Checking In On A Few Trees – Pocomoke Crape, Trumpet Vine, Privet

checking in on a few trees

Sneak Peek

The 2020 growing season is coming to an end.  Here are a few trees that have made a lot of progress in a short time.

Checking in on a Few Trees

Here’s where we left this Pocomoke Crape Myrtle at the end of June.  I had tackled the shrub and come up with a good design.  All that was needed was for it to grow, and it did so with nice vigor.

Then came the real heat of summer, and give the propensity for every Crape to grow a lot of roots fast, this one started to look unhappy due to the heat on the pot and the fact that the roots had all reached the edge.  I took quick action and moved the tree to a spot where it didn’t get any sun on the pot, and that did the trick.  It took a while, but the tree came back fine.




You can see in this photo that the design is getting better defined.  One of the biggest problems with growing naturally shrubby species as bonsai is there’s a tendency to make them into shrubs in pots.  That’s not what bonsai is all about.  We want to take our shrubs and turn them into trees.  That’s a whole different critter.

One of the things you’ll notice about this iteration of the Pocomoke is that I’m starting to get definition in both the structure as well as the foliage pads.  Rather than everything hiding behind a mass of foliage, there’s plenty of definition and a more tree-like form.

I need to continue working the sub-branching to enhance the structure and areas of foliage.  But this is a very good start.

You saw this Trumpet vine earlier in the month, as it was recovering from potting done a couple of weeks before.




It doesn’t take long for vines to become vines again!  This is a few weeks growth, and I don’t plan to touch it for the rest of the season.  It’ll likely try to commandeer support from the nearby trees on the bench, but that’s okay.  When the time comes, I’ll shear everything back.  For now, I need more thickening in my branching so that what are actually tendrils become branches.  With winter on its way, I also want to do everything I can to prevent dieback.  This will happen to the finer growth, nothing to be done about that.  But I want to go into 2021 with a good branch structure to build on.


Here’s that lovely “Pasture Privet” that I potted at the end of July.  It looks a little beat up from the potting – but that won’t stop a privet. 

I’ve already trimmed this guy at least three times.  Boy, did it recover!

I won’t do any more on this one in 2020.  But in 2021, I have to do the same thing I’m doing with the Pocomoke above.  I need definition in the structure, and definition in the foliage.  As I work on this, I’ll get leaf size reduction which is an added bonus.  Privets come with naturally small leaves, but they get even smaller once the confinement of a bonsai pot kicks in.

Let me know what you think of these trees (I already know privet is “illegal” in Florida).

Rulebreaking 101 – Crape Myrtle

rulebreaking 101 – crape myrtle

Sneak Peek

I enjoy breaking rules when something good comes of it.  One of my hardest and fastest rules is to never collect a tree twice.  Well ….

Rulebreaking 101 – Crape Myrtle

And so, way back in 2012 I was invited to collect some white Crape myrtles from a commercial growing field.  The trees were available primarily because their trunks were not straight enough (the anti-bonsai approach to the landscape, right?).  Not that they were all twisty-turny, they just had some low trunk movement which made them fair game for bonsai.  Seeing as how each had a trunk base of 5-6″, and Crape myrtle wood is one of the absolute toughest you’ll ever try to saw, I limited myself to five specimens.

I brought them home and potted them up.  A couple failed to bud all the way up and down the trunk.  One I planted out – this one – and the second stayed in its pot and has grown its way into the ground; I’ll be lifting it next spring.  The others I sold.

So I’ve been mowing around this specimen for years now, and as time has gone on it’s started to take on some interest as a very stout kinda guy.  The more I’ve studied it, the more it has started to intrigue me.  Finally, I decided to break one of my most sacred rules: never collect a tree twice.




Don’t let this picture fool you – the sawing and lifting was awesome and lengthy!  It took me a couple of battery packs to get to this stage.

This is the nebari check before filling in the pot.  This tree has some killer roots – should I say to die for?  Is that redundant?

I could only think “Ogre” at this point.  This tree definitely needs a name.  Any ideas?

That trunk under the mouth of the tree technically makes it a clump – not to mention making it somewhat obscene.  It only lasted a day.




Here we are the next day, after the final editing.  This takes the tree out of the clump category pretty well.  I think I can work with the two leaders on this one, sumo-style.  I can also eliminate one and go for a single trunk line.  Plenty of time to decide.

Here’s another view of the tree.  Could this be the front?  It looks like I’ve got a couple of choices, so no need to make any decisions now.  Besides, who re-collects a tree at this time of the year?  That’s another rule I managed to break this go-round.  But here’s the secret: Crape myrtles are a different breed.  I don’t know of any species that roots as exorbitantly as Crapes.  So that gives me a lot of confidence, considering that we have a couple of months until our first frost.

By way of scale, the trunk on this specimen measures 7-8″ across at the soil.  The root spread is a good 12″.

I spotted the a couple of trunk buds today, meaning I just might’ve gotten away with breaking another rule or two!


Bonsai Odds & Ends – Fall Arrives

bonsai odds & ends – fall arrives

Sneak Peek

There comes a point in the season where you can feel the change coming, yet it doesn’t quite.  Then there comes a point where it just happens.  Today fall arrived.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Fall Arrives

Our heat broke a few days ago, and to be sure we’ve noticed signs of the season changing for a few weeks now (sinus-driven!).  But today came a cold, light rain, the sort that taps you on the shoulder and says “Fall’s here.”  Yes, it’s here.  We can count on at least one warm snap between now and Christmas, but no matter: the growing season is effectively over.

In today’s post are a few trees I felt like commenting on.  This Bald cypress was collected back in January and though it came out on schedule it plodded along until July.  At that point we got another push of growth, and that told me the tree was going to be all right.  The other day I decided to go ahead and start work on it.  The plan is for a flat-top, which should proceed quickly in 2021.

But where’s the front?  This is one possibility.




I think this may be a better front.  It doesn’t matter right now, the styling will go the same.  But which do you prefer?

I’m very pleased with this guy.  It got defoliated back in July, and the regrowth was picture-perfect.  I’m confident I’ll be able to just about complete the crown in 2021.  After five years of training, this one is in the home stretch.  (I’ve also commissioned a pot for it, so that will happen in 2021 as well.)




This pasture privet – along with all of its brothers – has kept on growing and will continue until it’s just too cold to keep on.  The styling has gone quickly and quite well.  I just wired that small branch on the right-hand side down near the base, and I think it’s going to add to the design.

I started working on this Spekboom last year.  My goal was to directionally prune, and the tree cooperated very nicely; I have four changes of direction now in the upright trunk.  It also threw a sub-trunk which I figured was ideal for thickening the base, so I just let it run all season.  I’ve been toying with potting this specimen for weeks now, and today I brought it to the workbench determined to make it happen.  In the course of studying it, I thought maybe the best thing to do with it was to make a semi-cascade specimen.  I had this Chuck Iker square on the shelf, and I think the whole design worked out pretty well.

Obviously there’s plenty of work to do on the cascading branch.  I plan to use directional pruning on it in 2021.  Stay tuned for updates.

I imagine many of you are already experiencing outright cold weather, and possibly even some snow.  I’m not there yet, but it won’t be long before I’m putting some trees to bed for the winter.


Roughleaf Dogwood Ugly Duckling Update

roughleaf dogwood ugly duckling update

Sneak Peek

I got this Roughleaf dogwood in May and first styled it in July.  It’s got some unique challenges, but part of our gaining mastery in bonsai is to be able to tackle and overcome such challenges.  Here’s a step in that direction.

Roughleaf Dogwood Ugly Duckling Update

This is where we left off with this Rougleaf dogwood back in July.  It’s a challenging specimen, to be sure; you might even call it an ugly duckling.  But hey, if bonsai were easy would it really be any fun?




I love working with species that grow like weeds.  Truth be told, unlike its cousin the Flowering dogwood, the Roughleaf can almost be thought of as a weed since it’s so prolific in the wild.  But once you work with them and learn their characteristics, you’ll be more than happy to have this weed on your bench.

So check out the growth and thickening of the leader in this photo compared with the one above.  That’s just two months ago!

Okay, down to business.  Our ugly duckling has done its part by keepin’ on keepin’ on; time for me to step in and make it look better.  There are a few chores today: one, carve down some of that dead wood near the leader, to make the taper seamless; two, wire and position branches to get the design closer to something that looks tree-like; and three, see if I can correct the biggest issue this tree came with.




Here’s the issue that third chore is designed to start correcting.  Back in July, when I first tackled this guy, the total lack of foliar depth made for a very difficult bonsai subject.  There just wasn’t any way to make it look like a balanced specimen (I’m not a windswept fan to begin with, and I didn’t think this tree had any business being one).

Now I’ve got a tiny shoot that co-exists in the spot where the low branch emerges from the trunk.  It naturally wants to go toward the back, so I’ll take advantage of that.

This view shows the tree after I carved off some of that dead wood near the leader.  Notice how smoothly the trunk line now continues on up into the apex.  Two things are at work here: one, the leader is a lot thicker now and looks much more natural; and two, by carving down that stub in the transition point I was able to literally create a smoothly tapering trunk line all the way into what will ultimately be the crown of the tree.


Here I’ve positioned that low shoot into the back of the tree.  It’s a start on some visual depth.

The last chore for today was to trim back the branches in the lower part of the tree (with less trimming on that left-hand branch near the transition – it needs more thickening).  I didn’t touch the leader.  Next spring I’ll prune it back to a couple of nodes and continue the crown-building process.  Given the growth rate of this species, I’m betting I can finish out the crown by Summer 2021 and have this ugly duckling in a bonsai pot!

I’d love to hear what you think of this tree.

A Big Huckleberry Gets Styled

a big huckleberry gets styled

Sneak Peek

Huckleberries are one of my favorite species (actually multiple species) for bonsai.  With small leaves, and flowers and fruit in scale, you can’t ask for much more.

A Big Huckleberry Gets Styled

On December 26th of last year I lifted this large Huckleberry (Vaccinium species).  With a trunk base of 2.5″, I’m guessing this specimen is about 30-35 years old.  I was able to cut to a fork and induce some nice trunk taper, and the trunk came with enough movement to make for a nice future design.

Huckleberries are easy to lift – I’ve had 90% success with them.  So if you’re inclined to collect your own, you should be able to find one or more of the native species in your area as they are widespread across the U.S.




One thing to bear in mind about Huckleberries is that they root slowly in a pot.  This is not a problem, you just have to plan your styling and ultimate potting work with that in mind.  They have a fine root system, similar to azaleas, and like the azaleas they love acid soil.  Also something to bear in mind for those periods where drought visits.  Keep some soil acidifier handy, or be prepared to water with vinegar solution (1 tablespoon of white vinegar per gallon, once weekly during the drought, is usually sufficient).

As you can see, and as you’ll experience if you delve into the blueberries, they produce multiple buds/shoots wherever they come.  This is common to many species, of course, and isn’t all bad.  You get to choose from among slightly different possibilities, both in size and direction of growth.

So with this specimen I have a couple of chores today.  I have to select strategically placed shoots/branches and cut away the rest, and I have to pick a leader and wire it up.  Blueberries, bushes that they are, do not exhibit apical dominance.  This doesn’t mean you can’t get a leader to run, you just have to encourage the shrub/tree to do so.

It’s always best to work from bottom to top, so here’s the first obvious edit – I need my first branch on the right-hand side of the tree, since the trunk line on this one runs from right to left.  That low left branch had to go.




You can see here that I’ve worked my way up the tree, removing excess branches from all those clusters.  This process took about 10 minutes altogether.  But the result is worth it, because now we can see what’s going to be a real tree form when I’m done.

Finally, I wired up a leader near the apex.  There’s some more wood above the leader, but I won’t do the angle chop until next spring to take advantage of what will be strong growth at that time for healing.

Here are the final edits plus a little more wiring and branch positioning.  You may have noticed that the Huckleberry produces naturally horizontal branches (along with some that want to point a little upward or downward).  This really facilitates your styling work.  In this case of this specimen, I’m well on my way to a good design thanks in large part to the growth habit of the species.

I’m a big proponent of blueberry bonsai, and I encourage you to collect or acquire at least one specimen.  I’ll be offering this one and a few others in Spring 2021.


How about another Spekboom?  This is one I started last year, and I left it alone until recently to grow out enough so I could start a somewhat larger bonsai with it.  Today I did some strategic pruning to get the design under way.  In 2021, this one is really going to develop nicely.

In this awesome reverse progression you can see where I started with this one a month ago.  (The rocks are there to help stabilize the tree.)  It has already put on new growth, so today’s editing was a next necessary step.

Let me know what you think of today’s show and tell.