BC Hunting Season Ends – It Was Just About My Best Ever

With an early spring in the offing, today was probably just a bit beyond the end of the collecting season.  All of the specimens I brought home today were already leafing out.  Now, I’ve had good luck collecting cypresses after they start budding, so I don’t have a lot of concern that the ones I brought home today won’t make it.  But it would have been preferable had they been a little less out.  I’ll know in a few weeks how it went.

Meanwhile, here are a few shots from today’s adventure.

This is what you call overdoing it when you’re 62.  There are 15 trees here.  Oh, I had the young strong help getting them out of the swamp, but the work on the back end is a lot harder.  It took almost four hours to get these guys cleaned up and potted.





I often make note of the fact that when I pot a collected tree, the lateral roots get buried deep in the pot to protect them from drying out.  Here’s one of the bigger trees I got today.  The cut ends of the large roots you see here have to go at least three inches beneath the soil.  Though we water our trees on a schedule, between waterings the soil at the surface of the pot gets fairly dry.  If this goes too far into the pot, you end up with a cut root that dries out.  Cypresses in particular are like sponges – and I mean that just about literally.  When you’re cutting the smaller roots of a cypress, they will actually squeeze like a sponge.  It has to do with how the cells are made, though I don’t know the botany behind it.  Anyway, once you pot up a large cypress with those big cut roots they suck up water like a sponge, so you want to keep that flow going.  With the chop sealed off, the water that is sucked up into the tree goes to keep the cells hydrated and ultimately to allow for new buds to form.

Here’s another of the larger ones for today.  Again, those lateral roots will end up buried inches under the soil surface.


















Here’s another specimen, a smaller tree with great trunk movement and superb lateral roots.  This is unusual for a tree with this small a caliper.
















And one more.  This tree is also not particularly large in terms of basal trunk thickness.  But it has fantastic roots.


















And finally, here’s one I plan to keep for my collection.  It’s a terrific twin-trunk, which I plan to make into a literati flat-top.  The trunk base on the larger tree is 1.75″, and it’s 25″ to the chop.  The smaller one is 0.5″ at the base.  The pot is an extraordinary piece by Chuck Iker.

Let me know what you think of these trees.  With a little luck, I’ll be posting more specimens for sale in the next few weeks.

It Was A Happy Hawthorn Hunt – Check Out The Cool Parsleys

Collecting season 2017 is drawing to a close.  One species I wanted to be sure to have some stock of is Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii.  Today I took care of that chore.  Here are a few that I brought home.

This guy isn’t much to look at, having only slight taper, but once it buds out I can either grow out the tree as a taller slender specimen or select a low branch to make into a new leader.  I left it long to maximize the choices.












This one shouted “literati” at me from the woods, so it had to come home.  Notice in the first example how straight the trunk is.  This is normal for hawthorns.  But all the twists and turns on this one are most definitely not.  I’m looking forward to making something of this one.

















This is my best find of the day.  Taper and character, all in a neat package.

I should know in a couple of weeks if these trees have made it.  All but one I collected today were already leafing out.  Hawthorns are very forgiving when it comes to being lifted – my success rate is right at 90% – but you never know what will happen when you collect outside the dormant season.

Let me know what you think of these Parsley haws.

How To Make A Parsley Hawthorn Bonsai Better – A Cut And A New Pot

Creating a bonsai is a step by step process that goes roughly like this:

  • Select, buy or collect a piece of raw material
  • Prune away unneeded branches and excess trunk to create a single trunk line (for formal, informal, slanting, and cascade styles), wire and position branches; or, select and wire shoots and a leader of the purchased or collected specimen to create a branch structure and apex-in-training
  • Pot the tree into a bonsai container if it isn’t already in one
  • Continue development steps such as creating a tapering transition in the apex if needed, cutting back, shaping and ramifying branches, and working in the root zone to create a pleasing nebari
  • Make changes if and as needed to improve your bonsai

I collected this Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii, in January of 2016 and potted it directly into this Chuck Iker round.  Because the tree has little taper, I planned to make a literati-style bonsai out of it.  It responded by producing several buds along the trunk, certainly enough for the plan.  I did some wiring on it, fed and watered it, but left it alone otherwise.











Here’s the tree today.  You can see that my new leader emerged a couple of inches below the chop point.  No real problem, you always have to work on the chop point anyway.  Other than this, my other few branches are waiting to open up for spring.

As the months went on last year, I decided that I wasn’t happy with the pot.  To be sure, literati bonsai are usually placed in relatively small pots.  But this one just stopped seeming right to me.












The obvious first order of business was to eliminate the chop stub, and carve down what was left so that it tapered smoothly into the new leader.  This looks much better.  Now for a replacement pot.















I think this new Chuck Iker round better suits the tree.  What do you think?

This year’s development work on this bonsai will be aimed at building the branch structure and building the apex.  I plan to continue with the idea that this Parsley hawthorn will be a literati bonsai when all is said and done.  And I think it’ll be a nice one.

More New Collected Trees – Aren’t These Just Great?

Today was another opportunity to collect some great new material.  Here are a few of the trees I brought home today.

First up is yet another terrific Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum.  This one has a 5″ trunk 5″ above the soil surface, and is chopped at 27″.  The buttress is superb, and runs down into the soil.  I always bury my newly collected trees deep, to ensure the surface roots don’t dry out.  In the case of this cypress, the buttressing runs way down into the soil.  When this one finally gets raised in its bonsai pot, the effect is going to be stunning.












How’s this for a great American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)?  The base is nice and wide, the taper outstanding, and the muscling is so typical of the species.  The basal diameter is 3.5″, and it’s 20″ to the chop.
















And last but not least, here’s a really awesome Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii.  I’m planning to keep this one for myself.  I just love the fluting in the lower trunk, and it’s got nice taper in a relatively short specimen.  The trunk base is 2.5″ above the root crown, and I’ve chopped it at 13″.  I’m planning a finished height of about 18″.

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

More BC Excitement, And The Tree With The Knees

So the best thing to do after posting a blog about not acquiring any more really big bonsai is to go out and collect some.  There are two extenuating circumstances, however: one, I did say I would continue to collect big trees for artists out there who love the big ones; and two, I used a 34-year old son who is much stronger than I was when I was his age to help me lift them.  Boy, did that help!

Here’s the group we brought home today.  I think you can see we did really well.  And if you look closely at the tree on the left, you’ll see something really cool.








But first, check out this specimen.  Great buttressing, and can you believe the taper on this guy?  The tree will end up only 25″ to the chop from the soil.  The natural shari on that buttressing root in front doesn’t hurt, either.












Here it is potted up.  The roots are buried, of course, to keep them from drying out.

















This tree made the trip worthwhile, all by itself.  I collected it in an area that has been routinely inundated each year I’ve gone to this particular spot.  But the water’s really low this year, so it was easy to get to it.















It’s much easier to see what this tree is all about in this photo.  There are four knees on four of the buttressing roots.  The two roots in the front of the tree are what I call “flying buttresses.”  They really add drama to this specimen.  But it’s just amazing to me how those knees have emerged, most likely as a result of this tree being under so much water.  Regardless of how it happened, though, there’s no doubt this tree is going to make quite a statement once it’s trained.

The trunk is about 5″ across about 6″ above the soil surface, and it’s chopped at 28″.  It’ll make either a great informal upright or flat-top.  All depends on the desires of the future owner.

I’ll know in two or three weeks if I lifted these trees successfully.  Now that they’re home and potted up, I’ve done all I can.

Let me know what you think of these cypresses.  Leave us a comment below.

No More Really Big Trees For Me – Just This Last One

I have always loved really big bonsai.  No matter where you see them, either in a show or in someone’s collection, your eye is invariably drawn to them.  They’re so … big!  And yet they’re a small representation of something that’s super big, which is a little odd when you think of it.

Really big bonsai come with special challenges, which are all about size and weight.  It’s okay to say “Duh!” at this point.  Yes, when you collect a piece of material from the wild and the only thing it’ll go into is a concrete mixing tub from Home Depot®, you have earned your membership in the Big Bonsai Club.  I’ve been a member for almost 30 years now.  When I joined the club, I was only 33.  I was much stronger than I am now, but more importantly I was much younger.  But I still love those big ones.

One species that really lends itself to the Big Bonsai Club stable is Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum.  These trees are so impressive in the wild, if you have a really big one on your bench it makes a really big statement.  One good feature of Bald cypress is that the wood is amazingly light.  This means that even though your soil mix is going to have some weight to it, at least the tree won’t add much to the load.  That turns out to be a real blessing when you go on to add a 25-pound bonsai pot to the equation.

I’ve had this specimen for a couple of years now.  It’s really big.  The trunk base is 6″ when measured 7″ from the soil surface.  Those surface roots spread 13″ across.  You can see where I’ve been growing the apex, working on the tapering transition.  I should be able to finish this work in two more growing seasons.  The finished height for this bonsai is going to be 32-34″.

Today it was time to go from the mixing tub to a training pot.  I had this Byron Myrick rectangle that had cracked during firing (so I got it for nothing), and I think it works pretty well.

I took off enough root to fit this tree in its pot.  After putting in a drainage layer of straight Riverlite® expanded shale, I set the tree in and filled the spaces with prepared bonsai soil.  The tree is budding presently, and I’m confident the potting work won’t put much of a damper on it.

The big negatives about this bonsai are, as I mentioned above, size and weight.  Though the tree itself is light, the tree plus several gallons of soil weighed about 35-40 pounds.  I’m guessing the pot weighs another 25-30 pounds.  So this whole composition tips the scales at going on 70 pounds.  I’m only eight years shy of being that number old, so trust me when I say I can feel every muscle it takes to lug this thing around when I’m dumb enough to do it.

So no more really big trees for me, just this last one.  Oh, I’ll no doubt collect a few more here and there, and send them on to braver and/or stronger and/or younger bonsai artists.  But I’ll content myself and my personal collection from now on with just a few of these very large small trees in shallow pots.

*My back approves this message.*


Allen’s Crape Gets A New Pot – More On How To Make Your Bonsai Better

I mentioned recently that it was time to repot this nice old Crape myrtle bonsai, Lagerstoemia indica, that was gifted to me by my late friend Allen Gautreau.  In addition to the needed repotting, this tree is also seriously overgrown and needs to be brought back in.  Though it does look nice, and you can see the many years of care that have gone into creating and maintaining this bonsai, it’s just gotten out of proportion.

Another thing you many have noticed about this tree is that it’s in a container much too large for it.  The trunk base of the tree is 1.75″ above the root crown, while the container is a substantial 4″ from foot to rim.  Those are not good proportions.

In this photo you can see I’ve already brought in the silhouette of this tree.  It’s a good start, but there’s more to be done.  Of particular concern to me is that really large right-hand branch up in the crown of the tree.  It’s every bit as thick as the trunk at that point, so in order to correct that proportion the best thing I can do is remove the branch entirely and start over with it.

You can also see in this photo that the tree has been turned a bit, in order to make for a better potting angle.  That large root coming straight toward you in the first photo is now not so glaring.  Allen had identified the new potting angle, by the way, a few years ago.  So I’m going to make this happen.

A quick whack later, and the offending branch is gone.  Most deciduous species will produce buds at the point where a branch has been removed, so I’m counting on this characteristic to give me a new shoot to rework into the branch that’s now missing.

Notice that I’ve also drastically reduced the silhouette of the tree, especially in the crown.  The illusion of height for this specimen is back.





Crape myrtles can make some roots!  I don’t know when the last repotting was, but I can guarantee you that before this season’s over, everything I cut off today will have regrown.










Now the roots are combed out.  For old, established bonsai such as this one, you usually only need to worry about creating some peripheral room for new, young roots to grow.  The main surface roots are usually fine, so you can limit the cutting to around the edges and off the bottom.







Here’s the tree’s new home, a nice Byron Myrick oval.  You can see how much root I took off to make the tree fit right.  Now I just need to tie it down and fill in with fresh bonsai soil.










The final result after the repotting is done.  Now tree and pot are in much better proportion.  The root base of this crape is really nice, measuring 3.5″ across at the soil.  This produces the impression of the tree gripping the soil, plus there’s real age (35+ years) along with training age (25+ years) that gives this bonsai super character.  You can see how much loving care has gone into it over the decades.






Always remember to seal those big cuts!







This is one of those trees that also looks good from the back.  Though I think the other viewing angle is best, there’s a lot going for this one as well.

Before we leave today’s study of this Crape myrtle bonsai, there’s one more reminder about working on your trees.  If at all possible, take photos and study your work.  The camera will show you things you may have missed in person.  Case in point, notice that sub-branch pointing straight up on the lowest left branch?  Ugly!



So a little wire and a little bending makes this problem go away.  Today’s work is done …

… or is it?  Now I can see that sub-branch on the lowest right-hand branch that’s running way too far across the tree.  So once I post this blog, I’m off to grab the concave cutters and fix that problem.

What do you think of this Crape myrtle bonsai?  I’m really pleased with it personally, and I think Allen would be as well.

It’s The Little Things – Check Out This Cool Surprise I Got

I have recently lifted and potted a couple of Hackberries, Celtis laevigata.  Hackberry is a great species for bonsai, featuring relatively small leaves that get even smaller in bonsai culture, and taking to life in a bonsai container without any complaints.  This specimen I particularly like.  It’s got a great tree structure, which arose on its own during its time in the field.  All I had to do was remove the tall leader, cutting to a smaller leader that is in perfect scale, pot the tree and then do a little wiring.  Easy peasy.

Now, one thing you’ll want to know about Hackberry, if you decide to grow them as bonsai, is that they are one of the last species to come out in spring.  Not quite as bad as the pecan trees, Hackberries nonetheless seem to be stubborn about leafing out.  My personal theory about this is that they wait until all danger of cold weather has passed because the leaves are quite tender and can’t stand freezing.  But that’s just a theory.

Anyway, I’ve written before about how trees react to being lifted from the ground.  Given the right conditions, they want to re-establish themselves as quickly as possible.  But the question is, does this also apply to Hackberry?

Imagine my surprise this evening when I saw this. Right at the tip of the new apex, a bundle of leaves is opening up.  For a Hackberry, this is happening weeks ahead of schedule.  But who am I to argue?

Is there a chance we’ll get another freeze before the real spring arrives?  Sure, it’s possible but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen at all.  This has been an odd winter, and any number of trees are coming out much sooner than they should.  This Hackberry just decided to join them.

If you’re interested in trying a Hackberry bonsai, this tree is available at our Hackberry Bonsai page.  Given the growth that’s already starting up, I have no doubt this one came through collection just fine.


Repotting A Yaupon; Making It A Better Bonsai

When we last checked in on this Yaupon bonsai, Ilex vomitoria, it was coming along well with the final stage being development of the crown.  It’s been in its bonsai container for a couple of years now, and I’d been waiting for a good time to repot the tree.  There have been a couple of issues with it from the beginning: one, it sat a bit high in the pot due to a large and hard root that I did not feel I could cut away in the beginning of this tree’s life in a small container; and two, that large root over on the right-hand side of the tree was a bit visually awkward as a result.


Here’s the tree today.  You may notice that it doesn’t have any foliage, which for an evergreen isn’t normal.  Well, I had to defoliate because those couple of nights of 22° weather were a tad rough on the leaves.  Dead black leaves do not look good on a yaupon, so all of the leaves had to go.








The roots were very healthy and combed out easily.  I went ahead and reduced the large root, which allowed me to place the tree lower in the pot.  If you compare this photo with the one above, I think you’ll agree that the base of the tree looks much better without so much exposed big root on the right-hand side.







And finally, after a good trimming and washing/watering the tree.  The second key step I took today toward making this a better bonsai was to cut it back fairly hard.  Many of the bonsai I see are allowed to get overgrown, due to the reluctance of the artist to do the hard pruning every tree needs from time to time.  If I had to name one step everyone could take to make their bonsai better, this would probably be it.

This tree should resume growth in about two weeks.  By stimulating the roots by cutting them back, the tree will respond by waking up (given our warm winter) and getting its foliage re-established.

Repotting A Hawthorn; How To Correct A Root Problem

Here’s my specimen Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca.  I repotted this tree two years ago, and knew it had since filled its pot with roots.  Certain hawthorn species do not root all that vigorously, but Riverflat is not one of them.

At the same time, I’ve been faced from the beginning with a root problem.  So today I wanted to take advantage of the normal repotting time for this specimen in order to address the problem and make it better.  Sometimes this requires drastic action, for example layering, but in many cases you don’t have to take such steps.

Here’s the problem, namely that great big thick surface root.  This root isn’t going anywhere, at least not while the tree is in my care.  And since the remainder of the nebari is good, all I have to do is focus on this one root and see if I can make it better.  The answer?  Why carving, of course.



This work took about 10 minutes using a couple of hand tools.  What I’ve done here is to carve a wedge down into the root.  Beginning up near the trunk, I started carving a wedge-shaped section out of the single large root (which has produced smaller roots on either side, by the way).  As I carved farther down the length of the root, I made the cut deeper.  The ultimate plan will be to actually bring soil up into the wedge area, which will complete the illusion that this once-large root splits into two smaller sub-roots.  I’m confident this will reduce the appearance of “heaviness” in this root.

Back to business.  Here’s the tree out of its bonsai container.  As I knew it would, the root mass is thick and long roots are winding around the outer edge.  It’s definitely time for a root-pruning.








It’s common to be fearful of cutting off a lot of the old root mass.  This should give you an idea of just how far you can go, for species that root vigorously.  Everything I cut off will grow back this year, and in 2019 I’ll need to repeat this process.








Now this guy is back in his home.  The pot is a custom piece by Paul Katich, and I believe it complements the tree just perfectly.  The oval shape goes well with the graceful, curving trunk of this feminine hawthorn bonsai.  The trunk base is 3″ above the root crown, and it’s 30″ to the tip of the apex.






Here’s a final look at the problem root.  Once the exposed wood has dried, I’ll treat this area with lime sulfur just to be on the safe side, after which I’ll add some soil into the gap.

I’d love to hear what you think of this post.  Was it helpful to you?