Ezo Spruce Maintainence

Ezo Spruce are one of my favorite trees grown as bonsai. Ezo are found growing north of Japan on the island of Sakhalin. This island was once part of the empire of Japan but was annexed to Russia after World War II. Prior to WWII the collecting of Ezo was promoted by the late Saburo Kato and his father Tomekichi of Mansei-en . Despite the many qualities of Ezo Spruce for bonsai, mature specimens are not commonly seen in the U.S.

Saburo and Tomekichi Kato with collected Ezo Spruce, circa 1930’s
(Photo from Thomas S. Elias’
“Mansei-en and the Kato Family: Part One” article, pg. 16)

One reason for the lack of Ezo in the U.S. is that Spruce are prohibited from being imported into the country with a few exceptions.The other reason is that even though Ezo can be propagated by cuttings they grow very slowly so mature Ezo bonsai are rare in North America.

One place you can see specimen Ezo bonsai is here at the  Museum . Our three Ezo bonsai  do not begin to push new growth until late May and are some of the last to come out of winter dormancy. Trees found growing in very cold climate  have developed this trait to  ensure their tender spring growth is not damaged by late frosts.  The way we handle their new growth consists of pinching new growth and cutting back where possible.


This Ezo is flush with new growth and ready for pinching.


Timing is everything in bonsai and there is a specific window of opportunity to pinch Ezo. This image shows the ideal time to pinch the new growth. The buds have elongated enough to pinch but have not started to harden off.


Simply pinch the tip of the new shoot  and pull.


Make sure to leave a portion of new growth.


Selective pruning is also essential in maintaining Ezo bonsai.


Prune back to smaller buds when possible so that the trees stays compact and energy is balanced throughout the tree.


Before pinching and pruning


The same section after.


The total amount of material removed as well as few small  faulty branches.


Before we began


and the finished product.

Pruning a large Japanese Black Pine

As you approach the entrance to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum you are welcomed by a large Japanese Black Pine.

This pine was one of six sent from Kyushu University in Japan, the other 5 can be found in the Kato Stroll Garden outside the Japanese Pavilion.

This pine was planted in 1984 as part of the garden in front of the Museum named in honor of Ellen Gordon Allen, founder of Ikebana International.

This photo shows the pine sometime in the early 90’s.  The pine has developed denser foliage pads as a result of yearly decandling and proper pruning techniques.

Winter is the best time to prune pine bonsai and the same is true for pines growing in the ground. Typically this is very cold work but on an unseasonably warm 60 degree day Curator Jack Sustic, Museum Gardener Amy Forsberg, Volunteer Bridget Singletary-Goodwin, and myself spent the afternoon pruning this prominent pine.

Over the last 30 years the tree has developed very nice flaky bark with deep fissures.

Your goal when pruning ornamental trees is the same regardless of the size of the tree.  You want to eliminate branches that are detrimental to the design and health of the tree. Pruning helps you keep strong branches in check so that weaker branches don’t die off. Since pines are the most vigorous at the top, Jack had plenty to prune.

Pruning also allows sunlight and air to get to the interior parts of the tree which is essential for encouraging adventitious buds.  Without back budding you cannot keep a tree compact which is important in both Japanese gardening and bonsai. As you can see, very little sunlight can penetrate through the pine needles.

Once pruned, sunlight and air can now reach the inner parts of the same branch.

With the pruning done, you can see how the branches pads have become more defined. You can also see that the second pad from the top needs to fill in more on the left.

This summer, the tree will be candled except for the upper left branch which will be allowed to grow and fill in the silhouette.  Be sure to stop and appreciate this specimen the next time your at the Museum.