Picea/Spruce Bonsai Styling, Pruning and Wiring

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The Annual Cycle of Pruning

(The exact timing will vary slightly according to your climate and location)

August-October: Needle plucking, wiring and pruning back of this years shoots to a bud if necessary.
To tidy up a foliage pad, new shoots formed in the current year can be pruned back to a bud further back along the shoot. Pruning back leaving no bud for next year will sometimes result in a new bud forming and sometimes will result in dieback of the whole shoot.
As you would a pine, needles can be plucked from the previous years growth, this will occasionally prompt backbudding and makes wiring considerably easier and neater. Do not needle pluck weak shoots. Trees that have been repotted earlier in the season should be observed carefully for vigour.
Needles can either be plucked with fingers or cut with scissors at the base of the green part of the needle leaving the brown sheath that attached the needle to the branch itself.

Picea pungens (Colorado Spruce)

Small branch of a Picea pungens (Colorado Spruce)

From May/June onwards the current seasons growth is easy to identify with all Picea species as it has a lighter more vibrant colour and soft wood.

This shoot has only been pruned back in August each year to stop the branch elongating too far.

As the May cutting back of new growth has been missed, there has only been one flush of growth each season and the overall foliage density of the shoot is poor.

 

May: Cutting back the first flush of growth
New growth extends from the buds set last year. Allow to extend 1"-2" and then cut the new green shoots back with scissors. On strong apical shoots, cut back by a 1/3, on weaker shoots or those on the lower branches cut back by a ½ or less.
On very weak branches or where a branch is required to extend, do not prune back.

Do not allow the new shoots to extend too far before using this technique or backbudding will be limited.

 

Picea glauca 'Albertiana' bonsai

This image was taken 2 weeks after the new shoots were pruned back (Picea glauca). It is possible to see both the pruned tips of the new growth and the resulting fresh buds starting to extend.

May-June/ 2 to 3 weeks later: the second flush of growth follows
In the weeks immediately following new growth pruning, a second flush of buds will develop and start to grow. New buds will develop at the point that you pruned the first flush of growth back, at the base of the first flush of growth and further back on older wood, very often where needles were plucked in the previous August to October.

The second flush of growth will emerge from many points but each new shoot will be much shorter creating much more dense growth. Allow these shoots to extend only pruning back any unwanted individual shoots that grow much stronger than the others.

The tree should then be left until at least August to reinvigorate and develop new buds ready for the following year. The year long cycle is then complete ready for needle plucking to be carried out again.

Picea glauca 'Albertiana' bonsai

Compare the density of this Picea glauca branch that has been needle plucked in August and pruned in May of each year, with that of the Picea glauca branch pictured above.

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