Spring Is Awesome!

I love when my trees begin to bud in the very early spring, especially the new arrivals, but I’m just awestruck when spring really kicks in.  Shoots start extending, and you get a glimpse of the health of each and every one of your bonsai and pre-bonsai.

Cypress3-29-15The photo of this tree in the March 17 post was taken a mere 12 days ago.  Is this not amazing?  And the growth is just beginning.  Now, bald cypress is one of the strongest growers in the bonsai world.  To be sure, they miniaturize in container culture, but this doesn’t stop them from budding up and down the trunk just as if they has no restrictions at all.

I’ll be wiring this one in another week or two, removing that wire in another three or four, and going into a second round of training this  summer.  By that time I’ll have a specimen which only needs refinement.








Remember this Chinese elm I posted for sale on February 28th?  Well, here’s what a few week’s worth of spring weather will do:









Chineseelm3-29-15Aren’t Chinese elms wonderful?  Even if you end up with an “S” curve specimen, there’s hope.  You just have to dedicate yourself to overcoming its inherent design flaw, but the process of doing so gives you the opportunity to work with what is truly one of the very best bonsai species for beginners.  Drop me an email if you need some advice.

Coming Attractions

Spring isn’t quite here officially, but the vast majority of my trees think it is and are popping buds to prove it.  Here are a few trees that will be hitting the sale pages in the coming weeks.


Bald cypress – Taxodium distichum

Check out the buds on this one!  And they’re not just on the existing branches, but all over the trunk as well.  Those of you who’ve worked with bald cypress before know that these trees never stop budding on the trunk.  You just have to keep rubbing them off during the growing season.

This specimen has a 3″ trunk diameter above the root crown and stands 27″ above the soil surface.  Age is estimated to be 30 years.  I plan to complete wiring of the secondary branch structure this spring, so the tree should be available at our Bald Cypress Bonsai page sometime in May.

The pot is an outstanding Byron Myrick oval.






Chinese elm – Ulmus parvifolia

Seven-tree forest just assembled this year from cutting-grown material.  Everything is budding, which means I’ll have a nice forest canopy and good structure for the individual trees by summer, at which time I plan to offer it for sale.

The largest tree has a 3/4″ diameter trunk and stands 17-1/2″ tall.

Nice shallow oval by Paul Katich.




Winged elm – Ulmus alata

Exposed root style specimen just collected this winter.  Buds are popping now.  The trunk base is 1-1/2″ above the root crown; the rootage is 4″ across at the soil surface.  Height 13″ to the chop.  Age about 10 years.

This one gets its first wiring next month, and should have a nice branch structure by summer.  Watch for it to hit the Elm Bonsai page in June.

The pot is a vintage Richard Robertson piece I bought back in 1990.


How To Make Bonsai Lemonade – Part 2

As many of you know, in the winter of 2014 I lost a number of trees including most of my specimen water-elms.  Of the water-elms that were on benches during the snow/ice storm and 15 F deep-freeze for a couple of days after, exactly four survived – but in the case of two of them, barely.

Water-elm9-25-10-1Here’s one of them, in a photo taken in September of 2010, two months after it was collected.  I direct-potted this raft into a vintage Richard Robertson tray and let it recover from collecting.  During the next three years I worked to refine the planting.  Then came 2014, brutal cold, and I initially thought the tree was dead.  I left it along, and finally in late April I saw some hopeful buds.  But there was nothing to do at that point except water the tree and wait to see what was going to happen.





So here we are in 2015, and here’s what was left of my forest; this photo was taken from the opposite direction of the first.  You can see I paid no attention at all to the planting, as evidenced by the butterweed that sprang up (or maybe laziness is a better explanation).  What I’ve got here is a number of shoots emerging from the spreading root base, near the original trunks.  Note: the two trunks off to the side had been part of the original raft, but became separated during the collecting and potting process.  I kept them with the group, which I think was the right decision.

Water-elm3-16-15-2My first step was to completely wash off the roots, to see what was going on underground.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a healthy root mass.  So I definitely had something to work with.






I cut back the stubs of the original trunks, trimmed off unneeded branches and new trunks, and wired those new trunks that were not moving harmoniously with the others.  I also removed the smaller group from this planting, putting it in the ground for future growth and use.





Finally, my new raft/clump style bonsai begins its new life in a fine Byron Myrick tray.  Obviously, the quality of this specimen is not nearly what the original was.  But isn’t it better to make lemonade out of our bonsai lemons whenever possible?

I’ll post an update once the tree leafs out.

The Humble Bud Turns Powerful

Many of you read my post from a few weeks back, “The Humble Bud – Sign of Things To Come.”  The bud is the means by which any plant grows to its genetic limit and is able to remain alive for the duration of its lifespan.  Most of them begin as a very small thing – some invisible to the naked eye.  Yet within such a small package lies the entire means by which a bonsai artist can create a miniature representation of nature.

The humble bud turns powerful in due course.  Consider that as it develops and elongates, it produces leaves the plant cannot survive without.  The leaves are the powerhouses of any plant.  Photosynthesis is the second most important biochemical reaction known (second only to enzymatic activity).  Without photosynthesis, the plant starves and is unable to power any of its other metabolic processes.  No hormones to produce roots or shoots.  No enzymes to produce chlorophyll in order to support more photosynthesis.  Nothing.

Leaving aside the rest of the negatives that go with lack of buds in the plant kingdom, not least of which is you and I would die, let’s focus on the raw power of the bud.  As you might imagine, if each bud that appeared on a tree consisted of only one leaf the tree wouldn’t last long.  Therefore each bud is a complex package, containing not only leaves – which appear readily as the bud opens – but also the entire vascular structure needed to transport raw materials to the leaves and food throughout the tree.  Consider for a moment the collected deciduous tree consisting of only a trunk and severely pruned roots.  The tree “knows” that without a branch structure supporting food-producing leaves it’s a goner.  Therefore, the first order of business for the collected deciduous trunk is to grow new leaves and start making and transporting food; beneath the ground, it’s to grow the entire sub-surface support system that provides raw materials to the leaves.  (The order in which this occurs varies from species to species; each knows what it has to do, however, regardless of the order.)

American elm3-8-15-1This is the American elm that appeared in the earlier post, in a photo taken March 7th.  The buds on the tree at that time were very tiny – just big enough to be visible to the naked eye.  Fast-forward a single week, and they’re beginning to move.  Even at this early stage, you can see the extension of one of the buds.  But what’s much more fascinating, at least to me, is the knowledge that this extending bud is programmed to become a mature branch with its own sub-branches and sub-sub-branches – what we in the bonsai world call ramification.  I mean, consider the fact that all of this is programmed in right from the start.  The bud doesn’t grow and then “learn” to get bigger and produce axillary buds; everything is already there, just waiting for signals from hormones to do their thing.

American elm3-14-15-1This process is reliable.  The photo on the left was taken March 14th.  Now our nascent shoot from last time has about half a dozen leaves (some are very tiny, waiting their turn to expand).  It’s not a branch yet; that’s the next stage.  Right now it’s very tender and easily damaged.  It also has the ability to perform photosynthesis just as the leaves do.  This ability only lasts until the shoot hardens off, at which time it will become brownish gray.  But as with most plants that make their own food, there lies beneath the inner bark a layer of chlorophyll-infused tissue called the cambium layer of the plant.  Whenever you use the “scratch test” to see if a branch is alive, you’re exposing a bit of the cambium layer – essentially it’s the presence of chlorophyll you’re seeking.  If the branch dies, the chlorophyll degrades and turns brown (and dries out).

Notice that this shoot is stronger than the others.  Whenever we chop an apically dominant tree, it’s only focus is to regain its height.  This doesn’t work for the bonsai artist, meaning I can’t allow the strong shoot on this tree to become the dominant one.  Once it hardens off sufficiently, I’ll trim it, wire it and bring it down into a horizontal position.  This will automatically alter the dominance of certain hormones, allowing me to create an entire tree in just a foot-tall specimen.

I’ll post updates on this tree as it develops.  This year I’ll be able to create the basic branch structure and get some secondary branching established.  In 2016 the tree will be ready for a bonsai pot.  By 2017 it should be a presentable American elm bonsai.



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Thanks to everyone for your support.


Repotting A Large Hawthorn

Hawthorn3-7-15-1I collected this Mayhaw, Crataegus aestivalus, in 2010 and potted it in this beautiful Byron Myrick oval in 2012.  It’s grown, from a bare trunk, pretty happily since I first got it.  I did a thread-graft to create a second branch (on the left) back in 2011.  I think it could be separated now but plan to wait another year or two; there’s no need to rush.

I got a little dieback up the trunk at about the 2/3rd point.  You can see the dark area.  My plan was to carve this area back to live wood as part of the general repotting and pruning process.  I also needed to find out how far down it ran.  The tree is exfoliating bark this year, and it can be a bit challenging to tell the difference between the underlying live bark and dead wood.



Here’s the tree trimmed back and carved.  The dead wood only went down a short distance, terminating in a V shape which is ideal.

I need additional thickening at the transition between the original trunk chop and the new apex.  I cut the leader back hard and will let a new shoot run during this growing season.  Getting the proper thickness is going to take another three to five years.  But again, there’s no need to rush.




Hawthorn3-7-15-3Here’s the root mass.  As is fairly common with hawthorn, the roots are not as dense as you’ll typically find with other species.  Hawthorns don’t seem to mind this a bit.  I’ve seen them grow amazingly well with very sparse roots.


Hawthorn3-7-15-4I went ahead and washed the roots off because there weren’t that many and I also wanted the opportunity to repot the tree in well-screened soil.








Hawthorn3-7-15-5This is a large and deep pot, so I put a layer of pea gravel in to help with drainage.  I water frequently, especially in summer since it gets very hot and I have lots of sun.  Drainage is a vital factor in keeping your bonsai healthy.



Hawthorn3-7-15-6Next, a layer of horticultural charcoal.  I’m experimenting with charcoal this year to see how it affects the growth and health of some of my trees.  I’ve heard good things, but it’s always best to check for yourself.



Hawthorn3-7-15-7Finally, the tree potted in fresh, well-screened bonsai soil and watered thoroughly.  The buds are already swelling on this tree, so I expect it’ll begin pushing shoots in one to two weeks.  I’ve got buds on most of the new hawthorns I collected this season, so spring is pretty much upon us.

This tree has a 4″ trunk base and is 28″ to the chopped tip.  Finished height will be about 32″.