You may remember this Willow oak, Quercus phellos, from past posts. I collected it in Winter 2011, and it responded very well to its new home. After just four years, it had put on branches of decent thickness and more importantly produced a nice new apex that I let run in order to continue the smooth tapering of the trunk.
Last year I thought I had lost the tree in the brutal winter of 2014, but it surprised (and pleased) me when it came out very late and grew as strong as always. By rights, last year the tree should have either been repotted in a nursery container or into its first bonsai pot. But the late budburst took me past the ideal potting season and so I left it alone.
I couldn’t let it go past this year without working the root zone. I happened to have a nice Byron Myrick oval that previously held a water-elm (victim of Winter 2014), so I figured there was no reason not to make a real bonsai out of this fine tree.
Full up, I’d say. I wasn’t too surprised to see the mass of roots that had completely filled the nursery pot. What’s more, they were extremely dense at the soil surface. But that’s what a good root hook is for. With a little elbow grease, I had everything teased out and trimmed in about 15 minutes. Better than that, I got a chance to see the surface rootage I’d buried all those years ago.
Now that’s a nice mass of roots! And check out the flaring at the base.
Perhaps the most difficult part of growing bonsai is we don’t have any way to directly gauge what’s happening underground from day to day. It’s easy to see wilting leaves or fungal spots. It’s easy to see most pests. But underground is the great unknown. So we prepare our soil using time-tested principles, and ensure the soil remains properly moist.
Time to pot the tree. As I’d done with my large hawthorn a few weeks ago, I put a layer of pea gravel in the bottom of the pot for drainage, then a layer of horticultural charcoal on top of that, then in went the tree with my standard screened bonsai mix.
You may be thinking the new apex is too long, and you’re right. I need to shorten it by about half to continue the tapering process; but I plan to work it back slowly to ensure against dieback.
As you might have guessed, this is the nicest willow oak bonsai I’ve ever owned.
Finally, here’s a close-up of the nebari. I usually forget how the surface rootage looks on any tree I collect after time has passed. So it’s always nice to see a good set of roots re-emerge. And what character!
This tree has a 4″ trunk base above the root crown and is 12″ to the original chop. The finished height will be about 16″. I anticipate it’ll take another four or five years to bring this specimen to show-able condition.
I seldom run across larger willow oaks to collect, but I am growing a few specimens in the ground (along with live oaks and water oaks). I hope to have some pre-bonsai material available in two or three years.