bonsai odds & ends – oak, privet, crape myrtle

Sneak Peak

This is the time of year to be doing rapid development of many of our trees, due to their robust growth. Here are a Water oak, a Chinese privet and a Crape myrtle that moved closer to “bonsai-ness” with a little pruning and wiring.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Oak, Privet, Crape Myrtle

I collected this Water oak earlier this year, and once it got established it just took off. I’ve had to trim it some already. With that kind of strength, the obvious thing to do was go ahead and work up an initial design.

First order of business: make that horizontal chop an angle chop.

This is quick work with a trunk splitter and knob cutter. Notice how much better this tree looks already.

There aren’t but a few branches on this tree (plus the leader) to work with. Is that a problem? Not really. The trunk chop was made 7″ above the soil, and the tree has a base of 1.75″. If the finished height of the tree ends up, say, at 16″ then the first branch will be in an okay spot and the majority of the branches will end up in the new leader anyway.

How about that low branch? I’m not sure if this is going to make a workable design element, but if you look at trees in the wild (especially oaks) they tend to have both a main trunk line and secondary trunk lines that fork off the main trunk. This one may be too low, but then again if it turns into something unique then so much the better.

This is a small Chinese privet I was able to chop to a rapidly tapering trunk line (7″ above the soil). When you get an opportunity like this, you take it. I love well-proportioned shohin bonsai.

Fast-forward a few minutes, and this bonsai in the making is trimmed, wired and shaped. It’ll grow out quickly enough to allow slip-potting in the next month.

This is a white-flowering Crape myrtle I grew from a cutting several years ago. Due to living its entire life in a nursery pot, the trunk has just reached 1″ at the soil. But … it’s going to make a cool shohin specimen.

The big takeaway from this example is how you can use a sacrifice branch/leader to thicken the base of a specimen, while at the same time working on a design that will ultimately become your tree. But there’s a caution you need to be aware of. That leader is taking 90% of the energy generated in the roots, meaning the ultimate tree is getting very little. This means you have the risk of losing branches you may have worked on for years. So there are limits to what you can do with a sacrifice branch. If you use this technique, you have to keep a close watch on the entire tree.

Here we are post-sacrifice of the sacrifice branch. This little tree is now on its way to a more complete design, now that the energy is going to be redirected.

Incidentally, I’d like to encourage you to use a saw rather than concave cutters when removing larger branches from a Crape. Even with a very sharp tool, the wood will break rather than cut smoothly. This forces you to come back and carve even if you don’t plan to. The saw makes a nice smooth cut. Get yourself a Japanese bonsai saw, which cuts on the pull stroke. It’s an indispensable tool.