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How to Create a Bonsai from Raw Material

I’m going to show you how to deal with what we could call ‘raw material’. This is a Dwarf Picea, it has a very thick trunk so I would say it is at least 30 to 40 years old. It is not the ordinary dwarf Canadian spruce Picea Alberta Conica, but it is a sport of that variant. It has been grown as a specialist conifer but it’s not really a bonsai. When we get material like this the first thing we do is take it out of the pot and explore the roots.
Peter with Dwarf Picea Plant
I think it was recently transferred to this big pot and hasn’t had a chance to settle in. The roots are pretty good but I’m teasing them to find the root base. I think it is best if I put it on a turntable so I can look at the tree from every side.
teasing dward picea roots
Teasing Dwarf Picea roots
Believe it or not, the trunk is at least 6” in diameter, so we know it’s a pretty old tree. I’m scraping away at the soil to see if I can utilise the trunk.
dwarf picea root base
I’m guessing the tree was planted a little too deep when it was grown as a nursery tree, but to make it a bonsai we will want to show the trunk.

When we make bonsai, the trunk is a very important feature. Bonsais are miniature trees and If the trunk is not shown in your bonsai design, It won’t look like a tree. Remember that only trees have trunks. If your bonsai looks like a bush, then that’s all it will be!

I continue to scrape away at the roots to get to the trunk.

I also cut away some of the very fine roots which are climbing a bit too far up the tree. I want the main roots to come from the base of the tree.
Peter snipping fine bonsai roots with scissors
If I open out the trees branches and look carefully into the tree, I can see there is a single trunk. Some of the branches are very low but I will have to use as many branches as possible. It is just a question of clearing all this debris and seeing what we have to work with, in the tree itself.
inside dwarf picea branches
inside dwarf picea branches
I’m still trying to find the front of the tree. In this instance the front of the tree is determined by the root spread and the way the trunk appears. If I look at it from this side, this looks quite nice.
dwarf picea base front
I turn it a little and I can see this side isn’t as nice. The trunk is too narrow here.
dwarf picea root base
This is the opposite side of the tree, and this isn’t very appealing either.
dwarf picea bonsai back
I’m still leaning towards this side as a possible choice for the trees front.
front of dwarf picea bonsai
If I do use this as a front, I don’t want too many branches on the front of the tree. So, I will begin by removing some of these branches. I know that most people who are fairly new to bonsai struggle when it comes to deciding what parts of the tree to remove and not to remove. I think bonsai decision making is something that comes with experience. The more you work with bonsai the more confident you will become in your decision making.
cutting dwarf picea bonsai branches
dwarf picea trunk
I look over the tree and mull over the different design possibilities.

Because the tree is so dense, there are a lot of dead branches inside the tree which I remove. I also remove the very low branches.
cutting dead branches from bonsai
shaping dwarf picea bonsai
Piceas do grow from cuttings quite easily so because this is quite a rare piceas species, I may keep some of the cuttings. The best way to make cuttings is to make heel cuttings like this.
picea cutting
I keep it a couple of inches long, clean the heel up with a pair of cutting scissors and dip it in hormone rooting powder.
dwarf picea heel cutting
dipping cutting in hormone rooting powder
dwarf picea cutting planted
I’m trying to create spaces between the branches to give a tiered effect.

Some of the very thick, low branches I remove. I will probably use them for making jins or driftwood, so rather than cut the branches off cleanly I’m going to tear them.

I’m going to create more pads/levels in the tree.

I remove some more of the very low branches. I would say at this point, I have removed around 50% of the tree.
shaping dwarf picea
shaping branches on bonsai
shaping dwarf picea bonsai brancheds
dwarf picea cuttings pile
I do some more refining work including cutting twigs and wiring to help shape the tree. I also tear some of the bark away from this branch with my jin pliers.

I wire the branches to help shape the tree.
wiring dwarf picea bonsai
using jin plyers on dwarf picea
wiring dwarf picea
Before I do anything more, I want to put it in a temporary pot. I am working on this tree in the middle of summer (July) so I will put it in a generous size pot and I may put it in the final pot in early spring. I could also leave the tree for a full 18 months and put it in its final pot the year after next.

For the final tree, this pot would be too big but at the moment it is too small to keep the tree healthy and comfortable as it grows.
choosing a pot for bonsai
I use this as the temporary pot.
choosing larger pot for bonsai
oval bonsai pot for dwarf picea
I will do a little more wiring later on.

Transforming this bonsai has taken around 20 minutes, which just goes to show once you become experienced in bonsai, and really know what you are doing refinement can be done in good time.

I have transformed the picea from a bulbus and complicated looking tree into this bonsai using simple techniques.
potting dwarf picea bonsai
I removed the tree from the pot and took it down to the main root level so we could see how the roots spread into the soil. I decided on a front for the bonsai and removed the lowest branches so that the bottom branches were around 2/3 inches above the trunks base. I then proceeded to remove branches so that there were distinct branch layers. Fortunately, this tree is not very tall (around 45cm), it already has a reasonable taper so I did not have to remove anything from the top of the tree. I have wired the lower branches and will consider wiring the upper branches as time goes on and there is slightly more work to do to the tree. However, we can already see with just thirty minutes of work, we have produced a very reasonable bonsai!
complete dwarf picea bonsai
dwarf picea before
dwarf picea after