A Terrific Willow Oak To Develop

Willowoak9-27-15I’ve shown you this willow oak, Quercus phellos, a couple of times before.  It sprouted as a volunteer seedling in an old garden area well over 10 years ago, and has been growing there ever since.  I didn’t start cutting it back until I moved my garden and pulled up the concrete blocks surrounding this and other trees.  That’s when I noticed its potential.  What struck me especially about this specimen was the lovely twin trunks.  They’re fused together perfectly, just like a young married couple.

In my study of this specimen, it occurred to me that there’s a limit to how thick I’d be able to grow the trunk, for the simple reason that there needs to remain an ample spread between the trunks.  The thicker this trunk gets, the more the spread closes.  So to preserve this critical feature, I decided to lift it today so it can begin its life as a bonsai.




The first order of business was to cut it back, to allow me to get in and saw it out of the ground.  You can see the potential of this tree a lot better with only this much work having been done.












The tree was out of the ground in just a few minutes.  Here’s a shot of it after I washed all the native soil off the roots.











You can see, in the photo before and this one, that I have a couple of choices in my lateral roots.  This is a common thing with trees you lift.  All too often, however, the second, lower set of roots emerges from a trunk that is smaller in diameter than the trunk above the top set of roots.  This inverse taper is extremely difficult to correct; usually the only answer is to layer the tree down the road.  In this case, I’m in luck.  The trunk base is actually slightly thicker below the higher set of roots.  This makes my choice an easy one, even more so because I have three well-spaced lateral roots to provide visual stability.  So I took off the higher set of roots, cut back the lower ones more proportionally and potted the tree.

Willowoak12-31-15-5Here’s the final result.  I love the color of this rounded-corner Byron Myrick rectangle.  Willow oak leaves often turn a bright yellow in fall – certainly more reliably so, farther north than I am.  This should make for a great complement when the time comes.

If you’d like to take on the development of this willow oak, the tree is available at our new Oak Bonsai sale page.  The trunk base is 2″ in diameter at the soil surface, and it’s 13.5″ in height to the taller of the two chops.  The finished height should be roughly 16-18″.  The lateral roots are buried to protect them.  The tree can be lifted slightly to expose these roots at the first repotting.

An Easier Lift With This Chinese Privet

Privet12-27-15-1I happened across this Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense, while walking my property today.  The base looked really good, and I thought the two trunks went well together.  Better still, it came out the ground in under five minutes.

Here’s the tree with its rootball.  Privets are shallow-rooted, so you never have to go too deep to free them from the ground.  There are typically numerous lateral roots, however, and privet sapwood is remarkably tough.  But the cordless reciprocating saw still makes short work of them.

Take a close look at this tree, as there’s a good lesson worth remembering when you select the material you plan to work on.  The left-hand trunk tapers all right up to about midway.  Then it flares back out.  This is not suitable for bonsai design, so there’s no choice but to chop the trunk back.  The right-hand trunk tapers pretty well, but notice the long straight section.  I’ll guarantee you that if I don’t cut this trunk back, your eye will be drawn to it like a magnet as you view the developing/developed tree.  Simply put, it’s a flaw that I have to deal with now; otherwise, there’s a second chop in this trunk’s future.

Privet12-27-15-2Now I’ve got the roots washed and cut back, and both trunks chopped.  It doesn’t look like there’s much left to this pre-bonsai specimen, but I’ve done the work today that needs to be done in order to allow for proper design of the tree over the next few years.






Another possible front.  The base looks better from this angle.  The secondary trunk goes toward the back of the tree, but I think this can be dealt with as the new leaders are developed.  In fact, it might make for a better design.  It’s not always easy to see your complete tree when you first collect or buy a piece of material that’s in a rough state as this one is.  The good news is, you don’t have to.  I plan to let this tree come out in spring, select my two new leaders and then wire and shape them.  By the end of the 2016 growing season, I’ll have a much better idea of my final design.




The tree potted in a nursery container.  I sawed it very flat, to make placing the tree in a bonsai container much easier when the time comes.  The trunk base is 2.25″ and it’s about 6″ in height to the chops.

Almost Biting Off More Chinese Privet Than I Can Chew

As you know, Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense, is one of my favorite species to create bonsai out of.  They grow fast, the leaves are naturally small, and they bloom readily in a pot.  Because they’re naturalized where I live, I have ready access to material – even on my own property from volunteer seedlings.

When I cleared off some property a couple of years ago to expand my nursery (and my backyard), there were a few specimens of privet “hanging around” a few of the stumps that we left.  If you’ve ever tried to recover a piece of material that’s snuggled into an oak root, I suspect you gave up after some frustrating poking, sawing and levering.  The piece below was one of those cases: I first tried to coax it out from its protective oak stump last year.  It didn’t budge.  But I knew that time was on my side, because the stump was going to rot.

Today, for some reason, in the waning light two days before Christmas, I decided to have another whack at the monster – this one has a root base is 9″ across from trunk to trunk and 6″ deep.  The tallest trunk is 14″ to the chop.

Privet12-23-15-2I snapped this photo before the darkness overtook me.  Everything you see is connected.  The trunks have some nice taper and interplay.  And I know exactly how I’m going to grow the crown.  This will be about a three-year project.

The nebari is awesome from the front side.  As you might expect, the back was curved to fit its previous home and as a result there’s no rootage there yet.  It should grow on its own in the pot, however.


Making A Yaupon Bonsai

I’ve commented before that our native yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, makes an excellent bonsai subject.  The only problem I’ve encountered through the years is that very, very few specimens in the wild grow with any natural taper.  This obviously limits the material that can be collected and developed into bonsai in a short time.

Yaupon8-8-15-3This specimen caught my eye back in January of 2014 because it had a nice old gnarly trunk base with some interesting deadwood.  True to form, the existing trunks were arrow-straight.  I chopped the trunks and figured I’d grow the tree more or less from scratch.  Yapon buds well on old wood, even if you don’t leave any foliage on it.  So I was able to take this one through a few rounds of grow and clip, and this is where I was with it this past August.  As you can see, it’s starting to take shape.



Four months later, I’m getting a nice primary branch structure on each of my trunks.  Also, the tapering transition for each of the original four is looking very smooth.  A little carving will help the process along.  So I can go ahead and pot this yaupon without concern.





Here’s the tree in its “training pot,” a nice rectangle I got from Chuck Iker three years ago.  The reason this pot has been relegated to the training category is simple though odd: in Winter 2014, during our big snow and ice storm, this pot literally froze to the bench.  When I went to move it and its tree to a safer location, a couple of the feet stayed on the bench!  Super glue put them back on, but the pot remains imperfect as a result.



And here’s the final result, after some wiring and shaping.  This yaupon will fill in fast in 2016.  I think it’s got fantastic potential.

If you’d like a nice multi-trunk yaupon for your bench, this tree is available at our Miscellaneous Bonsai sale page.

Loblolly Pine Initial Styling

Loblolly12-19-15-2This loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, started out as a much taller specimen featuring a secondary leader that was an obvious choice to cut to.  Since the tree wasn’t going anywhere as it stood, I chopped the main trunk down to the secondary leader this past summer.  If you look closely you can see where the original trunk line was.

The tree responded by pushing a ton of new shoots.  I removed most of these and then applied some wire.  Frankly, the tree didn’t look like much, so the situation called for a little vision and artistry.









This was a relatively simple solution, but I think you can see what I see as the future of this pine.  Next year I’ll let the crown fill out, giving the tree a more rounded top.  I wouldn’t mind the descending branch on the left falling a little lower, about to mid-trunk; that can be done during the 2016 growing season as the branch grows out.

I think this loblolly will make a fine bonsai in just two or three years.

If you’d like to continue the development of this tree, it’s available at our Pine Bonsai sale page.

Winter Pre-Bonsai Development Work

Winter is supposed to be a time where all sorts of bonsai activities more or less come to a halt, but the fact is there are a number of chores we can and should do in order to move our trees along.  One reason to get these chores out of the way is to keep from having to do them in spring, when repotting tends to take center-stage.

Wateroak12-19-15-1This water oak, Quercus nigra, has been growing from a volunteer seedling for several years now.  I chopped it a couple of years ago and left it alone to see what it would do.  It produced what’s known as a “sling shot,” where you have two leaders in a Y shape, and it’s universally considered ugly (and it is, let’s face it).  So today’s task, one of a number in the ultimate development of this pre-bonsai specimen, is to eliminate the sling shot and set the tree up for its next round of growth.









Step number one: saw off one of the legs of the Y.  I chose the thicker of the two for a couple of reasons: one, its movement was at a little sharper of an angle than the other, which I didn’t care for; and two, it was thicker.  One of my goals is to create adequate taper in the trunk of this tree.  By cutting to the thicker of the two legs and letting it grow out, I would be limiting the amount of taper I could expect going forward.












Next I chopped the new leader.  It’ll bud very near the chop and I’ll allow a leader to grow unrestrained in 2016.  This should thicken the original transition area and make the tapering look much more realistic by the end of the next growing season.












I couldn’t leave that big stub where I chopped off the right-hand leader, so the next step was to saw it down in anticipation of next year’s growth.  This chop will start rolling over, and I have to be sure it looks right or else I’ll need to re-chop.  I hate doing development chores on trees twice (or more).









Here’s a final shot from an different angle.  While there’s no real need yet to try and figure out where the front of this tree is, it’s fun to speculate on possible future directions for it.  With that sizable chop – which granted in time will heal over – I may consider turning it into an uro down the road.

One final comment about oaks.  They don’t seem to need to be sealed like most other species, though I do seal all of mine.  Oaks are known to have the ability to compartmentalize damage that occurs to them, which is no doubt one of the reasons they can live so long.







This sweetgum, Liquidambar styracifula, grew this way all by itself from a volunteer seedling.  I really like the cool snaky curve and it’s got good taper already.  Developing trees like this one is a pretty easy process – you just chop and grow a new leader repeatedly until you have the trunk you’re after.










And here it is, sawed off and the chop sealed.  Easy as pie.  One thing I will have to do this coming spring is to watch for competing leaders and select the most suitable one.  But the most difficult part of that will be remembering to do it.









Last but not least is this Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, three or four years from a cutting and planted out a couple of years ago.  The trunk base is now about 1″, and my plan is to grow it to at least 2″ before lifting it.  First things first, of course, and that means managing the growth so that I get taper and decent trunk movement.

Right now this specimen is a twin-trunk.  I’m not sure that will be the ultimate plan, but if not then the secondary trunk is in a great spot to help thicken the primary trunk.






Just a couple of quick cuts, and now this tree can continue to grow in 2016.  It’ll probably take until about 2018 to get to the size I want.  So stay tuned for more updates.

American Beech Anyone?

Back in 2010 I collected some specimens of American beech, Fagus grandifolia.  I’ve always loved the way beech bonsai look, especially in their winter garb.  The prominent buds and light gray to almost white bark make a beautiful statement.  Unfortunately, American beech is not the best bonsai subject.  This is primarily due to its very slow rate of growth.  You get one reliable flush of growth each spring, with an occasional second flush in late spring to early summer.  As you can imagine, this makes training beech for bonsai a lengthy proposition.  And while there’s nothing wrong with taking a good while to train a tree, it’s easy to get frustrated and simply ignore the slow growers.

Beech12-12-15-1I’ve been mostly ignoring this beech for six years now.  As you can see, my benign neglect has resulted in a pretty decent piece of material to start getting serious about.  My new leader has grown out and thickened (though not enough, yet), and I’ve actually got a good bit of ramification without doing anything.  If only I could use this technique on more species!








Today seemed like a good time to put some effort into this very patient tree.  The first, most obvious order of business was the stump left when I originally chopped it.  There’s carving to do here!  So I pulled out my trunk splitter, knob cutters and Dremel.






After trimming off a few branches that had no further business on the tree, I tackled the stump with my trunk splitter.  This is about the best tool I’ve found to get started on an angle cut, because I can grab the exact spot I want every time.  So a few of these cuts later, here’s what I had.











In this shot you can see the work I’ve done a little easier.  You can also see that the new leader emerges at a fairly sharp angle.  More on this later.








The next step was to use the knob cutters to take the wood off bite by bite, enhancing the tapering transition between the original chop and the new leader, followed by the Dremel to smooth all the carving.  The work with the knob cutters took me just a few minutes.  However, when you’re first learning to do it, it’s most definitely not the most natural work with a tool you’ve ever done.  It’s nothing like using your concave cutters or shears.  Grabbing the right spot on the tree takes some effort, and it’s common to try and remove too much wood all at once.  Eventually, though, you get the hang of it.  Like with anything else, you get better with practice.

In this photo you can see the smoothed final result.  While the transition remains obviously too dramatic, it’s not hard to see that a few years from now it’ll be much more pleasing.  Also, in time the carved section will become an uro which should be very attractive.  That particular work was not a chore to be done today, however.

Beech12-12-15-6Here’s the tree turned around and shown from the opposite side.  While I think the base of the tree looks better from the other side, because the new leader moves away from the lower part of the trunk line at a fairly sharp angle, by turning the tree this problem goes away.









I did a final trim and wired one of the branches in order to position it properly.  When you wire beech, you have to be very careful not to damage the bark which is very thin.  This takes some experience.

When you put together a list of species that are easy to grow for bonsai, American beech never appears.  They do have some great qualities, so if you’re a more advanced student and would like a head-start on a nice American beech bonsai, this tree is for sale at our Miscellaneous Bonsai page for a very good price.  The trunk base is 3″ in diameter and it’s currently 24″ to the tip of the new leader.  Ships now or in spring if you’re up North and don’t want to risk overwintering.


A Colorful Hornbeam

Hornbeam12-12-15-1We’ve done pretty well this year with our fall color, including this nice little American hornbeam, Carpinus Caroliniana.  The yellow and salmon-colored leaves make a nice contrast with the greenish-gray, smooth bark.

As with other of my deciduous trees, this one was ready for a final trimming and shaping for the winter dormancy period.





Here’s the final result.  I’m very pleased with this hornbeam bonsai after just one year of training.  Next year the crown will finish filling out and the ramification will really kick in.

If you’d like to give yourself a hornbeam bonsai for Christmas, this one can ship to arrive in time.  It’s available now on our Hornbeam Bonsai sale page.

A Few Winter Silhouettes

It’s still a couple of weeks before the official start of winter, but I’m very close to having benches full of winter silhouettes.  This is one of the reasons I love deciduous trees.  You definitely get four full seasons out of them, from spring budding through summer vigor, fall color (we do get some down here), and finally the bare branches that define the winter-hardy tree.  I for one am always impressed by the quiet dignity of an old deciduous tree in winter.  If you study them long enough, you can get a true sense of all the decades of silent watching they’ve done.  Nothing else is needed of them but just being.  They serve their purpose through the generations.

Sweetgum12-5-15A deciduous forest is quite a sight.  This sweetgum group, Liquidambar styraciflua, has just begun its journey as a bonsai in 2015.  Next year all I need to do is pinch the new growth and let it continue to get established as a coherent group.  Pretty simple work.








This water-elm clump, Planera aquatica, looks really good for its first full year of training.  It’s already starting to develop the twigginess that will make this group look like a real forest.







And finally, my big riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca.  I absolutely love the way this tree looks.  It’s very close to completely built; I only have the crown to grow out, which should be mostly done next year.  I’ll then be able to focus on improving the tapering transition.  By the end of the 2017 growing season, this tree will be spectacular.