Bonsai Odds & Ends – Privet And Bald Cypress

bonsai odds & ends – privet and bald cypress

Sneak Peek

This is just a quick redux on the ‘Pasture Privet’ I posted about the other day, plus a couple of others that got potted; plus it was time to check in on the big Bald cypress I defoliated, styled and potted recently.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Privet and Bald Cypress

I knew by the amount of growth on this tree that it was strong enough to go into a bonsai pot.  When I took it out of its nursery container and saw all the nice white feeder roots, my hunch was right.  It took just a few minutes to get it settled into this very fine Byron Myrick round (love the squiddy).


Here’s another of the gang that I styled and potted.  Same thing with the amount of roots.  It got a lovely Chuck Iker round.

I love these “kissing cousin” twin-trunk specimens that are partially fused.  You can make nice designs with them.

The base on this little tree is just amazing, by the way, one of the best I’ve seen.

This is a nice upright specimen with great trunk character.  Also a fine Chuck Iker pot.

These last two privets will fill out quickly over the next month or two, and I’ll post them for sale when the time comes.

Last but not least, here’s the big BC I recently defoliated, potted and styled.  It has reliably pushed lots of fresh new growth, and this should give me a great shot at some fall color when the time comes.  In the meantime, the development of this very fine specimen continues.  I expect to offer it for sale in 2021.  It’s going to make a great addition to someone’s collection.

It’s fun to check back on these trees once they’ve reached a certain stage of development.  Here’s a photo of this guy before it had any buds on it, back in March of 2018.  Love that flute in the trunk that goes all the way up.

I imagine I’ll put together and post a progression later this year.

Defoliating, Potting And Styling A Large Bald Cypress

defoliating, potting and styling a large bald cypress

Sneak Peek

It’s July 4th weekend, so the traditional cookouts, fireworks and defoliating Bald cypresses are in order.  That’s right, defoliating Bald cypresses is a tradition for BC lovers.  Today’s victim is also getting his first bonsai pot.

Defoliating, Potting and Styling a Large Bald Cypress

I wasn’t kidding when I said most BC’s get pretty shaggy as summer marches on.  This one, which I’ve been working on for three years now, is a perfect example.  The tree has shown good strength this year, allowing me to take the next step in building the apex and tapering transitionl that means it’s time for defoliating, potting and styling the tree.


I thought you’d like to see a closeup of the apex I’m building.  You can see where I chopped the leader early this season.  It dutifully pushed a bud in the right spot, and that bud took off and thickened up in just a couple of months.

Here’s the tree, almost completely nekkid.  They look like weird brooms that you couldn’t use to sweep up anything, don’t they?  But that’s all part of how we make a well-developed Bald cypress bonsai.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I left the foliage at the very top of the tree.  I want the energy focused in the apex of the tree, in order to finish thickening that transition point.  By letting the leader run, I’ll get what I need.  So while the rest of the tree is rebudding, the apex will be drawing energy and extending.

Here we are after a trim and a trunk-brushing.  When you defoliate your cypresses, it’s a good time to do some cleanup since you can really see all of the trunk.

Out of the nursery pot.  The root system is healthy; the tree was not as root-bound as I would have expected, but that’s okay.

Here’s a shot from the backside.  Good surface roots all around.  I always bury collected trees sufficiently to protect the surface roots that come with them.  This is an example of sacrificing current pleasure for future pleasure.  When you lift a tree that has great rootage, it’s only natural to want to be able to see it.  Unfortunately, if you succumb to that desire there’s a good possibility that one or more of those roots will dry out and die.  So bury ’em deep!

I got this custom pot from Lary Howard just recently, and I think it goes beautifully with this specimen.  The only thing left to do now is to make something out of that wild set of branches.

The styling part is always the most fun.  This is another very good reason to defoliate your Bald cypresses about this time of year.  You can very easily see the trunk and branch structure, and this certainly helps you correct any issues or just refresh and update the style you had in mind to begin with.

This is an exciting Bald cypress bonsai in the making.  It only lacks two things: one, a fully developed apex including a smooth tapering transition; and two, maturity in the branches.  But we’re well on our way.

The stats: trunk base is 5″ across 5″ above the soil surface; root spread 10″; finished height will be 34-36″.

Let me know what you think of this one.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Bald Cypress Defoliation + Styling, Pocomoke Crape Styling

bonsai odds & ends – bc defoliation + styling, pocomoke crape styling

Sneak Peek

We’re on the cusp of Bald cypress defoliation season.  I did one today.  I also did the next round of styling on a Pocomoke Crape myrtle.

Bald Cypress Defoliation + Styling, Pocomoke Crape Myrtle Styling

It’s Bald cypress defoliation time, that time of year when we get to remove all of the foliage from our BC’s and get a fresh new round of growth before the end of summer and fall show time.  This is important because most of the time, most BC’s will get “shaggy” foliage by about August.  If left alone, it really doesn’t get better and you won’t want to show your tree if you belong to a local club and they put on a fall show. 

The problem of shaggy foliage is easily rectified by taking all of it off.  For us down South, it’s often a July 4th event as that makes for good timing as the new growth takes a few weeks to really kick in.  As long as your tree is strong, you can do this every year.

This specimen is going on to a new home in a few weeks.  Not only is this the perfect time to take all the foliage off, it also allows for some styling work as the tree’s structure will be easy to see.

While you do have to exercise some caution when pulling off the foliage (always away from the base of the branch, and you need to hold the base of new shoots or you’ll pull them right off), this work goes quickly.  Here you can see that I’ve allowed the “vestigial” branches to throw some up-pointing shoots.  Why?  Because this BC, just like every last one of them, is powerfully apically dominant.  Lower branches get less energy as a result, so one way to remedy the situation is to encourage and allow upward-pointing sub-branches.  This helps thicken up those vestigials quickly.  But … time to take them off (for this round).

Here’s where I ended up after a final trim and some wiring.  This bonsai has come a long way in a short time, and is pretty much at the pinching and light pruning stage.  The trunk chop will be completely healed over in another year or so, and at that point the tree will be in its maturing phase as a bonsai.

While we’re on the subject of Bald cypress, here’s my big forest experiment I wrote about not too long ago.  I’ve been waiting patiently for the new main tree to resume growth, and especially to push some strong buds/shoots near the trunk chop point.  My patience has now paid off.

And a closeup of the main tree.  I have four shoots to choose from, and I’ll be making my selection very soon.  That shoot will be allowed to run for the rest of the growing season, probably with a bit of wire to guide it as needed.

You probably remember this Pocomoke Crape myrtle from earlier in the season.  I did the initial styling and potting back in March, and I’ve been letting the tree grow out since then.

That low left branch was a big question mark.  I even had a comment from a reader to the effect that it needed to go.  I like having options, especially when I’m unsure of a design move, so I left it alone at the time.

Fast-forward a few months, and the tree has definitely settled happily into its new home.  I recently did a little selective pruning, but today it’s time for some additional work.

So what about that low left branch?  I was just about to remove it, and then I studied the tree some more and noticed something about the branch above it that I had initially wired and positioned downward.  What if that branch went away?  In this photo I’ve moved it up out of the way, and did some styling work on that low left branch.  Hmm.  Now I think I see why I left the branch there.  The branch higher up has the challenge of emerging from what is the bottom of the trunk.  While I’m sure this could work all right, it remains an awkward and not necessarily aesthetically sound location for a branch.  I think it has to go.

Now that branch is gone, the one above it makes more sense design-wise, and that low left branch is exactly in the right spot with a good shape to it.  I’m sure this is what I saw in the recesses of my mind when I first started out on this tree.  So I’m glad I didn’t cut too quickly.

This tree is a good, strong, beautiful Crape myrtle specimen and is now posted for sale in our Shop.  It’s going to make a great addition to someone’s collection.

Styling A Big Bald Cypress

styling a big bald cypress

Sneak Peak

The big collected Bald cypresses start out pretty much the same way.  They recover pretty much the same way.  Then comes that day when you dive in ….

Styling A Big Bald Cypress

I acquired this big Bald cypress last month from another collector.  It’s got a super nebari, plenty of radial roots with a good flare down into the soil.  Plus there’s trunk movement and taper.  The thing to do now that it’s pushing roots out of the pot’s drain holes is to build an initial design.

This process, incidentally, is one you’ll do over and over again.  Deciduous trees are mostly collected the same way, and start out as bare trunks.  This works exceptionally well with Bald cypress since it buds so freely on old wood.

Now, looking at this specimen you might be wondering how it’s going to look like anything.  To be sure, there’s a paucity of branches.  But that’s only the second worst blank canvas to start with when designing a bonsai.  It’s far worse when you have too many branches.  So this is a good one to work with, since I only have limited design choices (not to worry, it’s plenty).


So a little editing and I start at the bottom, two branches at a time.  When you’re working young BC branches, try to crack them gently as you position them after wiring.  Breaking the longitudinal fibers helps the branch set its position more quickly and easily.  I know some artists who say you can do this completely without wire.  While this is true, there’s also a risk and that’s when a bird or falling branch lands on your well-placed branch.  The wire helps keep it where you put it, so I always recommend wiring.

Here we go up the tree.  Couple more branches get their turn.  Notice that things are starting to look up, because I’m putting (present and future) foliage masses in their necessary spots.

Were you wondering about that empty space on the left side of the trunk just below the chop area?  I had a branch in back of the tree that allowed me to fill that gap.  The design is unfolding very nicely.

You probably noticed that pretty thick branch under the leader.  I could have wired and man-handled it downward, but the fact is most of the energy of this tree is near the top so by simply cutting off the branch I’m sure to get a couple of buds in that same spot.  I’ll simply choose one when it reaches a nice shoot stage and wire it.  It’s nice to have a forward facing branch once you get in the upper third of the tree (you have to be careful with these, don’t overdo them and don’t place them too low).

 Finally the coup de grace.  This tree is strong enough to get its angle chop this year rather than next.  That will give me a head start on the tapering transition.  The leader needs to continue growing, and I’ll let it do just that, but I can also start getting callusing of the angle chop this year.

So this tree is on its way.  If you’d like to take over the development, it’s available in our Shop.  I’d estimate you could realistically go to a bonsai pot with it in just a couple of years.

BC Forest – Would You?

bc forest – would you?

Sneak Peak

It’s common to have to redesign bonsai over time.  A branch dies; you find a better front; and in the case of established forest plantings you lose trees, which have to be replaced.  Here’s one of those cases, and what I’m thinking of doing about it.  But would you?

BC Forest – Would You?

For those of you who have been following my blog for the past few years, you probably recall seeing this Bald cypress forest that was left to me by my late bonsai friend Allen Gautreau.  This is the earliest photo I have of the forest, which Allen did a great job putting together and maintaining.

It is worth noting that the forest started out life as nine trees.  Time and chance reduced the number, and when I got it there were five. 

I decided to move the forest to a new container, a vintage tray by the late Richard Robertson, a few months later.  I also did a little redesigning, as I thought the placement of the secondary group was too close to the primary.  I also snugged the trees in a little bit.

The next overwintering claimed the largest specimen in the secondary group.

Here we are, in the third growing season since the repotting.  All of the trees are doing well, but of course there’s that problem of the fifth tree.  The obvious thing to do would be to plant another small seedling and get it on its way to maturity in the forest.  But what if there’s another answer?

What if I go bigger – quite a bit bigger?  I recently acquired this specimen, which looked like a natural future flat-top.  I re-chopped it yesterday, and will start the crown-building process once I have the new shoots I need.  But in the meantime ….

What if the original forest, with its original focal specimen, suddenly became the smaller trees?  I’m thinking that the big tree will look best not out front, which is typical, but rather as a towering specimen that pushes the forest perspective in what would be the opposite direction from normal practice.  We try to create the impression of depth in our forest plantings by having larger trees placed toward the front of the container.  This is the most common way of doing things, and it works great.  But who’s to say you can’t reverse that, under the right circumstances, and end up with a forest planting that works visually and artistically.

I’m thinking I’m going to do this soon.  The question is, Would you?

Stay tuned for updates.

Update 5/17: I had a large forest tray on the bench that Byron Myrick made for me several years ago.  Although the color would not be my first choice for a BC forest, the size seems to be just right.

I think there’s a lot of potential in this design.  I’ll know if it’s paid off once I’m able to build the crown of the primary tree.  I the meantime, I think this has the makings of a pretty nice forest.  How about you?

Big BC Update

I posted a progression on this tree at the end of last year. With spring now in full force, this specimen has exploded with growth. I repotted the tree last year, and was in hopes of big growth for 2019; but I had to wait. But that’s fine. To make a good design takes time, and this is never truer than when you’re working on a large specimen.

Let’s look at some details of the 2020 plan and how I expect to accomplish it.

First of all, notice how I’ve taken a piece of wire and lashed the lowest left-hand branch to the branch above it. Why did I do this? The reason is simple: this branch has grown only weakly since I first selected, wired and positioned it. Even though I had brought the branch down, this is usually not enough to keep strong growth from occurring. In this particular case, it did. So I’m going to overcome this problem by pointing the branch upward, and this was an easy way to do it.
I’m getting results already. If you look closely at the tip of the weak branch, I have the beginnings of an elongating shoot. This is something that has not happened on this branch since it first formed. Each year the branch would put on its fronds, and just stop growing for the season. Very frustrating. But now I’ve got something going that should thicken the branch up during this growing season. You can use this technique to good effect; I have, many times.
Now let’s look up into the crown of the tree. It takes a number of years to properly complete the tapering transition when you begin with a big trunk chop. It’s common to lose patience and build out the crown of your tree before the transition is done. I need to make sure this one gets done right. With the rampant growth I’m getting, I should be able to thicken the base of the transition point easily. I need it to be at about 50% thicker than what it is now.

By rampant growth I mean the number of elongating shoots that have appeared in the crown from bottom to top. These are the type of shoots that produce thickening of the branches they appear on. If you don’t get these shoots, you don’t get thickening – it’s just that simple.

Here’s a closer view of the transition point. I don’t have far to go at all in making it look smooth and realistic.
Here’s the view from the back side. Isn’t that wound healing nicely! I expect it to be completely closed in about two to three more seasons.
For the final shot this evening, I wanted to show you the branch that I did the corrective work on back in December. Remember that I needed to force the base of the branch down at a sharper angle than it originally had. So I notched the branch underneath, put some heavy wire on it, and made that happen (cracking the top of the branch in the process – but it was all good). I was confident the branch would come through the rough treatment just fine, and evidently it has. Look at all the growth on it! The two wounds will completely heal during this growing season.

I hope this series of photos will be helpful to those of you who are working with large Bald cypresses. There are some tried and true techniques for making impressive bonsai from these specimens. It does take time, but it’s well worth it.

Let me know what you think of the progress.