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An Early Start On Collecting Season

I planted out some Parsley hawthorn whips a few years ago. True to the old adage, “first year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps,” this year I’ve noticed a number of the specimens have put on some heft. A few have reached my minimum for lifting, namely, a trunk base of 1″. While I’ll certainly leave most to get bigger still, it’s nice to have some smaller specimens to offer.
I’m not sure what happened to this one or when, but it’s grown itself into a raft. Nice.
Here’s the first one on the potting bench. I have to choose between two leaders, either of which would do fine. You can see I’ve got some good roots to work with. My experience with hawthorn has been that they do quite well with a lot less root than you think they need when collecting them. My survival rate through the years has been 90% or better.
Yep, not much root at all.I’m still trying to decide on the leader.
I went with the straighter one. Not sure if it would have been better the other way, but the good news is this tree will produce multiple buds where I chopped that other leader. If I want, I can grow a new leader from one of those buds. So it’s not a big deal one way or another.
And here’s the raft, all potted up. I’m thinking this is going to make a very cool bonsai. What do you think?
I lifted this Huckleberry today. I’m very excited about it. I see a round pot and foliage confined to the upper part of each trunk. It’ll take a season or two to grow the left hand trunk the way I want it, but the results should be spectacular.
I have a choice of more than one front with this specimen. Which would you choose?

Swamp Maple #2

I recently sold a Swamp maple I’ve been working on for three years. Among the very nice features of that tree was the fact that it didn’t start rotting from the chop down in year three, which had been my experience over the course of many years and many trees. I collected this specimen in January of 2019, and have done nothing to it except for fertilizing and watering. Benign neglect, along with maintaining an interior root mass that includes native soil, has been my approach.When I saw the amazing fluting of this tree’s trunk, I had to bring it home. It’s an uncommon feature of the species. If this specimen survives and thrives, I should really have something.
I’m going on the assumption that, with the tree now in dormancy, pruning won’t have any significant negative impact. That’s all I’ll do until next spring.You can see the stub I left when removing that weird branch shooting off to the right. The purpose of cutting the way I did is to ensure that I don’t expose the tree unnecessarily to pathogens that might enter at the site of a flush cut. The cut I made was outside the branch collar.
The rest of the pruning has been done. The tree still looks like barely more than a trunk, but there are trunks buds in strategic spots you can’t see as well as a couple of branches I should be able to use.
A couple more notes for today. After a lot of studying over the course of the growing season, I’ve finally spotted a suitable leader. And I know just where to re-chop the trunk when the time comes. The only question to answer is when? If not next year, then surely 2021.
Here’s a little bonus shot. I’ve been growing this Swamp/red maple from seed for the past few years. It’s been cut back a couple of times now to build trunk taper. I went ahead and potted it because I’m satisfied with the trunk base, which is right at 1″ at the soil, and it’s destined to remain a shohin size bonsai. I know it doesn’t look like much at this stage, but I’ve got all the buds I need to create an entire branch structure. So by next summer I should have a neat little Red maple bonsai.

More Fall Work – Water-Elm

This nice Water-elm got its first bonsai pot in late February of this year (2109). I had collected it as a bare trunk, and chopped it where you see the obvious mark.
So here we are, just under 10 months later. There’s been a good bit of wiring and trimming during that time, and the tree is shaping up well. But … time for a cut and style!
Whenever you’re doing this sort of work, you need to examine the tree closely for this problem – namely, overgrown apical branches. Just about everything you’ll grow for bonsai will be apically dominant, and it’s this phenomenon that can literally ruin a tree. I’ve caught this one in time, but I do have to take strong measures to rebalance the tree’s energy.
This is the first step in controlling the imbalance, namely, cutting back the strong branch hard. Now, it will react as you’d expect, and try to regrow what I hacked off. As long as I come right behind and keep the branch trimmed, I’ll win the fight.
The problem is not as bad over on the right, but if I don’t cut back pretty hard it’ll just keep on thickening and get out of balance as the left one did.
And this completes the pruning of the crown of this tree. It’ll bud like crazy some spring, so I’ll need to be on my toes. But I’ll achieve at least tertiary ramification in the crown in 2020.
In this photo, I’ve done the rest of the cleanup pruning and trimming. All that’s left is to do some necessary wiring to get the structure back in line.
All set for the start of the 2020 growing season. This tree should be ready for grow and clip, for the most part, by next summer.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Oak, Oak, Sweetgum

Here’s a nice smaller Water oak I started working on last year.  Water oak is quickly becoming one of my favorite species, featuring small leaves, short internodes and ease of ramification.  They are very happy in a bonsai pot.

This one budded fairly high on the trunk, but I’m going with what I have.  You can probably tell I’ve been through two rounds of leader building already.  That’s an indispensable process when you work with collected trunks.  Usually you’ll chop fairly low, 10-24″ depending on the size of the tree, then build the tapering transition and a third to more than half of the entire structure of the tree from nothing.  As you can see with this tree, you can make very fast progress.

Snip, wire, shape.  Now the next iteration of the trunk line of this tree has begun.

Incidentally, one of the nice features of Water oak is they often hang onto most of their leaves through winter.  Though certainly not as persistent as Live oaks, you could actually term them persistent-leafed. 

I haven’t published an update on my world-class Willow oak in a while.  Frankly, it had a tough spring and I had to give it some extra attention to get it back to good health.  My secret?  More sun.  Where I have my garden, there are some Willow trees growing and as you may know they grow super fast.  This has brought more shade to that part of the garden, including where I’ve had this tree sitting for a couple of years.  So the extra shade snuck up on both of us.  I relocated the tree to my Bald cypress bench, which is in full sun, and it responded by pushing a lot of good new growth.  We’re both much happer now.

Here’s the tree after a trim last month.  For those of you familiar with this specimen, you may notice I don’t have a low right-hand branch anymore.  Unfortunately (?), I lost that branch this year.  I also acquired some more dead wood.  But is that a bad thing?

Here’s the fall almost-bare look, which gives you a better idea of the new structure of the tree.  I’ve always been a little unhappy with the fact that I had more or less a bar-branch situation in the lower part of the tree.  Of course, the traditional view of things is you would want the low right-hand branch and not the left-hand branch above it.  Well, trees do what they want in the end.  I actually don’t mind this structure at all.  It’s not as unbalanced as you’d expect it to look, and that works for me.  It may have to do with the incredible basal flare on the tree.  I mean, it looks at least a hundred years old (I’d guess it’s about 60 or so).  So for my money, this specimen has enough gravitas to carry just about any design.

I worked on the dead wood some while I was doing a general pruning back.  Oaks have solid wood, of course, so the amount of punky stuff I had to remove was not that great.  I painted on some lime sulfur, and will follow with PC Petrifier in the coming week.

This Sweetgum has been in training for just over a year.  In the Progression I’ve posted, you can see the quick development including the potting that happened almost five months ago.  Now, with the leaves about off the tree, it’s easy to see what needs doing.

Young Sweetgum branches are very supple, so there’s not a big chance of snapping one if you do fall wiring.  Here I’ve put the branches back where they belong, in anticipation of spring.

It’s important to bear in mind, when doing the early development work on a Sweetgum, not to remove terminal buds in fall or winter from non-ramified branches.  This increases the risk of dieback, probably due to auxin withdrawal.  If the branch is ramified, meaning there are multiple terminal buds, removing one or two won’t hurt (just don’t remove them all).

Flat-Top Bald Cypress Design Work

This flat-top Bald cypress is coming along really well for a single year of training. With that said, the design can stand some tweaking and fall is a perfect time to do it. All of the foliage will be off this tree within the next few days, so knocking some off today won’t hurt a thing.

Now, there are a couple of things that bother me about the basic design of this tree: one, the two apical leaders are too symmetrical; and two, the top of the tree is insufficiently “flat.” You can easily see what I mean by the former; by the latter I mean the crown of this tree is too rounded, and this is something that will need to be controlled as this tree continues to develop.

So let’s tackle both problems, shall we?

The first step in making the two leaders asymmetrical is to wrap some thick-gauge wire around them.
The change I’ve made here is subtle but important. I’ve pulled down the left leader and pushed up the right leader, both just enough to introduce the asymmetry I need. That’s the first step. The next few are equally important.
A sub-branch of the left leader is wired and pulled down. Again, a subtle change but very important.
A closer view, and more in line with the typical viewing angle. Take a closer look at the change in the leaders I made above, from this view. It’s all about the apical asymmetry that’s typical of flat-top BC.
More wiring on the left leader, the sub-branch at the rear. It’s brought down flatter into the plane where it belongs, and moved toward the back of the tree.
Moving over to the right leader, notice I’ve pruned out the sub-branch that was sticking straight up. It was too heavy and its further growth would adversely affect the design of this leader.
A close up, after a little more trimming. I know it may seem like I’m removing needed ramification, but trust me when I say it’ll all grow back and more! What’s vital at this point in the life of this bonsai is to properly establish the finer branch structure. BC are so apically dominant that you can completely develop a flat-top crown in a couple of seasons. In fact, if you don’t manage the growth during this crucial time, the tree will literally outgrow itself and force you to start over.
Now I’ve wired and positioned two sub-branches on the right leader. These will provide me with a good base for ramification in 2020.

Notice how flat the profile of the crown is from this view. It’s just what I need.

And the final shot for today. It’s easy to see where I’m going with this tree. I expect that by summer of 2020 I’ll be almost completely through with the overall design. Obviously I have to develop the lower branches on the trunk, and this will take a couple more seasons as the tree will push most of its energy upward. But I’ve won that fight before!

Let me know what you think of this flat-top BC. And if you haven’t already done so, sign up for our BC wish list for 2020. Plus consider a workshop – buy a BC and do the initial styling in year one, the perfect way to kick-start a great BC bonsai.

A Huckleberry Bonsai For 2020

So it’s time for Thanksgiving weekend, and aside from overeating that can only mean bonsai fun for me.

I collected this Huckleberry, Vaccinium sp., this past winter. Except for minimal training work, I’ve just let it grow to get established. With the weather see-sawing back to warm (we went from 22F overnight last week to 70F overnight last night – yeah, that’s South Louisiana weather!), I figured why not learn something new.

Where’s the front? I’m not sure yet, but that doesn’t stop me from starting the trimming process. Huckleberries are vigorous growers, so I’m very confident in my design fleshing out next year regardless of what I do now.
More pruning of long stuff.
Now that’s pruned back good!
It does take a while for Huckleberries to put on some good root growth, but this one did its thing in just a year. Like I said, I just let it grow this year without trying to rush things (today’s the day to rush things, right?).
More wiring, shaping, and into a pot by Lary Howard. I switched back to this front. The leader will be cut back in spring, once it buds out at the first node. I left it long in case of dieback.I think this composition is nice. The slanting style isn’t my favorite, but now and then you come across a tree that just insists. I always like to go with the flow whenever possible.Let me know what you think. I’m personally very fond of Huckleberries.