I’m Seeing BC Buds!

This winter has been pretty awful.  In addition to being colder than usual, it’s also been wetter than usual.  That does not make for a pleasant time.

Just over the past few days we’ve seen temperatures moderate a bit – and by that I mean it gets into the 60s during the day.  Everything’s still ugly, but if temps continue like this (and that’s the prediction) then certain species are likely to start swelling their buds.  The other day I noticed buds on an American elm I collected last month.  Bald cypress is absolutely one of the best at this.  I went out this evening to take a look at everything, and one of my cypresses from last fall I’m holding for a client has buds that are about to open!  These trees all come from south of here, and as I’ve mentioned before they often exhibit “memory” of where they came from.  What this means is, my very large cypresses in the yard that I planted 18 years ago will sit there for another month with no activity at all.  The collected trees from down south will be out by then and making shoots.  Very exciting!

In the meantime, here’s a fun thing to do.  Help me figure out the best front for this large BC.

Option #1

When I pot these specimens in plastic tubs, I always pick what I think is the best front.  Usually I get it right.  But not always.  In this case, you can’t argue with the nice movement in the trunk and the buttressing roots.  This is a really nicely buttressed BC, with great taper and character.







Option #2

When I was watering this evening, this view of the tree caught my eye.  It is more or less from the left rear corner of the tub as seen in photo 1.  Once again there’s beautiful buttressing and flaring.  In addition, this view has a broader surface spread than the first one.  I’m thinking that it makes a bigger visual impression this way.  So now I’m torn.

I’d love to know which front you prefer.  Leave me a comment below.

February Sucks, Styling Helps

Every August I think August is the suckiest month, then along comes February and I remember there are worse things than killer heat and humidity.  To help make February less sucky, there is some work that needs doing on trees being developed.  If you have some deciduous specimens that need wiring, this is a good time to do it.  You can see exactly what the structure of the tree looks like, and what needs to be done to make it better.  So don’t hesitate to get the wire out and go for it.

I collected this Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, in Winter 2017 and began training it into a flat-top specimen once it had some nice shoots going.  Last September I slip-potted it into this Byron Myrick oval.  I think the tree looked pretty impressive considering how quickly this whole process happened.  But of course there was plenty of work left to do.












The tree has been bare for about a month and a half now, and you can clearly see in this photo that it’s just beginning its journey as a bonsai.  I’ve got some primary and secondary branching, and that’s about it.  But in 2018 this branching is going to grow quickly and strong, and I’ll need to be sure to keep it in check.  Cypress shoots, especially apical shoots, thicken amazingly fast.

For today, though, wiring out these branches is going to help further establish the design I have in mind.










This work took about 20 minutes.  I’ve got wire on just about every branch that will make it through winter (the smallest, thinnest BC shoots tend to die off over winter; this is normal).  And I’ve positioned all of the branches in order to continue development of the tree’s structure.

I anticipate that this bonsai will be showable by fall.  It certainly should be fully developed by the end of the 2019 growing season.  Although I had planned to train it through 2018 and then offer it for sale, it’s time to free up some bench space so I’ve gone ahead and posted it for sale at our Available Bonsai and  Bald Cypress Bonsai pages.


Hornbeam Harvest Part 2

I made a collecting trip with a new bonsai friend today, and we got some really nice American hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana).  Among the nicknames for the species is “Musclewood.”  This is because as it matures the trunk of a hornbeam will produce sinewy-looking ridges that run vertically along and sometime around the trunk.

Here’s the biggest specimen I got today.  The trunk base is 4.5″ at soil level, and it’s 18″ to the chop on the main trunk.  As you can see, it’s a twin-trunk with the two trunks really snugged together.  I have a vision for it, so once it comes out I’ll get to work and see if my idea is going to work.

Aren’t the roots terrific?  The muscling on this specimen is subtle but there.  You can even see it on the small branch stub I left.








This is the best specimen I got today.  The trunk base is 4″, and it’s 19″ to the chop.  There was a secondary trunk growing in back, and I went ahead and cut it off.  The trunk will need carving there, but that will only enhance the character.

The muscling is much more prominent on this one.  And the radial roots are awesome.











I love the movement, muscling and character of this specimen.  It’s smaller than the other two, with a trunk base of 2″, but the roots are still great and if you’re looking for a smaller American hornbeam that has great trunk character, you’d be hard-pressed to do better.

This one is chopped at 16″.  It might could stand to be chopped another 4″ or so.  That’s something I can decide later.

Let me know what you think.  These trees should be budding in about eight weeks.

Hornbeam And Huckleberry Trunks

I posted a blog a couple of weeks ago about new American hornbeam and Huckleberry specimens I’d collected.  That post disappeared when we changed hosting services.  I don’t feel like trying to recreate that blog, so here’s a replacement to show you a few nice trees that will hopefully survive lifting and come available in about two months.

Here’s a nice smaller hornbeam specimen (1.5″ base on the main trunk).  It’s actually a triple-trunk.  The main trunk has really nice taper and movement.  The two smaller trunks are proportionately smaller, which is just what you want, so I think this could make a terrific multi-trunk bonsai in just a few years.






Continuing the theme of multi-trunk bonsai-to-be, this hornbeam is a very elegant twin-trunk.  Think of them as “close companions.”  Most twin-trunks don’t feature the trunks quite so close together.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this one looks once it’s designed.  With a base of 1.75″, it’s a good size also.









This hornbeam also has a 1.75″ trunk, and really great trunk character.  I chopped the trunk to a smaller branch that was growing straight up.  It’s not quite a formal upright, but it’s definitely an upright specimen and the height should be emphasized when it’s designed.













This Huckleberry has a pretty stout trunk, 1.75″ at the base, and also good taper.  It should produce a decent number of trunk buds, which will allow for good design choices.










This specimen is smaller than the one above, 1.25″ at the base, but really nice character and I was able to chop to a smaller trunk (which I left too long, but you can always chop more).  That makes for really good taper.  It’s currently 9″ from soil to apex, so when it gets chopped and then grown into a bonsai the finished height could well be less than 12″.  I’m really fond of shohin bonsai.  How about you?


More Great BC Material – Collecting Trip 3

The weather was dodgy today, meaning we had a torrential downpour all across South Louisiana.  We did have the good fortune to be able to collect a few nice trees before the sky really opened up, however.  Here are a few photos to give you an idea of how we did.

This is the biggest tree we got today, and probably the most unusual.  Out in the wild, Cypresses tend to grow with very straight trunks that sometimes feature just a little movement.  This particular specimen evidently had something happen to it when it was much younger, and it subsequently righted itself which produced a neat curve in the trunk.










The tree looks good from either side.  I’m thinking this may be the better front.  What’s your preference?

The trunk is 6″ across 6″ above the soil surface, and it’s 27″ to the chop. This is going to be a powerful Bald cypress bonsai.












How about a formal upright BC?  I collected this one because of the terrific fluting and buttressing all around.  It’s a classic specimen BC.  The trunk is 5″ 5″ above the soil, and it’s chopped at 24″.
















This is probably my favorite from today’s group.  The trunk is 4″, and it’s chopped at 25″, but I just love the buttressing roots, fluting, trunk movement, and taper.  I see a very nice informal upright Bald cypress bonsai with this one.  I think I’ll hold it for training.

Our BC stock is growing for 2018.  I’m planning two or three more trips, so I should have something for everyone who’s contacted us.  Stay tuned.

I’d Like Your Opinion On This

After posting yesterday’s blog, a reader commented that I should include a standard reference object in order to make it easier to gauge the size of certain trees.  Here’s a photo of the really big two-tree Bald cypress specimen I showed you yesterday:

I’ve never done this before though I have seen other vendors do it, so I’m wondering what you think.  The Swamp Pop bottle measures 2.25″ in diameter at the base.  The larger of the two trees measures 7″ across 7″ above the soil surface.  Does the bottle help put it into perspective?

Great Bald Cypress Material – Collecting Trip 2

So, four days ago we had a couple of inches of snow here, and temperatures around 15°F for a couple of nights.  Today it was 60°.  That could only mean one thing: go collect more Bald cypress!

Here’s today’s haul.  I focused on larger specimens today, which means I looked for good buttressing.  It’s the classic BC look, after all.








This may be the show-stopper for the day, another of my famous “natural companion” Bald cypress bonsai-to-be.  The larger of these specimens has a 7″ trunk (7″ above the soil level) and is 33″ tall.  The smaller one has a 4″ trunk.  While they are not connected at the base, their roots are intertwined and they didn’t separate as I cleaned them up, so the only conclusion I can draw is that they’re meant for each other.












Here’s another cool specimen.  The trunk is 4″ 4″ above the soil level, and it’s chopped at 24″.  Aren’t the roots terrific?  A little different than usual.
















I’m really excited about this one.  The trunk is 5″ 5″ above the soil, and it’s 29.5″ to the chop.  It’s deeply fluted and the trunk has beautiful movement.  I’m planning to hang onto this one for a few seasons and train it as a flat-top.  It’s going to make a great impression when it’s done.














My heart skipped a beat when I saw this tree.  It’s got a knee coming off one of the radial roots, and a really nice one at that.  What’s fascinating about this is the fact that the trunk of this tree is only 3.5″ above the root crown.  It’s also got subtle fluting, and lots of radial roots that can be exposed when it gets to a bonsai pot.

This is just a killer Bald cypress (maybe it’s the show-stopper of the day).  The trunk is chopped at 26″, and I think a flat-top will accentuate the knee better than a more traditional upright style.

Let me know what you think of today’s catch.  I’m really excited about them.

The 2018 Bonsai South Survey Results

Thanks to everyone who responded to our 2018 Bonsai South survey.  The response was very good, and we learned a lot.  Here are the results.

Q1: Do you plan to get more trees, end up with fewer trees, edit what you have, or upgrade your collection?

It looks like a quarter of you plan to edit your collection in 2018, which I take to mean you want to thin the herd.  For everyone else, it’s either more trees or better quality trees.  I don’t think this was a surprising result.

Q2: What is your number one goal in 2018 to improve your technique?

Most of you plan to get better at bonsai in 2018 by leaning online.  I personally think this is a great way to see what others are doing and how they’re doing it.


Q3: What specialized bonsai technique would you like to learn in 2018?

I wasn’t surprised by this response.  Why?  Well, when you think about the trees you end up working on, how many come with perfect nebari?  Not that many.  But as I always say, you can make roots a lot easier than you can make an old trunk with great character.  So this technique is sure to improve your trees.

Q4: What is your biggest weakness in bonsai?

I was not surprised to see so many answer artistic design.  This is one of the biggest challenges in bonsai, and even experienced artists have their struggles from time to time.  Can artistic design be learned?  I firmly believe the answer is yes, and that the key lies in learning certain rules and techniques and practicing them over and over.

I was surprised to see how many folks find pinching and pruning to be a challenge.  This is an area I’ll work hard to blog more on this year.

Q5: Where do you get your trees?

This mainly falls in the category “a little of this and a little of that.”  No surprise here.



Q6: How do you like your raw material?

Once again most of you like a combination of starts, from really raw material to semi-trained trees.


Q7: When you buy, what are you looking for from your bonsai nursery?

Highly quality material at fair prices wins out!



Q8: What would you like Bonsai South to do better in 2018?

Bigger selection and videos!  All I can tell you is, I’ll work really hard to make sure both of these things happen in 2018.  The videography will be the bigger challenge, but it’s been on my mind for quite a while now.  So we’ll see what we can do for you.

More Collected BC Fun – Hard Chops And Small Stars

I often get questions about chopping the roots of collected trees, and it seems the question most often asked is, “If you chop the roots back that far, will the tree survive?”  The short answer, of course, is always, “Yes, it will.”  This is from a lot of experience, by the way, not theorizing.

There seems to be a general misunderstanding of the collecting process, and I believe it is rooted in the very stark difference in how deciduous trees respond to the collecting process versus pines and junipers.  I’m confident this is true because I can recall reading, many many years ago, that when you collect trees you should collect as much root as possible in order to ensure the survival of the tree.  Oh, and you should also make sure you get a lot of fibrous roots when you collect trees (this almost never happens with most hardwoods).

I have always been a big fan of deciduous trees, so that’s where my collecting efforts were (and still are) focused.  So when I began collecting my own material, I naturally did my level best to collect as much root as possible, as the experts taught, within the constraints of the pot the tree was going into.  This seemed to work, so I kept on doing it that way.

Unfortunately, three things made this approach more challenging than it should have been for the ultimate goal of making great bonsai.  One was the fact that the larger radial roots tended to always sprout new growth from the cut ends, and not all along their length.  This in turn created the second problem, namely, when it came time to place the tree in an oval or rectangular bonsai pot the radial roots would not fit front to back and required re-chopping (the success of which was not guaranteed).  And then there was the third problem, and that is the large radial roots of collected trees almost invariably have no taper near the trunks.  Surface roots are no different that the trunks and branches of trees – they should taper from base to tip.

Let’s take another look at one of the cypresses I wrote about yesterday.  I did indeed get a question about the chances of survival of this tree with so much root removed.  But consider two of the points I made above.  First of all, this tree ultimately has to fit into a bonsai pot.  Leaving a lot more root could jeopardize that part of the bonsai’s development.  Secondly, these radial roots are no different than what I see on every tree I collect.  No taper.  So I’ll have to create it, to make a more believable tree.







In this photo I’ve drawn a line where the soil surface is going to be.  This tree, having a 6″ trunk, will need to go into a pot that’s not more than 6″ deep.  So cutting the base of the tree is done with this in mind.










In this closeup I’ve noted another fun fact about the recovery of deciduous trees from collecting.  New roots sprout from the cut ends of the large radial roots.  You’ll get one or two, which may appear anywhere around the root.  And you usually don’t get more than a couple.  These are the roots that need to be allowed to run, to thicken up, so that the radial roots will end up with good taper in time.  Notice in this photo, especially on the roots at the left and center, that they’re chopped a couple of diameters from their emergence point.  This will make for a good tapering transition as the fresh new roots grow.

Shifting gears slightly, I thought it would be fun to post some shots of two smaller BC I collected yesterday.  It’s only natural to ooh and ah over the really big ones, but I’m often surprised by the quality of some of the smaller trees I bring home.  Here’s a good example.  I didn’t know for sure what was below the surface when I first stuck the saw in the ground, but after cleaning this one up I was pretty wowed.  Isn’t this flaring base and rootage just awesome?  I’m seeing a flat-top down the road.











And potted up.  If you collect your own, make sure you bury the surface roots to protect them.  They’ll get uncovered again when it comes time to go to a bonsai pot.















Check out this little guy.  The trunk is even smaller, just 2″ across.  But check out the base, the movement and the taper.  Isn’t it just lovely?
















And potted up.  I also see a flat-top with this one.  It just has that literati-look, and so a flat-top style will be appropriate.

One final note.  Do not try to apply anything in this blog post to collecting pines or junipers.  It will not work!


The 2018 Bald Cypress Harvest, Part 1

Special note to our BC wish list subscribers: once the BC we collect this year start budding, I’ll begin sending out advance photos of candidates per your requests.  For anyone not currently on our list who would like to be, just send me an email with the size you’re looking for and/or budget and I’ll add you.  We work the list in order, FCFS.  Thanks!

Here’s today’s haul, eleven trees of varying sizes.  Bald cypress is not hard to collect, but it does take some manpower.  I recommend a cordless reciprocating saw and a young, strong man to help.  This part took about an hour.






The bigger challenge is preparing the trees for container life.  BC in the swamps tend to grow in a mucky soil along with massive amounts of grass and weeds.  This all has to go.  Each of the trees I collected today will take about 30-45 minutes to clean up.  Once all the muck is gone, the base is sawed flat and the roots given a final trim.  Notice how close these are cut to the trunk.  This is all you need.

Nice specimen, eh?  The trunk is 4-5″ 4-5″ from the soil surface.  Really nice buttressing and flaring roots, and I love the movement!







Here’s a big, classic Bald cypress bonsai-to-be.  This one has a 6″ trunk, and is destined to be a formal upright.  I’m thinking any collection could benefit with this tree in it.













This one is even bigger than the previous one, trunk about 7″ 7″ above the soil (once I potted it).  The photo doesn’t do it justice.  This is your classic hunky masculine Bald cypress.  Isn’t the taper on this one and the one before it superb?

I’ll post updates as BC collecting season continues.  My next trip is scheduled for a couple weeks from now.

I’d love to hear what you think of these trees.