I’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.
Here’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.