Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, is one of the best species for bonsai and one I believe every beginner should have. They grow very fast, even in a small container. And the fast growth makes them quicker to train to showable condition.
This specimen was collected in February of 2015. I began its training that year, with an initial round of wiring. In 2016 I made the year-two cut at the chop point (more on that below), and did another round of wiring. This past spring I potted the tree in its first bonsai pot, a training piece made by Bryon Myrick.
So here’s the tree on July 3rd, all full of disorganized growth. I have intentionally not done any trimming on this tree in 2017, just allowing it to regain its strength from the spring potting. And it’s done that just fine.
A Bald cypress that’s growing strong and is well-established can be defoliated in early July. This does a few things for you: one, it eliminates what is often a good bit of shaggy and/or discolored foliage; two, it allows you to remove wire and rewire as needed, along with guiding the branch growth you want; and three, it allows you to prompt another strong flush of fresh foliage that will carry into fall and produce a nice show when the trees nears dormancy.
Here’s my Bald cypress, bald. I stripped all of the foliage off, which took less than 10 minutes, by holding the branchlets and simply running my hand outward along each one. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.
With the foliage gone, it’s easy to see how the tree grew – mostly how it wanted to, to be precise. I had wired most of the branches and positioned them last year. Because BC are apically dominant, it’s taken a full year for some of the wires in the lower parts of the tree to actually begin to bind.
The next stage of “BC in July” is to trim away everything that doesn’t serve a purpose. This means bringing in the silhouette, removing inner shoots, removing upward-growing and downward-growing shoots, and removing unneeded extra shoots (there are always plenty of these).
Notice that I left some extra shoots in the crown of the tree. Their purpose is to help thicken the new leader, which was grown beginning in 2015 and cut back hard in 2016. I’m letting yet another new leader grow out, but keeping shoots growing out of the original base where they are so they can continue growing to thicken up the transition point.
For those of you who have gotten my BC development guide, this is an actual illustration of what the year three stage looks like. The callus is rolling over nice and smooth. Notice the “shelf” of wood at the top, whose purpose is to prevent the callus from rolling over too powerfully at the transition point and producing a reverse taper. Next year I’ll be able to carve the shelf off and allow the rolling callus to continue filling in the chop. In about another three or four years this wound should be completely sealed over.
Shifting gears, this cypress was collected in February of this year and placed directly in this Chuck Iker pot. It recovered slowly, mainly because it was suddenly living in a shallow pot. (I do like to push the envelope, and usually get away with it.)
This tree is not in a strong enough condition to defoliate. I really never do this is the first year after collecting a tree. In 2018, I’ll be able to defoliate this one. But for this year, I leave it alone and let it continue to gain strength. I’ve got a good design going, and next year it’s going to get better.
I think I’m going to call this bonsai “Wading Bird.” The dead snag on the left has a beak-looking dead branchlet right at the top. I plan to create a jin at the apex of the living trunk to mirror this branchlet. What do you think?
Finally, here’s another BC I’m training as a flat-top. As with the previous one, this is not the time to defoliate as the tree is growing out from having been collected in February. So I’m going to limit my work at this time to a light trimming. Next year it’ll be time to work on jins, and continue the development of the branch and crown structure. I’ll probably also pot it up in the spring.
After a light trim. Looks great, doesn’t it?