Matt Reel – Spruce

Posted by on Nov 20, 2014 | No Comments
Matt Reel – Spruce

While Matt and I were walking around my yard, I was trying to let him choose trees that he might want to work on because I’ve always felt that when an artist sees a tree that they like, they’re immediately excited to work on it. I know when I look around at trees in my yard, I tend to gravitate toward certain trees that I’m more inclined to work on.

In Matt’s case, he immediately noticed two spruce that had belonged to my friend Randall before I bought his collection. Both were healthy and a bit overgrown. Matt mentioned that at Suzuki’s nursery there were a lot of Ezo spruce, and that it was one of his favorite trees to work on. I was dubious that I would be doing anything but selling either of them, but I felt that since Matt was interested that I should see what he could do.

The mystery-variety of spruce tree prior to any work.    Neither Matt nor I were confident of the actual species.   I've speculated that it is a nursery cultivar, but can't say for sure.

The mystery-variety of spruce tree prior to any work. Neither Matt nor I were confident of the actual species. I’ve speculated that it is a nursery cultivar, but can’t say for sure.

The finished tree.   What was the previous apex has been jin'd and the tree is much more compact.      I think what I appreciate most about this styling is the consistency in the angle of branching and the textural quality that the sweep of the foliage lends to the tree.

The finished tree. What was the previous apex has been jin’d and the tree is much more compact. I think what I appreciate most about this styling is the consistency in the angle of branching and the textural quality that the sweep of the foliage lends to the tree.

The branching on the left after styling.

The branching on the left after styling.

Detail of the new and old jin above the new apex.

Detail of the new and old jin above the new apex.

Since I had little previous experience with working on Spruce bonsai, I was peppering Matt with questions while he worked on the tree. While black pine is no mystery to me any longer, spruce is an entirely different animal. I had gathered a clue that there were some things to take into account from Ryan Neil’s nebulous intensive class schedule listing them as “elongating species” and that work was only done at particular times of year.

Matt told me that Fall is a good time to thin and wire spruce. He said that there was very little difference, other than foliage size among the different species. For a tree like this one that had been allowed to grow out without much training for a few years he advised cutting back in stages. Some of the branches are left longer but thinned to induce back-budding. They will be reduced further when the interior branching gets a little stronger.

Thin out the growth at node points, as you would on a pine tree in the fall, making sure that there are only two branches, or at most three, if you intend to remove one of them in favor of a smaller bud at that node. Wiring should be done carefully to minimize damage to the needles.

While Matt was working on the two spruce, he stopped multiple times to take them outside and get the foliage wet. Without doing this, needles will brown and drop off because Spruce do not like dry conditions, as is common inside houses and workshops.

In the spring Matt told me to pinch the tips of the tree that are stronger or on the outside of the silhouette. This will control them and encourage the interior branches to grow more vigorously.

In summer, he advised that no work should be done. Only watering and heavy fertilization. I was surprised to find that he said that spruce like a lot of water. Unlike pine trees, they should not be allowed to dry out, the more water the tree can take in the more vigorous the growth will be.

Here is the second of the trees, an Engelmann spruce that he decided to tilt up and turn around from the previous front.

A yamadori Engelmann spruce, originally from a Michael Hagedorn workshop at the GSBF convention a few years ago.

A yamadori Engelmann spruce, originally from a Michael Hagedorn workshop at the GSBF convention a few years ago.