Ezo Spruce Forest Styling-

As the last photo will attest, this tree was styled during quite cold weather…the windows in the studio had very interesting fractal ice patterns last week.

The Ezo itself has been a bonsai a long time, I’m not clear on the provenance of the tree beyond that it’s about 35 years old, sporting some older bark. It could have been imported. This is of the ‘red’ type, which has smaller foliage and a red bud.

This spruce was repotted recently, and the tree has regained vigor after having been weak. Several trunks appear to have died, and were cut away. A few young trees could be reintroduced, although the age of this tree would be hard to replicate, and Ezo is hard to find to begin with. Something to consider, however…the ‘main’ group in this forest (the left side) is about the same size as the ‘secondary’ group (the right side.)

Winter is a good time to work on Ezo. Or any spruce for that matter. Be careful bending branches in very cold conditions. Branches will be a bit more flexible in the winter if placed in a workshop above freezing for a couple hours. (Since most of us do not work in sub-freezing weather this point is a bit moot…but you will find that branches are more susceptible to being shattered at very low temperatures by weight of snow, an ill-directed shovelful of snow, etc.)

There are a couple of front possibilities for this fella—a very good one is the pot front, which is what we chose here. Enjoy-


Ezo Spruce as it came into the yard a month ago, an unruly but happy mop. In a rather small pot. They can do rather well in small pots, although this spring we’ll upsize this one a bit. Ezo also do well on slabs, if one can insure good hydration. They don’t appreciate getting as dry as a pine.


Left side


Right side


The spruce after the thinning out process of choosing branches


Wired Ezo Spruce, from the front. 35″ / 89 cm high.

I’m experimenting with leaving lower branches on taller trees. Normally thinner bonsai have lower branches removed, but in studying how single trees and those on the edges of forests grow, I see that many conifers tend to retain the lowest branches, sometimes they are even brushing the ground on old trees. That makes me rethink how we usually style tall trees. Oddly enough, some trees feel taller this way.

At present, many of these branches are on the long side. With spruce we have to wait for budding to occur. On a strong, wired tree, interior buds will come swiftly, and then we can cut off the longer shoots and redevelop the branches to be shorter. With time, in about 4 years, that should be this tree’s future. Shorter branches will make more sense with the small diameter of the trunks.


An ice painting on the inside of the studio windows last week…I don’t recall seeing this ‘tree of life/segmented worm’ ice fractal before.

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  1. Ken Krogholm says:

    Nice post on spruces again Michael. What time of year would you cut off the longer shoots redeveloping the branches to be shorter?

  2. Judy Fister says:

    Interesting project with the right touch. Ice pattern must be catching bonsai design thoughts…

  3. Mike Cole says:

    Michael…I have a Greatful Dead tee shirt with the exact same “ice fractal” on the back.

  4. 4griffs4@comcast.net says:

    Hi Michael,   This is a wonderful grouping… I can’t wait to see what you do with it. Make two groupings, rearrange some of the trees ect.     I do like Ezo’s and I have an older one that is not doing to well. It was not loved very much and I’m trying to talk it into living. hee hee  know really I talk to my trees. Sometimes I even threaten them with the compost heap if they don’t striated up. … But you already knew I was a little on the strange side and you still talk to me. It is now in almost pure pumice and it budded out like crazy. Some of the branches died but will work with it over the next couple of years and see what I can do.      Annette

    • crataegus says:

      Hi Annette-
      You bring up a good point…rearranging… With deciduous trees this isn’t much of a bother and one can do so without much endangering of the trees. On an old conifer grouping like this, however, with roots deeply entangled, one would likely kill the spruce trying to tease them apart. So any old conifer grouping should be default be left alone, and any changes to the group should be done by addition of other plants, which is not nearly so invasive.
      You did the right thing with your Ezo. Buds are the proof of root growth-

  5. crust says:

    I notice you mentioned being wary of working on “frozen branches” and was confused. I live in zone 3 where long cold winters are the norm. Last week it was 34 below zero. I keep my trees in a storage facility and keep them frozen solid all winter and work on them throughout the winter in my little adjoining studio. I thin and maintenance wire most hardy species and have never found branches to be frozen even when it has been 20 degrees in storage for weeks. My understanding is electro lights and sugars actually keep branches from freezing and if they actually froze they would die. Whenever I do mid-winter thinning on my trees the branches are resinous and juicy.

    • crataegus says:

      You’re absolutely right! My dumbing down language doesn’t work here. I should have said (and will rewrite it), be wary of working on trees in below freezing temperatures. The reason being, branches, just like plastic and other materials, do show stiffer characteristics in very cold weather than in warm weather, when they are more flexible. You are are right though, very small branchlets are flexible even in cold weather. And then many trees like the spruces, hemlocks, and true firs are genetically flexible since they need to handle snow.

      But the fluids in branches do not freeze, because of the sugars. Sugar concentrations are actually higher in the winter, assisting this resistance to freezing.

      When working on dormant trees you can have perfectly good wiring results, even those that are stored below freezing. I would just place them in an warmer room for a couple hours before bending larger branches. Then they will be a bit more flexible.

  6. Marty Weiser says:

    From the side views it appears that the group leans slightly backwards (particularly from the right side view). Do you plan to change this when repotting? Can you comment on why or why not? The final front view looks very good, but it is 2D so I am curious as to how the planting angle will impact the in- person view.

    • crataegus says:

      I will have it lean slightly forward, at least at the tops. The bottom 1/3 of the trees can actually move away. In person if the tops lean slightly forward we do get a inviting feeling. It doesn’t have to be much, especially with skinny upright trees as we find in forests. But it should be there.

      There is more dimensionality in person, but I have a secondary front option that adds a bit more depth to the composition. Might add a few more small trees in the future, too, when this could be revisited.

  7. carol ebreo says:

    Love the way it looks now after thinning. What type of container are you going to use and when do you plan to repot?

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