Hawthorn Gets New Home. Nice!

If you’ve spent any time browsing through our site, you’ve seen my awesome Riverflat hawthorn (Crataegus opaca).  After several years, this tree is really well developed and frankly is one of my all-time favorites.

One thing I’ve come to realize over the past year is that given the tree’s development, it’s outgrown the pot it’s in.  I love the pot, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a beautiful Paul Katich piece.  But it’s just too small for this tree.  I love the spread of the tree, which I think reflects the species well, so I don’t want to take it in too far.  So the way to solve the problem is, get a bigger pot.


Byron Myrick is one of my go-to guys for custom pots.  Here’s the piece he made for me.



I put a layer of prepared bonsai soil in the bottom of the pot, then pulled the tree and set it in.  The size couldn’t be better suited!










Tied down, filled in and watered.  I think this Riverflat hawthorn has found its new home!


How To Fix Problems When They Happen (For They Will)

As you know by now, we had an unexpectedly cold winter that included two snowfalls that accumulated (inches, which for us is unheard of) and temps of 15F on three separate occasions.  For those of you up north, this is probably balmy spring weather, but down here the trees don’t like it a lot.  Everything goes on the ground, of course, but there can still be problems.

I potted this nice little Crabapple, Malus sp., last summer.  It did well and seemed fine going into winter.  Due to the harshness of the winter it lost a couple of small branches, as well as the leader and a small section at the top of the tree.  Is this a problem?  You bet.  Problems happen in bonsai, despite our best efforts.  So what do you do?  You fix them, of course.






Here’s another view of the tree.  In this shot it’s easy to see the dead leader and branches down along the trunk.  I need to unwire the tree, then remove the dead stuff, and then rebuild the design of the tree.  You will eventually be faced with this same problem, on many occasions.  But that’s okay.  Designing bonsai is fun, and so is redesigning them.








In this photo the tree is unwired.  You will be doing a lot of unwiring (if you use anodized aluminum wire).  It’s tedious, but it’s a big part of bonsai.







Here I’ve removed all of the dead stuff, and chopped that dead section off the top of the tree.













What do you do next?  You make that angle cut.  It was good to see green at the base of the angle cut; that means the trunk is alive in that area.  Will it die back more?  There’s certainly that possibility.  But allowing the leader to run will enhance the strength of that area, so for that reason plus the need to thicken the transition point I won’t do anything to it for months (if at all this season).







Here I’ve wired and positioned my new leader.












More wire, more positioning.












Here’s a closeup of the back of the tree.  There are small shoots that I need to let run for a while.  In time I’ll wire and position them, in order to fill out the design.







The final shot for today.  There will be more changes to this tree as it grows back out, but for now it’s got a workable design.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

Let me know what you think of this tree.

Spring Work – Potting And Repotting

The beat goes on.  As I mentioned yesterday, spring is the time when you need to do all sorts of things all at once.  One of those things is potting.  Another, related, is repotting.  Here are today’s subjects.

Here’s my Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, that you can learn more about on its Progression page.  Last fall, I decided that this view of the tree didn’t really show it off to best advantage.  I liked the one below better.








Better trunk movement, better tapering transition, all in all just better.  Today it was time to turn it in the pot.









I took off only enough root to fit the tree in the pot, including a small amount at the bottom of the root mass to allow for a little drainage layer (till the roots grow down into that area, of course).  The tree won’t mind this at all.







Tied down and filled in with fresh soil.  As you may be able to see, the tree is leafing out.  I prefer to do my work on Chinese elms when the buds are swelling, not in the dead of winter.  I also lift them from the growing beds at this time.







I always like showing this photo of the tree from August of 2014.  You can accomplish a lot in three and a half years!











I showed you this pair of Bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum) last year.  They seemed to go pretty well together, so I decided to make a planting with them.













I happened to have this antique Tokoname tray on the shelf, and I thought it would complement these two trees very well.

A good bit of root had to go, in order to fit these two trees into the tray properly.  I also took off a lot of the upper parts of the trees.  That should help balance things.

Here they are, placed in the tray.













And the tray filled in with soil.  These trees are already budding, and I don’t anticipate potting them will delay their growth too much.  In a couple of weeks, they should be filled out pretty well.

Spring Work – Parsley Hawthorn

Spring is upon us, and that means a lot of things need to happen all at once and quickly.  This includes developmental work on trees collected in prior years.  The Parsley hawthorn below (Crataegus marshallii) is a case in point.

I treated this specimen as I do everything I collect.  The trunk was chopped straight across, at a point on the trunk where I could continue and enhance the taper in order to make the bonsai seem realistically like a larger mature tree once it’s finished.  These chops are all sealed when the tree is potted, by the way, regardless of species.








If you look more closely, you’ll see an additional development step I’ll be taking.  The leader made a fork for me, on its own, with a thicker longer side and a thinner shorter side.  The rule is pretty much always to cut to the thinner one, which produces more taper.  I’ll do that today along with the carving I have planned.




Also notice that during the original harvesting of the tree, there was an additional upright secondary trunk that was thicker than the one I retained.  I chopped it at the time of collection.  Notice that I left the so-called branch collar when I did this.  If you examine your larger trees, there’s some tissue that accumulates in  circles around the branches emerging from the trunk.  This is how the tree protects itself in the event it loses the branch.  The collar routes sap around the branch.  If you remove it when collecting a tree, you run the risk of dieback down the trunk at the spot where the collar was removed.

Did I succeed in preventing dieback?  There are shoots that emerged beneath the collar, so the answer is definitely yes.  That means I can safely remove the collar now.

Here I’ve removed the thicker fork of the leader.







Now, using my knob cutters, I’ve carved an angled transition area below the new leader.  You can also use a Dremel®, but I find the knob cutters work faster.








Always smooth the edges of your cut.  This helps keep the cut area healthy, plus when it starts rolling over the callus will be smooth and look natural.  I used a carving knife for this.  Again, I could have used a Dremel, but frankly the knife is easier to control when you’re making this precise a cut.






Same procedure here.  I used my knob cutters to nibble the collar down, then the carving knife to smooth the edge.  It should heal nicely.







And that’s all for today.  The tree will be allowed to grow without further work until later in the spring, when it’ll be time to remove the wire I put on last year.  I need more thickening in the leader, of course, but I can manage that process by letting it grow out and cutting it back two or three more times.  At some point, additional carving will be done to the angled cut I made today.  But that probably won’t happen until next year at least.

Let me know what you think about today’s work.




Collecting Season Ends – Got Some Nice Cedar Elms

Spring has come very early to the Deep South.  Things are blooming and budding.  Yesterday Cathy and I were able to collect some Cedar elms (Ulmus crassifolia), and I think we got some very nice material.  Here are a few specimens that I hope to be able to offer soon.

Here’s a nice barky specimen with good movement and taper.  The trunk base is just under 2″, and it’s chopped at 13″.  Given how fast Cedar elms grow, I should have a basic design established on this tree by summer.









I really like the trunk character on this one.  I was able to chop to a smaller leader, which will help create additional taper in the crown of the tree as I develop it.











I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite bonsai styles is the simple upright tree.  That’s how most trees grow, after all.  This one is going to do well.











I think this is my favorite from the trip.  Isn’t that shari near the base terrific?  Plus the movement, plus the taper, plus the bark.  And what’s more, this tree is smaller that the ones above.  The trunk base is only 1″ at the soil.  But great things often come in small packages.











I really like group plantings, so we harvested several smaller specimens in order to make a couple this year.  These three trees looking like they belong together, so I went ahead and potted them up with that idea in mind.  Assuming they all make it, I should be able to slip-pot them into a bonsai container this summer.

I’d love to hear what you think of these Cedar elms.  Leave me a comment below.

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.