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  • Loren Buxton

Colorado Blue Spruce 1

This Colorado Blue Spruce was collected by Jerry Morris from a very unique fin or microclimate in Colorado. The Colorado Blue Spruce in this area grow on a very thin layer of soil, which manages to sustain over a river bed. During the growing season, roots grow into the river bed for moisture, but then are essentially sheared off every winter when the river freezes. This results in some very unique forms, often with exposed, crawling trunks and interesting deadwood. Colorado Blue Spruce is the only conifer that grows in this microclimate.

This tree was purchased from Todd Schlafer of First Branch Bonsai in 2013, which also marked the beginning of my study with Todd. Todd is an incredibly talented and hard-working individual, who has managed to propel himself to the top tier of bonsai professionals in the US in a very short period of time. This is despite not having a formal apprenticeship in Japan. This Mirai blog post written by Kendall Strautman offers some great insights on Todd’s journey.

During the 2018 American Bonsai Society convention in St. Louis, Todd gave an impressive presentation on using Colorado Blue Spruce for bonsai, which included these photos of the fin…

When I returned home with the tree, my focus turned to preparing it for its first styling. In simple terms, this involves allowing the foliage mass to expand until it produces back budding. The branches are then reduced to either a dormant bud along the branch or new growth on the interior. This process is well demonstrated on this Mirai Live stream, using a tree from the fin.

Two years later, in the spring of 2015, I returned to Denver with the tree. It was in good health and ready for its first styling. As with many collected trees, the tree needed an extreme angle change in order to maximize its best features.

In the spring of 2017, the tree was ready for its first bonsai pot. Repotting is one of Todd’s strengths – in particular the first repot from the container used after collection. This repot is the most difficult and often requires a certain level of engineering. For this tree, Todd used three wood blocks to brace the tree and position it at the right angle. After filling the container, long pieces of sphagnum moss were placed along the areas with exposed roots, and then a fence was built using a small gauge of aluminum wire to secure the moss.

This past winter, I commissioned Austin Heitzman to build a stand for this tree. It’s made from walnut and features a live edge on one corner to highlight the deadwood trailing off the container. The craftsmanship of Austin’s work is superb.

Here is the tree a few weeks ago after bud break…

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