adjusting your plans – like with this bald cypress

Sneak Peek

When we collect trees we usually have some specific expectations. Sometimes the tree decide to go a different direction. What to do? Adjust your plan.

Adjusting Your Plans – Like With This Bald Cypress


Collecting trees, once you’ve done enough of it, usually provides a more or less instantaneous idea of what the eventual bonsai will look like. You spot the specimen with potential, you size it up, then you lift it. All that has to happen next is for the tree to live, thrive and then withstand a lot of chopping, pruning and wiring (sometimes quite a bit of it!).

But it doesn’t always go so well. Take this Bald cypress as an example. Nice smaller specimen, trunk base 3″ and chopped at 24″ which is pretty standard. Nice movement and great taper. It could make a fine pyramidal style bonsai, or even a flat-top. Lots of potential. Only it didn’t bud out like it was supposed to. This happens sometimes, and when it does I just set the tree in the back of the nursery and leave it alone. Quite often, it’ll eventually bud near the base and then I keep watch on it to see if it’s a head-fake or the tree decided to try and make something of itself.


This one turned out to be a “half-back.” Half of it came back. Not only that, but you can see by the length of that top-most shoot that there’s actually some decent strength in the tree. So that means I can throw out Plan A and move right on to Plan B.

That leader has to be as upright as possible, at least to my way of thinking, so I wired and positioned it. The next step is to just leave it alone for the rest of 2020 and well into 2021. But after that, what? I could consider a trunk-chop right near the leader, and regrow everything above the chop. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, it’s done all the time. And you’d get a nice tree out of the deal. But there are other options.

Here’s the one I’ve settled on. I’ve seen BC’s like this in the swamp. Something happens to them at some advanced point in their life – maybe a lightning strike or old age, there are different possibilities. In this case I’m thinking that the tree broke in half, then struggled to regrow while the heartwood was eaten away. Regardless, I now have a good Plan B to work on and I’ll end up with a BC bonsai that’s a little different.

For those of you who have read up on Bald cypress, the heartwood of BC is virtually indestructable. At the same time, I have literally stood inside ancient specimens that are completely hollowed out, no heartwood at all, just a cylinder of sapwood supporting the entire structure of the tree (healthy structure, I might add, despite initial impressions). I’m not sure what causes this to happen to certain specimens, but it’s pretty fascinating.

Anyway, this is where I’m going with this cypress. Do you think it’s a good plan?