Branch Selection Exercise—Spruce

Last week we had this formal upright Ezo Spruce up on the bench to see how it was developing. And to consider future branch removal.

This spruce is a long view tree—a formal upright, seen from a long way off. A tree with a shallow trunk taper like this one has might be imagined with a tiny inch-high person standing next to it.

From that imagined long view distance, keeping more branches (and thinner ones) tends to enhance the sense it is seen from far away.

Here’s another puzzler. Old trees—really old, like old growth forest conifers—tend to have few, thick branches high up on the tree. And yet if we make bonsai this way, with few, thick branches, often the tree looks close up…not a big tree far away.

A few more thoughts are offered in the following photos—


The Ezo Spruce as is. Still not enough shoot detail for full branch pad clarity, but getting there. In many cases it’s wise in the creation phase to leave many more branches than you ultimately want, as the tree might not have much foliar mass to begin with. Later you can remove some.


With two branches masked off, possibilities for removal. The other photos show other options. Question is, might we cut another branch or two off, to advantage? Or (as I’m still considering), does leaving most if not all branches make the tree look farther away? The itch to prune branches doesn’t always improve a tree; often that makes it feel more like a small tree in a pot than an imagination of a big one. But here we have a lot of branches, and minimal pruning may help with design.


Removing this one left branch would increase movement from one side of the tree to another—from the low right branch, to the left above it, then to the right again, higher up.


Another similar option to increase movement between pad areas.


A more minimal option.


These branch removal options separate the strongest bottom branches from the smaller, top ones.

Old time viewers of this blog will know that I like to show the weird ones in my collection rather than the ‘normal’ bonsai. This is one of those, a tree from the Land of Misfit Toys. This spruce has a very low branch on the right, which may bother some folks to distraction, but is one of the few things that makes the tree interesting to me. It’s the one mark of character in a style that is challenging to get any character at all. Also, I have seen wild trees in the open growing this way.

No decisions have been made yet (also it’s the wrong time of year to prune, fall / winter is better). Just a fun exercise to get us thinking about formal uprights, density of branches, and the desire to create movement in our most static style. If you have preferences in the above options, please comment. 

Just for kicks, here’s where we started with the Ezo in December, 2016.

For more early photos, here’s the first styling of this tree: Ezo Spruce Formal Upright Styling


  1. HaHa… I always use the Island of Misfit Trees for the odd balls… because “Nobody wants a Charlie-In-The-Box”… Thanks for sharing your oddities Michael… normal is boring. And really looking forward to your MBS zoom meeting in about a fortnite !!!

  2. Ray says:

    This tree has come a long way under your patient masterful care.

    I wish I was there to see it in person, I always like the white out removal of branches before determining those that go or reduced.
    The six branches in the middle of the trunk look cluttered somewhat.
    I think the first change on the left middle and below works best for me.

    It’s as always in your most capable hands😎

  3. Steve Hamari says:

    It sounds like you have fallen in love with that naughty lower branch Mr Hagedorn.
    I really like looking at artist drawings of trees for inspiration. The one above is incense cedar. I have a couple hinokis I want to attempt to replicate the form with.
    The main thing I took away from the photo is that two of the branches are growing upward, as opposed to all drooping down.
    If this truly is a misfit tree perhaps it needs to break one or two more bonsai rules?
    However, I’ve only been practicing bonsai, incorrectly, for a few months. Prior to that I have been looking at trees wrong during my entire experience living in the northwest.
    Thanks for continuing to fill my inbox with interesting things to think about.

    • crataegus says:

      Ha! Yes, I like the branch but don’t think it’s a very interesting branch. The placement of it is what I like. Incense Cedars are remarkable trees, beautiful. Thanks for sharing the image and the thoughts-

  4. Mitch Fennell says:

    I think the “less is more” adage applies to this tree. It does appear to be closer the more branches that are considered for removal.

    The original tree indeed does look like a Christmas Tree lot ugly duckling. Then with your TLC and experience, it becomes a noble character viewed from afar.

    Thanks for sharing,

    • crataegus says:

      Thanks for the comment—I like less is more. Generally speaking. And Christmas trees are fun to turn into something else…though I’ve never attempted it on a real Christmas tree…

  5. Paolo says:

    I think 3 option. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Susan Daufeldt says:

    I think it is great just the way it is and would not remove any branches. 🙂 Susan

  7. yamanookami says:

    My take on your problem tree is kind of boring and less charming than yours, Michael, but I think it’s more representative of the older spruce in my area (Foothills Region, Alberta, elevation: 4000ft). Sadly it is both more heavily pruned and loses the lower branch you like.
    Forgive my the rudimentary virtual skills.

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