Hackberry Collecting Goes Well – Weather Sucked

So we left home on Friday around noon to travel to North Mississippi, where I was meeting up with a friend to go Hackberry (Celtis laevigata) collecting.  It was almost 80° and sunny when we left.  300 miles later, the temperature was about 45° and it was overcast.  Next morning, it was 40° and raining.  Brrr!  Collecting is sorta like the Postal Service – neither rain nor hail, etc.  So off we went.  Here are some of the trees we got.

Here’s a neat stump I’m planning to hang onto for a few years and see what I can make of it.  The trunk base is 3″ above the root crown, and it’s chopped at 13″.  What’s really nice about this specimen is the warty bark, which Hackberries develop over time.  So it’s got some age going for it.









But it gets even better when you turn it around.  How about this nice shari from top to bottom?  There’s no way I can not make this a feature of the bonsai I’ll be developing from it.  It’s just too cool and natural.

The big flaw in this tree is the obvious lack of surface roots on the left side and in the back.  But not to worry, I can ground-layer roots where I need them.  That won’t happen until next year (assuming the tree survives collecting); stay tuned.









This is another very nice specimen I brought home.  This one has good surface rootage, and nice trunk movement and taper.  The base is 3.5″ above the root crown, and it’s chopped at 18″.  Very nice proportions in the making.














Here it is, all potted up snugly.
















There were a ton of small trees just begging to be made into forest plantings, so I brought a bunch of them home.  Here’s a tubful.

I should know in about four to six weeks if these trees will recover.  With a little luck I’ll be able to post some for sale in April.

For All You Timid Root-Pruners Out There

I regularly cause a lot of anxiety by how drastically I root-prune newly collected trees.  To be sure, it takes some courage to start really chopping on your deciduous trees the way they need to be, but once you figure out they don’t mind it does get a lot easier.

This Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) a client bought last fall, which surprised me the other day by starting to pop buds all over, is actually a different case in that it’s been container grown to size.  My bonsai friend and sometimes supplier Bill grew this tree from a young seedling, developing the trunk by the grow and chop method.  He did an awesome job of creating taper.

But the roots, man oh man, he actually got them to buttress in the growing container by keeping the tree’s roots submerged in water all the time.  It’s a technique I plan to try myself.  Notice how deep the growing container is.  And notice how the roots have burst through the container.  When I got it from Bill, he had the whole tree stuck in a 5-gallon bucket.  I knew I had a root-pruning job ahead of me.  With the tree popping buds, I had to take care of this today.



The first step was easy – just saw off what won’t be needed.  I went ahead and took it down to about how deep the eventual bonsai container will be.  There’s no point in leaving thick roots that will have to be chopped again down the road.













The rest of the container removed.  The roots have conformed themselves to the shape of the container.















Container-grown trees always produce coiling roots; in fact, you’ll see many container-grown trees, and Bald cypress is one of the worst, that have really horrible-looking roots owing to this phenomenon.  I believe that Bill’s technique of growing the tree in a very deep but not too wide container, and keeping it submerged, prevented this problem from happening.









Here’s the shot that is sure to make some folks cringe.  There’s just not much left of the root mass, now is there?  But this is all that’s needed.  If you’ll look closely at the third photo above, you’ll notice one very interesting fact: there are no nice fresh white feeder roots.  It’s not time for them to begin growing yet.  BCs push foliar growth first, whether on a newly collected tree or a container-grown tree.  Once the shoots start pushing, that’s when the new root growth begins.  This probably won’t happen for another couple of weeks.  But I’m taking advantage of the habits of the species to go ahead and do this necessary work now.






And finally, the tree in its new (temporary) home.  The pot is only a 3-gallon, but it’s plenty since no further trunk thickening or taper building is required.  All of the branch work can be done starting from here.

The base of this tree is 3.5″ across, 3.5″ above the soil surface.  It’s chopped at 22″, and should finish at about 28-30″.  The buttressing is very uncommon for a tree this size.

Let me know what you think.  And are you chopping your roots hard enough?

I’m Seeing BC Buds!

This winter has been pretty awful.  In addition to being colder than usual, it’s also been wetter than usual.  That does not make for a pleasant time.

Just over the past few days we’ve seen temperatures moderate a bit – and by that I mean it gets into the 60s during the day.  Everything’s still ugly, but if temps continue like this (and that’s the prediction) then certain species are likely to start swelling their buds.  The other day I noticed buds on an American elm I collected last month.  Bald cypress is absolutely one of the best at this.  I went out this evening to take a look at everything, and one of my cypresses from last fall I’m holding for a client has buds that are about to open!  These trees all come from south of here, and as I’ve mentioned before they often exhibit “memory” of where they came from.  What this means is, my very large cypresses in the yard that I planted 18 years ago will sit there for another month with no activity at all.  The collected trees from down south will be out by then and making shoots.  Very exciting!

In the meantime, here’s a fun thing to do.  Help me figure out the best front for this large BC.

Option #1

When I pot these specimens in plastic tubs, I always pick what I think is the best front.  Usually I get it right.  But not always.  In this case, you can’t argue with the nice movement in the trunk and the buttressing roots.  This is a really nicely buttressed BC, with great taper and character.







Option #2

When I was watering this evening, this view of the tree caught my eye.  It is more or less from the left rear corner of the tub as seen in photo 1.  Once again there’s beautiful buttressing and flaring.  In addition, this view has a broader surface spread than the first one.  I’m thinking that it makes a bigger visual impression this way.  So now I’m torn.

I’d love to know which front you prefer.  Leave me a comment below.

February Sucks, Styling Helps

Every August I think August is the suckiest month, then along comes February and I remember there are worse things than killer heat and humidity.  To help make February less sucky, there is some work that needs doing on trees being developed.  If you have some deciduous specimens that need wiring, this is a good time to do it.  You can see exactly what the structure of the tree looks like, and what needs to be done to make it better.  So don’t hesitate to get the wire out and go for it.

I collected this Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, in Winter 2017 and began training it into a flat-top specimen once it had some nice shoots going.  Last September I slip-potted it into this Byron Myrick oval.  I think the tree looked pretty impressive considering how quickly this whole process happened.  But of course there was plenty of work left to do.












The tree has been bare for about a month and a half now, and you can clearly see in this photo that it’s just beginning its journey as a bonsai.  I’ve got some primary and secondary branching, and that’s about it.  But in 2018 this branching is going to grow quickly and strong, and I’ll need to be sure to keep it in check.  Cypress shoots, especially apical shoots, thicken amazingly fast.

For today, though, wiring out these branches is going to help further establish the design I have in mind.










This work took about 20 minutes.  I’ve got wire on just about every branch that will make it through winter (the smallest, thinnest BC shoots tend to die off over winter; this is normal).  And I’ve positioned all of the branches in order to continue development of the tree’s structure.

I anticipate that this bonsai will be showable by fall.  It certainly should be fully developed by the end of the 2019 growing season.  Although I had planned to train it through 2018 and then offer it for sale, it’s time to free up some bench space so I’ve gone ahead and posted it for sale at our Available Bonsai and  Bald Cypress Bonsai pages.


Hornbeam Harvest Part 2

I made a collecting trip with a new bonsai friend today, and we got some really nice American hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana).  Among the nicknames for the species is “Musclewood.”  This is because as it matures the trunk of a hornbeam will produce sinewy-looking ridges that run vertically along and sometime around the trunk.

Here’s the biggest specimen I got today.  The trunk base is 4.5″ at soil level, and it’s 18″ to the chop on the main trunk.  As you can see, it’s a twin-trunk with the two trunks really snugged together.  I have a vision for it, so once it comes out I’ll get to work and see if my idea is going to work.

Aren’t the roots terrific?  The muscling on this specimen is subtle but there.  You can even see it on the small branch stub I left.








This is the best specimen I got today.  The trunk base is 4″, and it’s 19″ to the chop.  There was a secondary trunk growing in back, and I went ahead and cut it off.  The trunk will need carving there, but that will only enhance the character.

The muscling is much more prominent on this one.  And the radial roots are awesome.











I love the movement, muscling and character of this specimen.  It’s smaller than the other two, with a trunk base of 2″, but the roots are still great and if you’re looking for a smaller American hornbeam that has great trunk character, you’d be hard-pressed to do better.

This one is chopped at 16″.  It might could stand to be chopped another 4″ or so.  That’s something I can decide later.

Let me know what you think.  These trees should be budding in about eight weeks.

Hornbeam And Huckleberry Trunks

I posted a blog a couple of weeks ago about new American hornbeam and Huckleberry specimens I’d collected.  That post disappeared when we changed hosting services.  I don’t feel like trying to recreate that blog, so here’s a replacement to show you a few nice trees that will hopefully survive lifting and come available in about two months.

Here’s a nice smaller hornbeam specimen (1.5″ base on the main trunk).  It’s actually a triple-trunk.  The main trunk has really nice taper and movement.  The two smaller trunks are proportionately smaller, which is just what you want, so I think this could make a terrific multi-trunk bonsai in just a few years.






Continuing the theme of multi-trunk bonsai-to-be, this hornbeam is a very elegant twin-trunk.  Think of them as “close companions.”  Most twin-trunks don’t feature the trunks quite so close together.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this one looks once it’s designed.  With a base of 1.75″, it’s a good size also.









This hornbeam also has a 1.75″ trunk, and really great trunk character.  I chopped the trunk to a smaller branch that was growing straight up.  It’s not quite a formal upright, but it’s definitely an upright specimen and the height should be emphasized when it’s designed.













This Huckleberry has a pretty stout trunk, 1.75″ at the base, and also good taper.  It should produce a decent number of trunk buds, which will allow for good design choices.










This specimen is smaller than the one above, 1.25″ at the base, but really nice character and I was able to chop to a smaller trunk (which I left too long, but you can always chop more).  That makes for really good taper.  It’s currently 9″ from soil to apex, so when it gets chopped and then grown into a bonsai the finished height could well be less than 12″.  I’m really fond of shohin bonsai.  How about you?


More Great BC Material – Collecting Trip 3

The weather was dodgy today, meaning we had a torrential downpour all across South Louisiana.  We did have the good fortune to be able to collect a few nice trees before the sky really opened up, however.  Here are a few photos to give you an idea of how we did.

This is the biggest tree we got today, and probably the most unusual.  Out in the wild, Cypresses tend to grow with very straight trunks that sometimes feature just a little movement.  This particular specimen evidently had something happen to it when it was much younger, and it subsequently righted itself which produced a neat curve in the trunk.










The tree looks good from either side.  I’m thinking this may be the better front.  What’s your preference?

The trunk is 6″ across 6″ above the soil surface, and it’s 27″ to the chop. This is going to be a powerful Bald cypress bonsai.












How about a formal upright BC?  I collected this one because of the terrific fluting and buttressing all around.  It’s a classic specimen BC.  The trunk is 5″ 5″ above the soil, and it’s chopped at 24″.
















This is probably my favorite from today’s group.  The trunk is 4″, and it’s chopped at 25″, but I just love the buttressing roots, fluting, trunk movement, and taper.  I see a very nice informal upright Bald cypress bonsai with this one.  I think I’ll hold it for training.

Our BC stock is growing for 2018.  I’m planning two or three more trips, so I should have something for everyone who’s contacted us.  Stay tuned.

I’d Like Your Opinion On This

After posting yesterday’s blog, a reader commented that I should include a standard reference object in order to make it easier to gauge the size of certain trees.  Here’s a photo of the really big two-tree Bald cypress specimen I showed you yesterday:

I’ve never done this before though I have seen other vendors do it, so I’m wondering what you think.  The Swamp Pop bottle measures 2.25″ in diameter at the base.  The larger of the two trees measures 7″ across 7″ above the soil surface.  Does the bottle help put it into perspective?

Great Bald Cypress Material – Collecting Trip 2

So, four days ago we had a couple of inches of snow here, and temperatures around 15°F for a couple of nights.  Today it was 60°.  That could only mean one thing: go collect more Bald cypress!

Here’s today’s haul.  I focused on larger specimens today, which means I looked for good buttressing.  It’s the classic BC look, after all.








This may be the show-stopper for the day, another of my famous “natural companion” Bald cypress bonsai-to-be.  The larger of these specimens has a 7″ trunk (7″ above the soil level) and is 33″ tall.  The smaller one has a 4″ trunk.  While they are not connected at the base, their roots are intertwined and they didn’t separate as I cleaned them up, so the only conclusion I can draw is that they’re meant for each other.












Here’s another cool specimen.  The trunk is 4″ 4″ above the soil level, and it’s chopped at 24″.  Aren’t the roots terrific?  A little different than usual.
















I’m really excited about this one.  The trunk is 5″ 5″ above the soil, and it’s 29.5″ to the chop.  It’s deeply fluted and the trunk has beautiful movement.  I’m planning to hang onto this one for a few seasons and train it as a flat-top.  It’s going to make a great impression when it’s done.














My heart skipped a beat when I saw this tree.  It’s got a knee coming off one of the radial roots, and a really nice one at that.  What’s fascinating about this is the fact that the trunk of this tree is only 3.5″ above the root crown.  It’s also got subtle fluting, and lots of radial roots that can be exposed when it gets to a bonsai pot.

This is just a killer Bald cypress (maybe it’s the show-stopper of the day).  The trunk is chopped at 26″, and I think a flat-top will accentuate the knee better than a more traditional upright style.

Let me know what you think of today’s catch.  I’m really excited about them.

The 2018 Bonsai South Survey Results

Thanks to everyone who responded to our 2018 Bonsai South survey.  The response was very good, and we learned a lot.  Here are the results.

Q1: Do you plan to get more trees, end up with fewer trees, edit what you have, or upgrade your collection?

It looks like a quarter of you plan to edit your collection in 2018, which I take to mean you want to thin the herd.  For everyone else, it’s either more trees or better quality trees.  I don’t think this was a surprising result.

Q2: What is your number one goal in 2018 to improve your technique?

Most of you plan to get better at bonsai in 2018 by leaning online.  I personally think this is a great way to see what others are doing and how they’re doing it.


Q3: What specialized bonsai technique would you like to learn in 2018?

I wasn’t surprised by this response.  Why?  Well, when you think about the trees you end up working on, how many come with perfect nebari?  Not that many.  But as I always say, you can make roots a lot easier than you can make an old trunk with great character.  So this technique is sure to improve your trees.

Q4: What is your biggest weakness in bonsai?

I was not surprised to see so many answer artistic design.  This is one of the biggest challenges in bonsai, and even experienced artists have their struggles from time to time.  Can artistic design be learned?  I firmly believe the answer is yes, and that the key lies in learning certain rules and techniques and practicing them over and over.

I was surprised to see how many folks find pinching and pruning to be a challenge.  This is an area I’ll work hard to blog more on this year.

Q5: Where do you get your trees?

This mainly falls in the category “a little of this and a little of that.”  No surprise here.



Q6: How do you like your raw material?

Once again most of you like a combination of starts, from really raw material to semi-trained trees.


Q7: When you buy, what are you looking for from your bonsai nursery?

Highly quality material at fair prices wins out!



Q8: What would you like Bonsai South to do better in 2018?

Bigger selection and videos!  All I can tell you is, I’ll work really hard to make sure both of these things happen in 2018.  The videography will be the bigger challenge, but it’s been on my mind for quite a while now.  So we’ll see what we can do for you.