Red Spruce (Picea Rubens) Advice

Hey there,

Recently picked up this collected Adirondack Spruce (Red Spruce, Picea Rubens) in Maine. I’ve never worked with spruce but as guitarist am very excited to work with this specific species that is used on high end guitar tops.

I really like the nebari and the slight curve at the bottom right above it. I’m curious what you guys would advise for scope of work this winter and then spring.

Would you bend this more up top further? Or continue growing out, as the middle to top of the trunk is quite narrow and immature looking compared to the base.

I plan to repot this coming spring into a 1:1:1 mix of akadama pumice and lava.

Anyone who has worked with these do they take well to being topped?

All advice for this species and comments are welcome and appreciated. For reference I’ve only worked with coastal and dawn redwoods as formal upright and feel this will be a different beast.

Best regards,

  • Pat
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In my opinion, the very strong bends at the bottom are not in good agreement with the long straight trunk above. As a result, I don’t think it will make a very good formal upright, at least not until the lower trunk thickens enough to hide the bends (50-100 years from now). I would look at a combination of cutting back very hard and adding some more bends to create an informal upright. Yes, you lose the long trunk, but you gain much thicker trunk for the height of the tree. It may even be possible to airlayer the long straight trunk above the desired cut point to get a formal upright. A quick search indicates that it is possible, but tricky.


Thanks for the feedback. I agree the bend and nebari are good on their own but with such a lanky straight top it almost feels disconnected.

I’m hesitant to top as I’m new to this species but will dig around as it’s gonna have to happen.

Check this one out for inspiration mainly esp @ around 1:39:00 when he starts talking about potential design of a ‘christmas tree’ - thinking outside of the box which your tree is clearly telling you with that funky business on the nebari.
But also maybe Ryan mentioned some horticultural knowledge there for other than spruce he worked on in the stream so worth to watch anyway. Otherwise get some good info on your type before you plan any design :slight_smile:

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Thanks I will check this live out and take some notes!

@CoffeeCherry any chance can you provide the name of the video? The link only brings me mirai live home page.

Oh I’m sorry, it is Nursery Stock Holiday creation or something like that. Christmas tree with red ribbon - hard to miss :slight_smile:

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Thanks! I’ll give it a watch.

I have a handful of these but are all still recovering. Any early insights, curious how the the 1;1;1 worked out because I was thinking of going with a 2:1:1 or 3:1:1 mainly because of the high organic duff I see them growing in? I plan to check out the Christmas tree (red ribbon) video, any other videos you found helpful?

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Hey NEbeech

I actually haven’t repotted this one as of yet. Currently it’s in a mix of potting soil and grit and seems to be thriving. I have several white spruce in 80% grit, the rest is pine bark fines. This is how I received them. The particle size is well below 1/4” so they retain moisture more than I’d like in truth.

I’m not sure of your location but I’m in the northeast US. Our summers and fall stay fairly humid so I’m leaning toward the 1:1:1 mix personally to ensure I can get a good dry down between waterings. I work from home so I can water as often as they need, ymmv.

I see a lot of these growing in Acadia national park and agree they are typically found in a high organic content soil. Though I’m the container I’m not sure that would be best.

With the exception of July and August my pots stay moist for the majority of the year without too much effort thus why I’m leaning toward 1:1:1 with a touch of high quality potting soil. When the time comes (probably this spring) I will let you know how it takes to it.

Thanks I’m in the Northeast, just outside (south) of Boston. I am actually not even 100% sure mine is a red spruce it’s the best guess me and Google image searching came up with…I originally thought it was a balsm but if anyone can ID please help!


@NEBeech I would agree with that being a red spruce. On trees that I am unsure with I like to use a plant ID app like “PictureThis” now they can be hit and miss and normally give you 3 or 4 options on what it could be. Normally I will then do like 3 photos with a combination of foliage, bark, and cones if it has any and if I get the same tree for an option everytime you can be pretty confident it is that tree sometimes you will get the same 2 each time then juat gotta do a little research on differences bewteen them to figure it out.

@_semper my thoughts on your tree and if you are leaning towards an informal upright or depending on planting angle you might be able to do a slanted design. But for informal I would think about cutting part of the top off around that area about 1/2 to 2/3 up the tree where their is a little gap in branching, and let one of those branches take over for a new apex that will also give a little bit more curve in your trunk line, but should still give the trunk another bend or 2. 1 longer shallower bend might work well to complement the sharp bend near the base. Just make sure you dont give it right in dead middle of the trunk’s height.

Heres a very rough mock being red line for cutting top off green arrow bring branch up to make new primary trunk to apex, and brown line of trunk bend.

@DonaldK -thanks thats reassuring because thats basically my protocol at this point

Have you made a decision. Of style and or repotted as of yet . Im very confident it is a red spruce . Considering the base movement . Which is fairly rare in such a apical dominant . Normally vertical tree . The movement plus the youth of the tree .opens the door for more aggressive options . Consider not topping the tree . For trunk girth purposes . And radically bending the trunk . Slant style . Windswept style . Are possible easily . Personally get the big wire out . There is the makings of a nice semi cascade or even a full cascade . Even consider replanting it . On its side . A young straight spruce can be found in every nursery . That lower trunk can not

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@Frozentreehugger I’ll be re-potting to a larger training pot this spring using a 1:1:1 mix w/ a little high quality potting soil.

My overall focus design wise is to plant it slanted (as if it’s growing out of the side of a cliff) it’s been the only constant idea I’ve had for this tree. Will add some gentle bends throughout the trunk to introduce some more movement, and letting it grow a bit in hopes of some trunk thickening. I can always top it back harder in another couple of years. Once I do, there’s no going back so I think it’s better to wait. I appreciate everyone’s feedback here including yours.

I hear that these can grow quite quickly in full-sun. I’ll keep pinching the spring growth back in hopes of keeping the foliage closer to the trunk than I commonly see on most spruce examples. I’ll try and update here after the repot, and then again at the end of the growing season.

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Good plan . It’s very easy to overwork spruce . The golden rule is one insult at a time . If you repot no bending or trimming until recovered . Is best approach. Tree of the cool forest beware of overheating the roots in full sun . In 7a

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Thanks for the tip about over working these. I usually work with Dawn Redwood and Coast Redwood and those seem to have an insane tolerance for manipulation in a given growing season.

It’s good to know Spruce won’t be so forgiving.

I’m no expert like all of us I am here to learn. I was told the 1 insult a season about spruce . And it’s served me well . Any spruce failure I have heard about . With no obvious reason . Was worked and repotted in one go . Might have questions for you . Am thinking about trying Dawn Redwood . In future . Only one that’s cold hardy enough USDA zone 4 here . Just south of Ottawa Ont Canada