Bonsai Odds & Ends – Trumpet Vine, Yaupon, Spekboom

bonsai odds & ends – trumpet vine, yaupon, spekboom

Sneak Peek

For those of you interested in vines for bonsai, here are a couple.  Plus a Yaupon and another Spekboom in the works.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Trumpet Vine, Yaupon, Spekboom

Last year I pulled up some Trumpet vines from an area of ground I was leveling.  Like most vines, they are tough to kill and grow rampantly.  But the big question is, why isn’t the species grown as bonsai?  I’ve fooled around with them for years, and they seem to do all right in pot culture.  I don’t think it’s realistic to expect them to flower in a pot, but I can’t imagine that it’s impossible.  Regardless, it appears I’m the only person in the U.S. who grows Trumpet vine as bonsai.  That must mean it’s a real challenge, so that makes it hard to resist.

This specimen is one of those I pulled up last year, and recently I decided it was worth potting into a bonsai pot.  The trunk movement is hard to beat, and for me it was easy to see a design before it started coming back from all the pruning.




From this photo, taken just a month after the one above, you can probably get an idea of why I wonder that this species isn’t grown more as bonsai.  I mean, it’s already got a design and all I have to do is keep it trimmed to maintain it.

Here’s another of the group, which I potted up a couple of weeks after the one above.  I love the taper and twisting movement of the trunk – vines do tend to grow without taper, but movement isn’t hard to get.  This photo is post-potting, with the foliage that’s left looking all scraggeldy.




True to the resiliency of the species, here’s the next step for this specimen – new little fronds/tendrils pushing from most of the nodes.  I started the design of this one last year, once it had recovered from collecting.  The primary branches were wired into position, and then I just let them run so they’d thicken up.  As with all the vines you’ll ever work with, I had to go in late last summer and cut all those tendrils out of everthing else nearby on the bench.  Yes, they do tend to aggressively invade their neighbors’ spaces.  “Bad Trumpet vine!”

Yaupon (in this case Ilex vomitoria, our native species) make great bonsai.  They grow fast, have naturally small leaves and the evergreen species make a good leafy show on the bench in winter.  Here’s one I collected this year, a female (it had berries on it when I dug it).  It took a while to recover, but it then grew well enough to allow me to do the initial styling.  Next year I should make a lot more headway with it.

Yaupons do root slowly, so remember if you do decide to acquire one that you must treat them accordingly.  Following collection, give them at least a year to get established in the growing pot.  Never try to go directly to a bonsai pot with a Yaupon – I have done that experiment for you, and it doesn’t work.

You can see that this specimen needs thickening in the leader.  Yaupons are not apically dominant, so I can grow out the horizontal branches at the same time I let the leader run.  It’ll take about three years, but I should have a very presentable bonsai by then.


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.


Time To Overpot A Spekboom – Again

time to overpot a spekboom – again

Sneak Peek

The Spekboom, or Dwarf jade, is a wonderful bonsai subject.  They’re almost impossible to kill (if you don’t freeze them in winter), and they grow vigorously in the summer heat.  That means you have to repot them pretty frequently.

Time to Overpot a Spekboom – Again

A year ago this Spekboom, which started off as my original nub of a cutting back in 2018, got overpotted into this neat little Kintsugi pot.  It was starting to look like something, and I figured it could use some room to grow.

(Some of you may be wondering what criteria I’m relying on to pronounce this specimen overpotted.  There are two in this case: one, the pot is almost as long as the tree is tall – typically you’re looking for a pot that’s one-half to two-thirds as long as the tree is tall; and two, the height of the pot in profile is roughly five times the trunk thickness at the base – these measurements should be very close to one another.)




Here’s how the tree had progressed by December of last year.  You can see it’s filling out well – the ultimate shape (broom-form) is getting established.

And now a year has passed since the first photo above was taken.  Take a few seconds to compare the two shots.  In addition to becoming more or less a bush (an elephant bush?!), notice how much thicker the trunk has gotten.  My eyeball says 50% or better.

Now this is pretty remarkable.  Once trees get into bonsai pots, they don’t typically put on much trunk heft.  That’s what you get when you grow out trees in the ground.  Yet here’s this relatively small Spekboom (just over 12″ tall) growing in a rather confined space and its trunk is thickening!  Well, I’m pretty excited about that.

The other thing you may or may not have noticed is that the pot this tree is in is now somewhat small in its surface area relative to the mass of the tree.  When I picked it up to take it to the work bench, it was very distinctly top-heavy.  Your typical bonsai should have a good balance to it when you lift it from the bench; it shouldn’t feel like it’ll tip over if you accidentally incline it one way or the other.  This one for sure did.

So the first order of business today was to trim back the rank growth and open the tree up – meaning remove crossing branches and branches that have no future; downward pointing branches and upward pointing branches that have no future; and so on, to further refine the design.

This is the ticket.  Leave about half that foliage on the bench!

The final step for today was to overpot this tree yet again – as they say, I have a plan!

But first, a little history on this unique pot.  Back in the early 90’s I discovered Richard Robertson, a.k.a. Rockpot Pottery up in Maine (Richard passed a few years ago).  Richard was one of who knows how many American potters doing bonsai pots, in an era where the level of interest was much less than today.  I started ordering from him regulary, because he did great work and I thought my trees deserved nice settings.  In those days the Internet was not yet with us, and so you either ordered from a catalog (by mail!) or by phone.  I would order from Richard pretty regularly, to get a variety of sizes, styles and glazes so I’d have the stock I needed when it was time to pot up trees I was working on.  But what came in was sight unseen.

I remember clearly when I unpacked this pot.  It has a lovely, creamy matte finish, the glaze with hints of gray, blue and brown.  I thought it looked like a mushroom because of the color and finish, and I still do.  But the odd part is, over the past 30 years I haven’t come across a tree that goes really well with the pot.  It’s more a white pot than anything else, and only certain species look good in a white pot.  I’m thinking Spekboom may be one of them.

So this guy is now overpotted again and on to the next phase of development.  My goal is a taller and heftier tree.  With the space available in the pot, I’m thinking by this time next year I should have a much more substantial specimen.  If all goes well, I’ll be posting about it again by that time.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you think.  This is one of my favorites, if for no other reason than it cheers me up sitting on my desk when winter arrives.

Bald Cypress Fun In 2021

bald cypress fun in 2021

Sneak Peek

It’s not too soon to think about trees I’m going to work on in 2021.  Here are a few Bald cypresses that are on the list.

Bald Cypress Fun in 2021

I rarely do any Bald cypress trunk-building – I much prefer to collect them already built so all I have to do is make the apex and branching.  But here’s a small specimen that died back following collection, and now that it’s pushing strong growth I have an idea about making a shohin BC.  Most BC bonsai tend to be pretty tall, if not hefty too, so why not a specimen under 12″?  It’ll be interesting to see how much I can get built with this one next year.




For those of you who have been following my blogs all year, we collected this one back in January.  That massive hunk of wood you see is firmly attached to the tree, and I can only speculate that it was a large tree on its own and then died as this one grew up over and around it.  The wood at the base is fused to the living tree.  So I thought then and now, “Can it become a feature?”

That extra wood above the soil needed to be treated with lime sulfur to help preserve it, so I did that the other day.  Until it fades it looks like a woody iceberg.  I’m frankly not sure if it’s a feature or an obstacle to the ultimate design.  What do you think?

I wired and did the initial styling on the living tree, and a plan that’s a little different has set itself in my mind.  We’ll see where it goes in 2021.

“Iceberg dead ahead, Matey!”

Here’s another big one that grew sluggishly earlier in the season, and has only recently picked up strength.  I can’t do anything with it this year, but that’s fine.  I’m thinking flat-top in 2021, since I already have some classic pyramidal-style specimens in progress.

Let me know what you think.  Are you already planning for 2021?

Privet Progression – A Fast Year

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right?  Or at least a few hundred.  Here are six pictures that tell a story all on their own.  Pay close attention to the dates.







It’s also worth noting that in addition to the design and development work that’s gone into this tree, I also did some ground layering to improve the surface rootage.  It was indeed a fast year in the life of this Chinese privet.

Chinese Elm Forest Fun

chinese elm forest fun

Sneak Peek

Forest bonsai are great fun to make.  As long as you have a bunch of trees that look like they go together (straight trunks/crooked trunks, various size trunks, similar trunk character), you can make a presentable forest in minutes.

Chinese Elm Forest Fun

I’ve had this Chinese elm group on the bench since I lifted it early this year.  I figured someone might want to make a quick forest out of it, but nobody bit.  So I figured I’d do the job myself.  Here it was at the beginning of the project.  I’ve done a good bit of trimming on this group during 2020, starting the process of directing growth where I need it.  Chinese elms grow super fast, so you can make a lot of headway in a short time.  This one did not disappoint.




The first order of business was to do more selective trimming, to get the group ready for the tray.  Low branching on the large trees was removed, crossing branches removed, and I brought in a lot of the branches to improve the proportions of each trunk.

Usually when you make a forest planting, you have to use all eight or ten of your hands to hold all of those trunks in place when all they want to do is fall down.  Yeah, that never works of course.  The good news with this group is, all I had to do was remove enough root above and below to produce a rounded “ground surface” that fit well in the tray.  It’s common to mound forests, it makes them look more realistic. 

Don’t forget those forest principles, like making sure the trunks don’t hide one another.  This is true not only from the front view, but also the side views.

This side, too.  I need to fix those crossing trunks, but that will happen when I do the final positioning.

I did a final adjustment of the trees, a little more trimming, and then filled in the tray with soil.  This is a nice forest, if I do say so myself.  But wait, there’s one more step.

Doesn’t the moss just make this look like a real forest?  It also serves the purpose of retaining moisture, which is important while the group gets used to its new home.

I hope you like this Chinese elm forest bonsai-in-training as much as I do.  Next season it’s going to fill out and ramify very quickly.  If it speaks to you, it’s available in our Shop and ships in late September.