I recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend of study with Todd Schlafer in Denver, CO. Todd is the proprietor of First Branch Bonsai. Most of the material Todd offers is yamadori from the region, including Ponderosa Pine, Limber Pine, Rocky Mountain Juniper and both Engleman and Colorado Blue Spruce. Not only does Todd collect fine yamadori from the Rocky Mountains, but he is also a skilled bonsai artist.
Our first day was spent re-styling a Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir that I purchased from Todd in 2012. He collected the tree outside of Denver and performed the initial design. We first thinned the needles to create space for wiring, which is generally done in moderation on an annual basis in order to keep the tree strong and vigorous. Any needles abnormal in length, growing on the top or bottom of the branches or isolated along the branch are removed. Clusters of needles are maintained along the branch that will not interfere with wiring.
To encourage back budding on the tree, I did pinch the terminal bud in the spring on branches with multiple buds at the apex of the branch. This proved to be very successful in generating back budding this year, even from areas with no needles. This same concept can also be applied to Fir in the fall. This coming spring, I will not pinch any buds to allow for uniform growth and foliage size. I should note that this year I consistently fed the tree with an abundance of organic fertilizer cakes.
Here is an example of the buds that form at the apex of a healthy branch...
The front of the tree did change slightly, so I’ll be transplanting this tree come spring. I’m considering a rectangle (unglazed gray) that is slightly shallower and wider than the oval it’s currently planted in.
Here is the tree in July of last year. It was left to grow freely in the spring.
And a year later after styling...