:

    Hi Michael,
    A very nice piece of material and a great transformation in such a short time. Do you know if the same is true for our coastal Sitka spruce?

    • crataegus says:

      Hello Graham,

      I’ve not yet had the chance to work on Sitka. There seem to be subtle differences in the spruces aside from physical characteristics, so I wonder about this one. Try it and let us know!

  5. Jeremiah Lee says:

    It’s so awesome to see these pictures, love this tree! You have created something very beautiful. thank you for sharing. I hope to learn to work on Spruce in the future.

    If i’m not mistaken I believe most Spruce Bonsai is collected material right? What do you think about field growing Engelmann Spruce? Any value in that? Do they ever filed grow Ezo in Japan?


  6. Jeremiah Lee says:

    Sorry I meant Field Grow

  7. Shaukat Islam says:

    Beautiful transformation…..very good lesson on styling, I must say.

  8. Diana Wood says:

    What a transformation from 2008 photo to 2023 photo, In this short five years you have created such a beautiful bonsai.
    Your styling of “Mother and Child” has shown the harmonious relationship between the mother and her child.

    I do have a question, how many times you have to wire and rewire this tree in the five years?

    Thank you!
    Diana Wood

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