You’ve been following along as I’ve worked on this Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, starting from a nice stick collected this past winter. The initial work was done a couple of months ago, when the new shoots had hardened off enough to allow for wiring without popping them off the trunk.

This tree has continue to grow with great strength, so much so that I can’t let it continue without undertaking the next phase of styling. Why? Simply because the tree is running too far outside its planning silhouette to allow for a compact design if I don’t make it happen starting right now. The initial wiring I did on this tree was to establish primary branches and the primary leaders in the planned flat-top. Now I have nice secondary shoots starting to extend. This is going to quickly cause an overgrown bonsai-to-be. It’s a mistake I see all the time. Remember, our goal is to create the illusion of a taller, older, bigger tree than what faces us in the shallow bonsai pot. We do this by paying careful attention to the proportions of the tree. There’s an appropriate trunk thickness to height ratio, an appropriate trunk thickness and height to canopy spread ratio, appropriate-size leaves in relation to the overall size of the tree, and so on (these aren’t precise numbers, but rather a range that works visually in fooling the brain). Perhaps the most critical of these proportions is the ratio of trunk thickness and height to canopy spread. This Cypress is a tall tree to begin with, measuring 31″ from the soil. My goal is to work with and even accentuate this appearance of height.


Okay, so armed with the plan of bringing in the silhouette of this tree to re-establish the proportions I need, I’ve taken off a good bit from both primary leaders in the flat-top.

Now, you may wonder why I’m working from the top down on this tree, as you almost always start from the bottom when designing a tree.

In the case of pruning to restore proportions, I usually begin in the top of the tree where this pruning is most critical in guiding me through the rest of the tree. Don’t forget that the illusion of bonsai lies in great part in the concept of forced perspective.

By crafting our trees so they grow smaller in spread rather quickly from base to apex, we’re able to fool the brain into thinking it’s observing a much taller tree than what it really is.

Because most species are apically dominant, they tend to get fuller in the crown much more quickly and “run away” from you. So by whacking hard starting in the apex, you can correct this issue from the top down which guides your work in the lower part of the tree.


Now how does the crown look? I’ve taken it in dramatically, and this immediately creates a different viewing perspective on the tree. It also provides me with guidance for the rest of the work.


And finally, after doing the remainder of the wiring and pruning. Obviously there’s a lot of work left to be done to complete the design of this tree, but considering it was in the swamp back in February I think it’s well on its way to becoming a fine Bald cypress bonsai.

I’d love to hear any comments you might have.