Hawthorn Work And Other Notes

As spring gets cranked up and trees get more active, the pace of bonsai activities ramps up accordingly.  Since the hawthorns seem to be waking up first, I decided to do some cleaning and planning for the coming season.

Hawthorn2-28-16-2This Mayhaw, Crataegus aestivalus, has been in training for six years now.  It’s the biggest hawthorn I’ve ever worked on, sporting a 4″ trunk base.  It’s 29″ to the tip of the apex.  The ramification is excellent, and should continue to improve this year.  I have some work to do in the tapering transition where the original trunk chop was, but I can get that done in another couple of seasons.

Today I gave the trunk a good brushing with a wire brush.  Mayhaws exfoliate their bark every two or three years, and it was time to get rid of the old stuff along with some mold.  The tree looks much better as a result.



You may not have noticed in the first photo, but the lower left branch is actually a thread-graft.  I began this graft in year two of training the tree, once I had a long-enough shoot to do the graft with.  Since that time I’ve allowed the new branch to grow freely in order to thicken it up.  This is how you get a thread-graft to take.  What makes it work is the addition of layers of wood each growing season.  Eventually, the new layers of wood no longer communicate with the base of the original shoot, instead sending nutrients down through the point where it connects to the trunk.  Likewise, as the new layers of wood build successively, eventually the sapwood of the trunk where the thread-graft connects feeds the thread-grafted branch.  While sap is likely still flowing through the original shoot, it’s no longer absolutely vital to the thread-grafted branch.  It’s at this point that you can remove the original feeding shoot.  A close view of my thread-graft has convinced me it can be removed now.  I’m going to wait and do this once the new shoots begin pushing.  I should know right away if I’ve waited long enough.

Hawthorn2-28-16-4Here’s a back view of the tree.  Pretty nice, eh?













Here’s a shot of my big riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca.  The trunk needed cleaning, but otherwise I’m just waiting for budburst which should come soon.  This tree is in the refinement stage.  I have to fill out the crown and work on the tapering transition some, and also do some work in the root zone.  But all in all, I couldn’t be happier with it.









Finally, you may remember this new riverflat hawthorn I posted in January.  I had cut the roots back so hard that some of you wondered if the tree could possibly survive on so little.  Well, this trunk is exploding with buds now.  So it looks like there wasn’t anything to worry about after all.



Collecting Season Goes Out With A BC Bang

Today officially closed the Winter 2016 collecting season.  I needed a few more bald cypresses – it looks like being a banner year for interest in the species – and this time of year is right at the end of viability for collecting them.  In fact, most of the ones I brought home had already budded out (same as last year, and all of those survived).

Cypress2-27-16-1Here are most the trees I harvested today, still in their muck and roots from the swamp.  I always run a hand down the trunk of each tree I consider, in order to gauge how good the basal flare is.  For the most part, you have to collect trees with trunks at least 4″ in diameter to get a good buttressing root base.  That proved to be the case today as well.



How about this for a buttressing root?  This is going to make quite an impressive bonsai five to ten years down the road.  Flat-top or conical shape?  I don’t think it really matters; either way is going to look great.















Another nice flaring root base.  I left a couple of branches on this tree since they had buds starting to open.  That should help me gauge how well the tree is coming through the collecting process over the next few weeks.








This may be my favorite from today’s crop.  I really like the base on this tree, and the movement of the trunk is terrific.

I should know in a few weeks if I was successful with these specimens.  Fingers crossed.

Each of these has a trunk that’s 4″ 4″ above the soil surface, and each is about 24-25″ to the chop.

Bald Cypress Work – 2016 – Part 2

As with most bonsai in development, timing is critical as you move from new collect to recovered specimen and on to initial design steps.  With bald cypress, timing is perhaps more critical than with most species since it grows so vigorously once it recovers from collecting.

Cypress2-21-16-1I collected this specimen in February of 2015.  It has such an impressive buttress, with really deep fluting, that I had to keep it for myself (allowing me to let go of its predecessor to a good home).  As with all such large cypresses, I left it alone throughout the 2015 growing season so it could get really strong.  It began budding two weeks ago, so I knew it was going to soon need its year two development work.

One decision I was compelled to make with this tree right off the bat was my choice of fronts.  You can see that I potted it in this tub with an assumption – not a bad one at that.  But this left me with something of a dilemma.  The strongest leader on this tree emerges from the right-hand side of the trunk.  Though this may not be an issue many years down the road, it may not look right once I end up re-chopping for taper.



I turned the tree a bit in order to get the new leader into a better spot.  Does this adversely affect the appearance of the buttress?  I actually like the way the tree looks from this angle.  The trunk seems to have a bit more movement.  For now, anyway, I’m going to go with this front.  Even if I ultimately change it back, I don’t think it’ll cause too much trouble.









Time to make the tapering chop.  I’ve tried different ways, but the trunk splitter is simply the best.  You can grip the wood at the right angle, bite into it with the force you need, then peel off chunks of wood by levering with the tool.








This work took less than five minutes.  What’s important to note here is that I’ve cut roughly half-way across the initial straight chop.  You can’t make an angled cut to the new leader as you would with most species.  Bald cypress is so apically dominant that when it calluses over you can end up with a nasty reverse taper that’s hard to correct.  By leaving a “shelf” of wood, the rolling callus is forced to roll over this wood and is thereby kept from swelling overmuch.







After the tapering chop.  I did a little fine caving with a knife to smooth the edges where the cambium lay.  Once the exposed wood dries, which will take most of this year, I can come back and do some carving in the chopped area with my Dremel®.  There’s no rush on this.










The final shot for today.  I’ve shortened the new leader, wired level a couple of unruly branches and sealed the carved area.  That’s all I need to do for a good while.

In case you’re curious, the trunk on this cypress is 6″ across 6″ above the soil surface.  The surface rootage, once it’s exposed, will measure about 14″ across.  The tree is 26″ to the original chop.  The taper is amazing.  I believe this tree will end up about 36-40″ in height when done.

I’d love to hear any comments you might have about this tree.  I think in four or five years it’ll be a show-stopper.

Winter Collecting Season Nearing An End – Spring’s Coming Early

I’ve felt for some time now that spring would be coming early this year.  Turns out I was right.  I had bald cypresses budding a couple of weeks ago, which isn’t surprising for trees “remembering” where they came from south of here, but yesterday I noticed that most of my newly collected hawthorns are budding – including my parsley haws, which is very exciting.

Today was the first of two weekend collecting trips left for the 2016 winter season, the last being next week.  The season has been shortened by at least two weeks if not more.  But I have to say I’m not sorry to see spring getting here.  Each year I like winter less and less.

Yaupon2-20-16-1A new bonsai friend who has some property was kind enough to let me collect some material today. I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of nice yaupons, Ilex vomitoria.  The one at left features three trunks  that have really nicely interplay and movement.  With a little luck, I should be able to build the branch structures of these trunks in a single growing season.  The important thing is going to be to wire the new growth before it hardens off; yaupon branches get very stiff quickly and they’re arrow-straight, so if you don’t get some movement into them early in the game it’s not going to happen.  Why not just use thick wire to bend them?  Because the branches also snap easily.

This specimen has a 3″ trunk base, with the tallest trunk being 13″ to the chop.  The pot is a nice Byron Myrick oval.

Yaupon2-20-16-2This yaupon is very cool.  The two trunks hug each other so tightly that the smaller one is literally “embraced” by the larger one.

The trunk is 1.5″ in diameter at the base, and the taller one is 13.5″ to the chop.  The pot is another Byron Myrick piece.

I’m really looking forward to styling this tree.  Stay tuned for updates.









This was my prize of the day.  I’ve never worked with American holly, Ilex opaca, before.  Apart from the incredibly sharp spines on the leaves, which can easily deter you, most of the specimens I see don’t have a lot of trunk character.  This one is just a show-stopper.

I have no idea whether or how well American holly backbuds, but I’m going to find out soon.  Assuming it cooperates with a new leader and some branches, I should have a nice showable tree in three or four years.

The trunk base is 3″ above the root crown, and it’s chopped at 14″.  It’s potted in a vintage Richard Robertson oval.

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

Bald Cypress Work – 2016 – Part 1

Cypress2-15-15-9Some of you may recall this bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, last reported on in February of 2015.  I had previously potted it in this awesome Chuck Iker round, and it was time to do some serious styling.  This was the result.

Then I encountered a problem during the 2015 growing season.  For reasons unknown, the tree was stricken with chlorosis.  In order to bring this condition under control, I removed the tree from its bonsai pot and put it into a large growing tub.  Then I treated it with Ironite® and left it alone to grow for the remainder of the season.







The tree began budding a couple of weeks ago, so I knew I was going to have to get to work on it soon.  Today was the day.  As you can see, it really grew wild last year – mostly in the crown, of course, as the apical dominance of bald cypress is tough to overcome.  My job, of course, is to get it back in control during 2016 and force the growth lower in the tree.










Here’s a closeup of my challenge.  Notice all the strong growth going straight up.  Also notice that my new leader is thickening very well, but needs to be simplified.  There are way too many shoots in the apex of this tree.










Where do you begin working in your tree?  From bottom to top, top to bottom or all over the place?  I usually work my way from bottom to top, but the best advice I can give is to work from known to unsure to unknown.  What I mean by this is, when you look at a tree with the intent of styling it to your design, some things you’ll be absolutely sure of, some things you’ll be unsure of and some things can be categorized as unknown – or put another way, “What the heck am I going to do about that?”

In this photo, I’ve done almost all of the trimming and shaping needed in the parts of the tree below the crown.  In this case, I didn’t face any real unknowns.  The apex, however, was a different story.  I had a couple of good choices for where to take the leader, and after some deliberation finally settled on what I felt was the right one.



I could have brought the apex back toward an upright configuration, but in the end I felt that wouldn’t produce enough drama in the trunk line.  In this case, continuing the leader toward the right-hand side gives me that extra something.  I’m in hopes that as the tree develops, it’ll take on the appearance of a maturing bald cypress in transition from the more rounded broom-form toward the ultimate flattened top we often see.

If the tree grows well this year, meaning no further issues with chlorosis, I plan to put it back in the nice round shown above.  This may need to wait till next year, however.  When growing bonsai, the first consideration must always be the health of the tree.

Let me know what you think of this specimen.

Need More Bench Space

Bonsai South is growing.  I already knew it, but it really came home to me when I ran out of bench space last week.  I like for all of my trees in pots to be off the ground, even the pre-bonsai that will end up going out as raw material.  With last week’s bald cypress collecting trip being such a great success, I found myself having to use mixing tubs to pot four of them.  Talk about take up some room!

Benches2-13-16-1The spot wasn’t hard to pick.  I’ve been working my way toward the front of my main display area for the past few years.  You can see the beginning of the process; get the first block in the right spot and level, and it goes a lot easier from there.





About an hour later, the bench is built.  I use a very simple design.  Cement block and (in this case) treated 2×6’s eight feet long.  It’s sturdy and the boards will last at least three to five years.






The bald cypresses were close by, so no need to lug them far.  One new bench down, one to go (for now – I’m sure I’ll have to continue expanding as time goes on).  I’ve still got a few weeks of collecting season left to go, so there’s no doubt all of my benches will be chock-a-block going into spring.  Then, with a little luck, they’ll start emptying out.

Bald Cypress Bonsai – Natural Companions

When I’m searching for trees to collect, I always look for certain characteristics of the trunks in order to determine if they’re worth lifting.  While there’s definitely a bonsai in each one I collect, I generally don’t visualize the finished bonsai in making that initial judgment.  On yesterday’s hunt, I found a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) specimen in which I immediately saw the completed bonsai.

Cypress2-7-16-7These are two separate trees that decided to grow right up against one another.  This isn’t all that uncommon, but in this case the trees had such a terrific interplay of movement for relatively small specimens that the image of companion flat-tops sprang into my mind.  There was no way they weren’t coming home with me.











My biggest challenge in preparing this companion planting for a container was the fact that they were separate trees.  To be sure, the roots were entertwined, but during the cleanup there was the distinct possibility that the two trees would come apart.  My goal was to preserve their “companionship.”

I spent the time necessary to carefully clean up the root zone, which meant pulling out the incredible mass of weed roots that always gather around cypress trees in the swamp.  And of course there’s the thick, gooey mud that goes along with them.  But plenty of high pressure water and elbow grease did the trick.










There comes a point where it’s time to pot your bonsai.  I frequently direct-pot trees, especially when I don’t need to do any trunk development.  For this bonsai-in-the-making, all I’ve got to create is the branch structure (limited) and crowns.  This is easily done in a restrictive container; bald cypress is powerfully apically dominant, so I’ll get robust growth right where I need it.

A few more comments on this specimen, which incidentally is potted in this very nice Byron Myrick oval.  Notice that the depth of the pot, right at 3″, is just about equal to the thickness of the main trunk at soil level, which is 2.75″.  It’s 13″ long.  I anticipate the finished height for the main tree will be 28-30″.  This makes the pot just under half the height of the bonsai in width, which helps give the impression of height in the specimen.

I planted some moss around the trees.  In addition to looking good, it will help protect the surface roots that lie right under the soil surface.  I need to be sure these remain moist, so they can sprout new feeders when spring gets here.

All in all, I think this is a very nice composition.  What do you think?

Bald Cypress Time

Today I was finally able to start the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) collecting season.  The weather was cool and dry, meaning ideal; the material was plentiful.  In fact, I pretty much stopped collecting when I ran out of charged battery packs – which was for the best, as I had to do the cleaning up and potting on the back side.  My personal battery pack barely lasted through it.

Cypress2-6-16-1Here’s the gang, waiting for processing.  You can see the nice, fluted trunks.  They’re mostly medium sized specimens, with trunks in the 3-4″ diameter range.








Here’s one of them after a cleanup and final root-pruning, just prior to potting in a growing tub.  Ideally, you want this sort of buttressing in the lower trunk.  It’s the classic bald cypress growth habit, and one of the reasons bonsai artists prize them.

This tree has a 4.5″ trunk about 5″ from the soil surface, and is chopped at 29″.  I’m thinking it would make a nice, graceful flat-top bald cypress bonsai.













Here’s an interesting specimen.  Notice the bulging on the root coming toward the front?  Yes, that’s the beginnings of a knee.  We find such examples from time to time.  This one just happened to be worth bringing home.  The trunk measures 4″ in diameter and it’s chopped at 21.5″.  Plenty of styling possibilities.

Some of the bald cypresses down south are starting to push buds already.  A few on my bench are doing so.  I’m thinking that means these trees will start showing activity in two to three weeks.  Stay tuned; I’ll begin posting some for sale as soon as I can.