My latest exercise in design: Lessons learned and continuing challenges

This is my latest exercise in design, some of the lessons learned and remaining challenges. The subject of this exercise is a colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) variety montgomery bought in a garden centre for CAD 55$ last summer:

As you can see from this initial picture, when I bought the tree I already had a style in mind, I thought it would look good as a cascade. I then proceeded to clean dead branchlets, remove dead needles, branches out of proportion or crowding junctions (3 or more in the same branching point), needles near intersections that would prevent wiring. It is almost a mechanical process, following the principles that Ryan describes in the Noble fir Christmas tree challenge (Nursery stock series part 3 and probably elsewhere). All through the process I could hear Walter Pall saying “do your homework, do your homework” - anyone who worked with him I guess will have heard that, which essentially means the above tasks before anything else.

Then in a live Q&A I asked Ryan for do’s and don’ts in cascade styling (at 8:41 minutes)- the one thing I took home from that discussion was that if it doesn’t have around 45 degrees or more of an angle it doesn’t really look nice as a cascade. Well, that poured some cold water on my design plan. As the picture above shows, the angle is near 20 degrees and it required laying the tree horizontally to have the trunk going down. By that time I had already cut all the branches I would not need. The next step in my plan was to bend the trunk a bit, wire the branches and that’s it for the time being. After hearing Ryan, I wondered if I could bend the trunk so much, I thought of using the tree to experiment with the wedge method for big bends but decided that I might kill the tree and still not achieve such a result. So I changed the plan and the result is in the picture below. It is perhaps too reminiscent of a traditional design but with two twists: 1. The tree is moving away and slightly to the left of the viewer then it arches forward at the top; 2. The apex asymmetric and going to the left. I think it reminds of a traditional design but has enough asymmetry to make it interesting.

Lessons learned:

  • Doing our homework (following the three concepts that Ryan sets down in the video) does not restrict your design options.
  • Once again, not having a drawing to overly prevent you from changing your mental plan is a benefit for me.
  • I feel that I worked with the tree and not against it.

Continuing challenges:

  • I still make wiring errors.
  • I find it especially difficult to wire branches full of needles all around. Any tips are welcome.

Lastly, I really feel like potting it right now as Ryan did with the noble fir but I doubt I would have the same “luck” that he had with a really small root mass. I am thinking of a round unglazed. Most likely I will wait until next spring, I don’t know.

All comments are welcome.



Under the suggestion of some members of the local clubs in facebook, I decided to try and lower a bit more the branches at their bases and it looks better. Picture to follow when I can a moment free.


I like the line of the tree. It has great movement. Branch placement feels spot on. I’d like to see progression in the branch angles at the trunk. Higher up the tree and higher up the branch. I’m not a fan of the tree leaning away from the viewer. Overall, a very nice tree.

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I lowered a bit the lower branches at the collar and it improved the design. I also like the tree going away, to me it gives a feeling of an eery distant tree.


Then I like it. :wink:

If you have a story, most rules can be broken. I forgot to look at something that bothers me and first ask if there is a story.


I love this thread! I hope we see more of these types of discussions on the forum. Good feedback form @BillsBayou and great job @rafi on being able to pivot from one plan to another and still execute a great looking tree!


My view of slanting trees (the trunk leaning in a noticeable direction), is that the branches on the left side using Rafi’s tree as a guide should be longer as they are somewhat protected from drying wind affect coming from the right. The trunk has been pushed to the left by wind coming from the right side - the explanation of the lean. Also the branches should be shorter on the windward (right) side because of the affects of drying wind. In my mind. the first branch on the right could be lowered and jinned and the first branch on the left also lowered and made the defining branch. Spruce trees have branches the hang quite low because of dense snow holding foliage.

Hi Rafi,
Did you do this work in the spring? Did it bleed a lot? There is a a nice blue spruce at a nursery I may buy today, but there are a fair amount of branches I need to take off completely. I have cut paste and I’d like to style it ASAP. I’ve heard autumn is the best time for hard pruning due to large fluid losses. How is the health of this tree? Thank you.

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Hi Fred,

I did that work in the winter of 2017 and it grew all year last year, I will repot this tree this spring once the ice/mulch mix around the pot loosens up - spring is staring only this week really here in Montreal. Just prior to bud breaking opens, is a good time to wire elongating species. It is also ok to remove branches and I would definitely protect the wounds for the sole purpose of preventing the loss of sap with all the resources stored over winter in the roots.

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Thanks Rafi! I read that wired spruce branches may die back over the spring and summer during active growth. The buds on my tree just barely opened. I cut a bunch off the tree. I’m a bit late, think I should wait on wiring?

I think you should be fine if you’re spot on with the technique. Ryan mentioned the timing on one of the videos about elongating species and he also mentioned that if by any chance you start seeing needles drop while you’re wiring, to use a spray bottle with water and spray the branches. Ryan mentions that this is particularly true for Ezo spruce. Picea pungent is a lot stronger and I doubt you will face this problem. I think what’s more crucial is that you be careful with the timing for unwiring as it bites in quite quickly, I missed on one of my spruces last year in the trunk and the tree died.

Thanks again, I appreciate the guidance.