American Hornbeam – Quick Progression

Hornbeam6-18-16-1I’ve written at length about American Hornbeam, Carpinus Caroliniana.  It’s one of my favorite species for bonsai, and one of my five best bonsai trees for beginners.  The tree shown here, collected in January 2015, was potted this June.  There’s a lot of character in this small tree.  The trunk has movement and taper.  And while it doesn’t fit the standard “mold” for informal upright bonsai, I think it makes its own statement.






One of the best things about American Hornbeam is its habit of growing all season long.  And I don’t mean it has periodic flushes of growth throughout the season – it literally has new growth on it all the time.  As you might expect, this makes for much faster development than for many species, and must faster ramification.  The leaves also reduce in size very quickly.  In this photo, I’ve taken off the larger leaves to encourage new growth and smaller leaves.  The tree responded as expected.







And just two weeks later, this tree has taken a big step toward becoming a true American Hornbeam bonsai.  From the first photo above, this represents a total of five weeks’ work.  The leaves are much more plentiful now, and no more than half the size of the original set.  With diligent pinching, I should have a very full set of foliage by the end of the growing season.  What’s more, the small twigs on American Hornbeam persist through winter.  This means I won’t lose any progress in terms of ramification between now and the 2017 season.

If you haven’t tried our native hornbeam, you’re really missing out.  It’s hardy to Zone 3, is easy to grow and has wonderful characteristics.  The trunks of older specimens become “muscled.”  Almost any style (except for the deadwood styles) works just fine.  They aren’t fussy about watering as long as they stay somewhat moist, and are seldom bothered by pests or diseases.

This specimen is a shohin bonsai, only 10″ tall, and is available at our Hornbeam Bonsai page.


How To Make Bonsai Lemonade – Part 3

As I’ve written on at least a couple of occasions, sometimes our best intentions when collecting or working on trees just don’t pan out.  Sometimes a tree will die, but just as often a tree may die only partly.  You can’t always make something out of these unfortunates, but then again sometimes you can.

Water-elm7-24-16-1A couple of years ago I collecting this Water-elm, Planera aquatica.  It started re-budding within a week … at which point I knew it probably wouldn’t make it.  As a general rule, at least for Water-elms, if the collected trees starts budding out a week after you collect it it ends up dying.  Two to three weeks after collection is a good sign.  In the case of this tree, I fully expected it to die.  However, it actually put out new growth down the trunk (in more places than you see here), so I kept it watered and ignored it.

Here we are two years later, and part of this tree wants to live.  Ordinarily you’d look at what’s here and think, “No way anything will come of it.”  So did I, actually.  But it was easier to ignore the tree than to unceremoniously pull it from the pot and toss it, so I left it alone.

Fast-forward to 2016, and the tree has put on a four foot-long shoot.  What’s not alive on this specimen is rotting away.  But there’s a definite clinging to life, so I couldn’t help but think “Maybe I can make something out of it.”

Water-elm7-24-16-2In this photo, you can see more clearly the living vein of wood that’s sustaining the nice little clump of shoots (five, to be exact; I’m liking that prospect).  The next order of business will be to cut away all the dead wood.  I need to get down to the lemonade in this lemon.








First went the upper trunk; all dead and rotting away.











Now I split off the wood surrounWater-elm7-24-16-5ding the live vein.











Just about all the dead wood has been cut away in this photo.  Although it looks like I could make an upright bonsai out of this remaining material, I’ve got other plans.










First, here’s the root mass associated with this tree.  Not bad considering most of the tree died!  Now, on to the “finished” product.









I thought that using a stone might be the best way to showcase this survivor.  As for the stone, it’s actually a fossil.  Over 20 years ago my daughter and I, while creek-walking near our home, stumbled across a number of pieces of petrified palm wood.  I still have a good bit of it.  While it’s not the sturdiest petrified wood you’ll ever run across, certain pieces of it are fairly tough.  For this tree, I was able to make use of a lengthier piece of the stone.  I draped some roots over and into the soil, and covered most of the exposed root with moss to keep it from drying out.  Only time will tell if the roots decide to grab hold of the stone.

I also need to do considerable work to the three branches I left on the live vein from above, which now forms the main trunk of this tree.  But that’s for another time.  For now, I’ll just feed and water this unusual Water-elm landscape planting.

I’d love to hear any feedback you might have.  Just leave a comment below.

Dragon – A Quick Update

Water-elm7-17-16-3This monster Water-elm, Planera aquatica, named Dragon, has really outdone itself this growing season.  Certainly the size of the tree and the growing room it has have contributed to this rampant growth.  The shoots are by no means at their ultimate desired thickness, but I’ve got a good start and I need to bring them back in so I can build taper.  You’ll recall I completely wired this tree earlier in the spring, then had to unwire it in stages as the growing branches started binding.  It’s now in need of cutting back.







A few strategic snips later, here’s all that’s left.  The only branch I haven’t taken way back is the lowest back branch, which hasn’t thickened enough yet to be pruned.  I suspect it’ll get there by fall.  Between now and then, I’ll get ferocious back-budding on these branches (you can see I’ve left leaves in place to protect dormant buds in the leaf axils) and will certainly have to do some additional trimming.  I’ll post an update later in the season.

Another Cypress Gets Defoliated

Cypress2-21-15-1We started following the tale of this Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, in early 2015.  This is a big cypress with the classic fluting, in this case fluting that runs high on the trunk.  These trees really make a statement!








Here we are, just under 18 months later.  Are BC strong trees or what?  This growth is typical of newly collected cypresses, which are powerfully apically dominant.  This tree wants to be 20 feet tall again, no matter what it takes.

For the purposes of bonsai, however, I can’t let that happen.  So this is the perfect time to get into the tree’s structure and see what I’ve got, and see what I can make of it.










If your cypress is strong you can defoliate it in July (assuming you live in the South).  This gives the tree plenty of time to put on a new, fresh set of foliage in time for fall.  It also greatly facilitates wiring and shaping the tree.  Here you can see some wire I had put on last year, when the tree was first coming out.  Now I’ve got a lot more branches to work with – too many, in fact, so it’s time to edit, wire and shape.










Now I’ve got my basic branch set for this future bonsai.  Because the tree was trying desperately to grow taller, the branches in the body of the tree are relatively thin.  This is typical, and you as the bonsai artist must overcome it.  This is done by balancing the growth of the tree.  The apex is going to do fine without any coaxing; the trick is to not let new buds and shoots take hold in the crown and launch themselves skyward.  The tree will keep on trying, so I’ll come in and remove buds as needed to keep the energy in the lower part of the tree.

This specimen has a trunk that’s about 6″ across 6″ above the soil surface.  The root spread is in excess of 15″.  The height to the chop is 28″, and I anticipate the finished height of the bonsai will be 38-40″.

What do you think of this tree?  I’ve love to hear any comments.

Bald Cypress – Help Me Find The Front

Cypress7-14-16-1Last week I posted the latest work on this Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum.  I defoliated and moved it from the growing tub I had it in – because last year it suffered with chlorosis and needed some nursing – back into its wonderful Chuck Iker home.  This is the result of last week’s work.

The other day I was walking among the benches and happened to look at this tree from a different angle.  I was struck with how terrific the trunk base looked from what was essentially the back of the tree.  So I got to thinking, “Did I pick the right front when I started out?”  So I turned it and have been studying it for the past few days.  I’m still not sure, but I think I may have found a better front for the tree.  But I’d like to hear from you.  Here are two alternative fronts:


This view really shows off what has been the back of the tree, but which can easily become the front.  In addition to the really substantial base, the curve of the trunk is nicer.  Also, the “shoulder” bump that makes this tree unique really stands out.











Here’s a third option, where the tree has been turned slightly from the above view.  The curve of the trunk is somewhat muted in this arrangement, and I’m not sure I like the way the base looks as well either.  But it’s certainly a viable option.

So what’s your take?  Please leave me a comment and let me know which of the three fronts you prefer.

A Couple Of Bonsai Updated – The Crape Myrtle Blooms

Crapemyrtle7-12-16-1I promised I’d post an updated photo of this Crape myrtle bonsai, Lagerstroemia indica, when it came into bloom.  I love all varieties of Crape myrtle, even the standard purple as in this specimen.  There’s a challenge in getting your Crape myrtle bonsai to bloom while the tree retains its design.  This is because the blooms occur on the current year’s growth, and pinching or pruning back the new growth to maintain the bonsai’s shape will kill that whole idea.  Ideally, you do a relatively hard pruning in early summer which allows the new shoots to grow on out and bloom without causing too much trouble for the overall design.  It’s not guaranteed that you’ll get this to work out, but you can at least come close.  In the case of this tree, I did some wiring and put curvature into the new shoots that set flower buds.  This allowed me to bring the profile back in close to where it belonged.  You may want to give this technique a try if you’ve got a Crape you want to see bloom.


This American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, got its first bonsai pot a couple of weeks ago.  It started pushing new growth this past weekend, at which time I removed the largest leaves in order to get a smaller, fresher crop.  I also tried turning the tree around, and I think I like this front better.  What do you think?

Both of these trees are available for sale, so if one (or both) strikes your fancy just visit our Miscellaneous Bonsai page or our Hornbeam Bonsai page.

Bald Cypress Defoliation, Wiring And Potting

Cypress7-6-14-2Last year this Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, suffered a bout of chlorosis.  This is a condition that isn’t predictable or readily explainable – the causes are well enough known, but you can have a single specimen on your benches suffer under the same growing conditions as others that do not exhibit any symptoms at all.

I removed the tree from its bonsai pot and placed it in a growing tub, and treated it with Ironite®.  I was able to see improvement within a month or so.  I left the tree alone, just watering and feeding as normal, through the remainder of the 2015 growing season.



This year the tree grew like crazy, with no sign of chlorosis.  As you can see, however, we’ve reached that point in the year where lack of air circulation and heat can cause the foliage in the interior of your trees to die.  While this doesn’t affect the health of the cypress long-term, it’s unattractive and serves no useful purpose to the tree.

July is the perfect time to defoliate healthy bald cypresses.  Though this tree suffered with chlorosis last year, I judged by the look of the growth this spring that the problem was behind me and it was okay to go ahead and defoliate.  I also decided to push the envelope a bit, and put the tree back in its lovely Chuck Iker home.





This shot makes it easy to see how much growth the tree has put on!  If you compare this photo with the first one, it’s clear how well it’s developing.  This is especially evident in the progress I’m getting in the crown.  The grow and chop process works beautifully, provided you take the time to fully execute it.











Here’s a close-up of the apex.  You can see how far it’s come.  I’ve grown and chopped it three times before today, and now it’s time for round four.










The tree is wired out now.  Notice how well the branch development is coming along – I’m getting ramification and the branches have thickened up nicely.  There’s more to do, of course, but the right techniques properly executed will complete the development of this bonsai.










And finally, the tree back in its pot.  The trunk measures 5″ in diameter 4″ above the soil surface.  It’s currently 32″ to the tip of the leader.  The finished height will most likely be 30-32″.

I should have new growth in two weeks, assuming the tree doesn’t object too much to the treatment it got today.  The foliage will be fresh and green, which will allow me to show it in the fall.

I’d love any feedback you might want to share on this bonsai.

Water-Elm Collecting – Summer 2016

There’s nothing quite like collecting trees during a heat advisory.  This is where it’s over 80° at daybreak and only gets worse from there.

Alas, this is the time of year when it’s best to collect Water-elms (Planera aquatica), so you pretty much have to forge on through the heat, no pun intended.

We did well regardless, and here are a few examples that I hope will survive collecting.

Water-elm7-9-16-3Here’s a nice informal upright specimen.  The trunk base is 2.5″ in diameter, and it’s chopped at 12″.













I love the trunk movement of this one.  It splits off pretty low, so I kept both trunks.  This is going to make a super bonsai.  The trunk base on this one is 3″, and it’s 13″ to the tallest chop.










This is the hunky masculine winner for this trip.  The trunk is 3.5″ and it’s 14″ to the top chop.  I see an awesome broom-form specimen with this one.

All of these trees have terrific radial roots which have been cut back enough for their ultimate bonsai pot.  In two weeks I should be seeing new buds if they come through all right.

If you don’t have a water-elm bonsai in your collection I highly recommend the species.  They have beautiful glossy dark green foliage that reduces without any effort on your part, they ramify well and you can literally go from a collected trunk to a showable tree in three years.  The bark exfoliates every few years on older specimens, which is another nice feature.  They are not much bothered by pests and diseases, and you can’t overwater them as they can spend months completely submerged in the wild.  There’s really nothing not to like about water-elms.

Exposed-Root Style Bonsai

I don’t often grow exposed-root style bonsai – also known as neagari to the Japanese – but when I run across a specimen that lends itself to the style it’s hard to say no.  While you probably wouldn’t want a whole bench full of nearagi, one or two can make a cool addition to any collection.

Crapemyrtle4-16-16You’ve been watching this Crape myrtle, Lagerstoemia indica, since I potted it in April of this year.  Here’s a quick progression:


























This last photo, just three months after the initial potting, shows how quickly a Crape myrtle will grow.  “Weed-like” is a good way to put it.  Plus … take a close look at this tree and you’ll see flower buds about to open.  I’ll post a photo later this week when it comes into bloom.





Here’s another neagari, this time a Twisted Pomegranate, Punica granatum Nejikan.  This one has a story attached to it.  Back in 2012 I made a trip to the Los Angeles area, and while I was there I visited my (then new) friend and fellow bonsai nurseryman Bob Pressler.  We had a nice visit, and before I left he asked if I could send him some bald cypress seeds.  That was certainly not a problem, as I have access to plenty.  So I mailed off a dozen or more cones to him.  In return he sent me a few plants, among which were two Twisted Pomegranates.  I potted them up in cut-down 3-gallon nursery pots and more or less neglected them.  Winter 2014 killed one, so that left me with this specimen.

This past spring I brought the tree to the Louisiana Bonsai Society’s Spring Show.  I had been asked to do the Saturday demonstration, and had a couple of pieces of nursery stock to work on.  At the end of the demo, I wanted to illustrate how much you can hack back the root system of a tree and have it survive.  To say that going from a 3-gallon nursery pot to this shallow 6″ Chuck Iker round amazed the observers is an understatement!

But here’s the really interesting part.  I brought the tree home and set it on the bench, where it could get watered but otherwise famously neglected.  I mean, I really beat up on the poor thing at the show.  Then I waited.  And waited.  And … waited.  Two weeks went by.  Nothing.  Three weeks.  Nothing.  Four …  Five …  Six.  I had just about given up (and resolved to being chagrined at the next club meeting) when one day I was passing it on the bench and thought I noticed a tiny bit of red.  Upon closer inspection, I saw it was a bud!  Sure enough, this little guy had defied all the cutting and recovered.

I really love the exposed roots on this one.  Though it’s a small specimen, with a trunk base of only 1″, I think it’s developing into a pretty cool little bonsai.

I’m working on propagating this species, and hopefully will be able to offer some in the coming years.

“Two-Fer” Initial Styling

Yesterday I posted some work I did on a nice collected Water-elm, Planera aquatica, that couldn’t work as a single bonsai.  I basically sliced through the connected root, producing a twin-trunk specimen and a three-trunk raft.  Today I did an initial styling on both.  Here are the before and after photos of each:













I like all of the trees I style, but from time to time one comes along that really grabs me.  This is one of those trees.  It’s certainly not a huge specimen, the trunk base is 2″ and it’ll finish at 16″, but it’s just got that special something (at least for me).  The Byron Myrick oval really complements this tree nicely.



















This one required a good trimming to get the design started.  The largest trunk had suffered some dieback, so I wired up a new leader and will let it run without any trimming for the remainder of the growing season.  By next year I’ll have a nice “Three Amigo” raft-style bonsai or maybe something bigger depending on what I run across.