bald cypress styling – formal and informal upright

Sneak Peek

It doesn’t matter if your Bald cypress bonsai is going to be a formal upright or an informal upright, certain “rules” apply to the design.

Bald Cypress Styling – Formal and Informal Upright

    I first showed you this formal upright Bald cypress bonsai-to-be back in April. The first step with this newly collected specimen, as I noted, was to edit the shoots in preparation for the initial styling.

    This work was done about a week after the photo above was taken. As you can see, it’s all about new tender shoots and getting them started in the right positions.

    Here is today’s update. There’s been plenty of growth in a month, and the leader thickened up enough that I had to unwire it.

    Now, it’s important at this point to consider some basic design principles which will apply to most of your bonsai. Here they are, in no particular order of importance:

    • the first quarter to third of the trunk, starting from the soil, is devoid of branches
    • branches are spaced farther apart in the lower part of the tree, getting closer together as you work your way up
    • you always want a good distribution of branches, which is why we all learn the “spiral staircase” concept of left branch-right branch-back branch or any combination thereof (we usually don’t start with a back branch, but I have from time to time)
    • branches are longer in the lower part of the tree than in the upper part, mimicking trees in nature and complying with horticultural principles

    Keep those principles in mind as we turn our attention to this client tree I worked on today. The growth you see is very typical of cypresses when you first tackle them.


    The basic editing is done. Notice how the tree has been worked in keeping with the principles noted above. First branch placement (the final position is the key), fewer branches in the lower part and more in the upper, good distribution of branches around the trunk, pyramidal form to mimic natural trees.

    The next vital chore on this specimen is to make the angle cut on the trunk. It was chopped straight across when collected, which is how it needs to be done, and now that I’ve selected my leader it’s time to get the tapering transition into the new apex under way. This part is done with a trunk splitter, the absolute best tool for the job.


    The rough result.

    I use knob cutters followed by hand-carving tools to smooth it out. Notice the “shelf” that I’ve left near the new leader. This is necessary because of the apical dominance of the tree, which will cause the callus beneath the leader to swell very rapidly and much more than at the bottom of the angle cut. If I carve this angle without the shelf, the callus is very likely to overswell and cause a reverse taper. I have seen this error too many times to count.

    By the way, this whole carved area must be sealed (which I did after the work was completed). BC sapwood is like a sponge, and the transported water goes right through the chop area – not good for the tree.


    And finally, the tree is wired and the branches positioned. Notice a couple of things about this initially styled BC:

    • the first branch on the tree emerges at the first bend in the trunk – a classic bonsai design principle because it looks right and complies with natural horticultural principles (notice the low point where the branch was pulled down; it is very near 1/3 what will be the final height of the tree)
    • the branches have been pulled downward; this helps to produce the illusion of height in this tree (along with the taper of the trunk, which is forced perspective)
    • the branches in the top of the tree have been trimmed very short; if left too long they will rob energy from the lower branches, so must be kept “cool”
    • the gentle curve of the trunk is continued into the new leader

    Let me know what you think of today’s work.