Spruce Bonsai (Picea): Types, How to Grow and Plant Care

You might be familiar with the spruce tree already. Perhaps you live near one, or a park full of them. 

Maybe they only appear during the holiday season as a Christmas tree, but these characterful conifers can also be grown as a bonsai tree without a lot of effort.

While the natural spruce can grow up to 200 feet tall in its natural habitat, it’s much more manageable as a bonsai tree (for a different option, you can also grow Redwood trees into bonsai trees).

Here’s everything you need to know about growing a spruce tree as a bonsai, including how to choose the right type for you, and how to care for it.

At a Glance: What You Should Know About the Spruce Bonsai

When grown as a bonsai tree, a spruce can live for 60 years or more, depending on the species and the care it receives. 

Depending on the shape your spruce bonsai takes, it can reach a maximum of 23cm tall, and about 12cm wide.

The type of spruce will also dictate how much light it needs, so plan accordingly. 

Spruce bonsai trees are normally kept outside, as they are sensitive to warmer temperatures, and require a period of dormancy in the winter.

It’s worth knowing that spruce trees have a particularly bad reputation when it comes to growing them as bonsai. 

They are somewhat difficult to shape, and they are sensitive to timings. When you prune them, repot them, or water them can dictate whether a spruce bonsai lives or dies, more so than other tree species grown as bonsai.

Types of Spruce to Grow as a Bonsai Tree

All spruce cultivars come under the Picea plant genus, and this encompasses about 35 different species, giving you plenty of choice. 

To make the decision easier, the list below is categorized by their traits, but you may not be able to find all of these species in your area.

For Beginners

While you can just go out and buy any spruce bonsai, if you’re just starting out, it’s worth getting a more forgiving cultivar, as any mistakes won’t be disastrous. 

Picea engelmannii

This particular spruce is very forgiving, and will withstand the most enthusiastic pruning, whether you take the scissors to its roots, or its branches. You’ll also see it labeled under dwarf Alberta spruce, or the Blue Engelmann spruce.

The needles on this lovely spruce release their fragrance when crushed, smelling a little like camphor. You can grow this cultivar indoors, but it does better when it’s placed outside.

Hardy Bonsai Cultivars

If you live somewhere with good winters, it’s worth getting a spruce bonsai that can cope with much cooler weather, as they need to be outdoors where possible.

Picea abies

The Norway spruce, or Picea abies, is grown throughout the world as a Christmas tree, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a striking bonsai tree.

It features eye-catching bark with a reddish tinge, contrasting well against glossy green needles. While you can grow it inside, it will be much happier outdoors where possible. 

If you prefer a bonsai which is absolutely full of needles, go for ‘Echiniformis’. While it’s a slow-growing form of the Norway spruce, it makes up for it in its sea of foliage.

‘Little Gem’ produces miniscule needles, or if you want a variegated spruce, try ‘Variegata’.

Picea glauca

While the needles of Picea glauca or the white spruce are somewhat spiky if you touch them, this spruce produces silvery-green needles and requires cool temperatures to survive.

Novice bonsai growers will struggle to shape this bonsai, but the secret is to wire them early and often. It also takes less time than other cultivars to create tightly-packed clouds of foliage.

Picea mariana

Often labeled as the black spruce, this species features a very dark trunk, which works well against the bright green leaves. It doesn’t need much in day-to-day care, as it has a slow growth habit.

While it can be difficult to style, this species is readily available as a bonsai tree.

For Hotter Climates

Picea orientalis

Often referred to as the Oriental spruce, this particular species is striking for its small needles and purple cones. 

If you live somewhere humid or hot, this species is much more suited to these growing conditions, as not all spruces will tolerate warmer temperatures.

Fast-Growing Spruce Bonsai Trees

Picea sitchensis

If you’re impatient, and you want to be able to grow a spruce bonsai as fast as possible, you can’t go wrong with the Sitka spruce, or Picea sitchensis, as it’s the fastest growing spruce available.

Others to Consider

Picea glehnii

This is a gorgeous spruce, but it can be difficult to get hold of, as the export from Japan is limited. It’s also known as the Edo spruce, the silver fir, and the Sakhalin spruce.

Picea jezoensis

Found naturally in mountainous parts of the Northern Hemisphere, Picea jezoensis likes a lot of humidity, and it’s typically used as a Christmas tree. It needs partial shade in order to thrive. 

Picea oungens

If you’d like a spruce with a more compact growth habit for a bonsai tree, the Montgomery spruce, or Picea oungens is a good choice. It features silvery-blue needles.

Should You Grow a Spruce Bonsai From Seed or Cuttings?

You can grow a spruce bonsai tree from either method. 

Keep in mind that spruce seeds can be tricky to germinate, so if you want to speed up the process, choose the cutting method instead, and take these during the last few weeks of summer for best results.

Where to Buy a Spruce Bonsai

Spruce bonsai trees are readily available. You can either buy them as bonsai trees outright, or buy young spruces to shape into bonsai trees. 

This increases their availability, so you can get them from tree nurseries, specialist bonsai shops, or anywhere else that sells spruces. If you’re after a specific type, you’re better off sourcing it from a specialist bonsai nursery.

How to Grow a Spruce Bonsai

Sunlight and Position

What species of spruce bonsai you go for will dictate the amount of light the plant wants. In general, most spruce bonsai trees prefer full sunlight, but they will benefit from partial shade in the summer months.

Younger spruce bonsai trees will need protection from freezing temperatures, but spruce bonsai trees are happier in cooler temperatures. 

Most spruces don’t mind the wind, and they require good air circulation to prevent disease from taking hold. 

When to Water a Spruce Bonsai

Spruce bonsai trees require a moderate amount of water, but they absolutely hate waterlogged or completely dry soil. This can be a tricky balance to strike, so always test the soil before you water it. 

Spruce bonsai trees also benefit from misting from spring until autumn.

When to Repot a Spruce Bonsai

Like a lot of bonsai trees, spruce bonsai trees only require repotting every two years. Only do this in the middle of spring, or in the early autumn, when growth is less pronounced. 

If you have an older spruce bonsai, you can go for longer without having to repot it. If it’s ten years old or more, you can get away with only repotting it once every five years or so.

Generally, spruce trees cannot be pruned at the roots as much as other types, so only cut them back by a third, and plant them in a deeper pot to allow for the large root ball. 

Once you’ve repotted your spruce bonsai tree, keep it out of full sunlight for a while, about a couple of weeks or so, as this will let it recover. 

Should You Fertilize a Spruce Bonsai?

You should fertilize a spruce bonsai tree with liquid bonsai feed every fortnight, or every second watering, whichever comes later. Don’t feed it during the hot summer months. 

How to Prune a Spruce Bonsai Tree

Spruces grow in whorls, which means that the branches usually get to the same height as the trunk. Pinch new shoots off in spring, when they are still soft enough to take off. 

If you want to take off older growth, only shorten these branches.

Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For

Unfortunately, while spruce bonsai trees are striking, they do come with a few vulnerabilities that their natural counterparts are susceptible to.

Without good air circulation, spruce bonsai trees are vulnerable to fungal infections such as rust, so keep them somewhere well-ventilated, whether that’s outdoors or indoors.

When it comes to pests, spruce bonsai trees are vulnerable to green spruce aphids, mites, and gall-forming insects, among other beasties. 

Mites are typically the worst of these, especially in hot temperatures. In spells of hot and dry conditions, you may see old needles yellowing. While you can’t spot these mites normally, you can see them with a magnifying glass.

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