Hornbeam Harvest Part 2

I made a collecting trip with a new bonsai friend today, and we got some really nice American hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana).  Among the nicknames for the species is “Musclewood.”  This is because as it matures the trunk of a hornbeam will produce sinewy-looking ridges that run vertically along and sometime around the trunk.

Here’s the biggest specimen I got today.  The trunk base is 4.5″ at soil level, and it’s 18″ to the chop on the main trunk.  As you can see, it’s a twin-trunk with the two trunks really snugged together.  I have a vision for it, so once it comes out I’ll get to work and see if my idea is going to work.

Aren’t the roots terrific?  The muscling on this specimen is subtle but there.  You can even see it on the small branch stub I left.








This is the best specimen I got today.  The trunk base is 4″, and it’s 19″ to the chop.  There was a secondary trunk growing in back, and I went ahead and cut it off.  The trunk will need carving there, but that will only enhance the character.

The muscling is much more prominent on this one.  And the radial roots are awesome.











I love the movement, muscling and character of this specimen.  It’s smaller than the other two, with a trunk base of 2″, but the roots are still great and if you’re looking for a smaller American hornbeam that has great trunk character, you’d be hard-pressed to do better.

This one is chopped at 16″.  It might could stand to be chopped another 4″ or so.  That’s something I can decide later.

Let me know what you think.  These trees should be budding in about eight weeks.

Hornbeam And Huckleberry Trunks

I posted a blog a couple of weeks ago about new American hornbeam and Huckleberry specimens I’d collected.  That post disappeared when we changed hosting services.  I don’t feel like trying to recreate that blog, so here’s a replacement to show you a few nice trees that will hopefully survive lifting and come available in about two months.

Here’s a nice smaller hornbeam specimen (1.5″ base on the main trunk).  It’s actually a triple-trunk.  The main trunk has really nice taper and movement.  The two smaller trunks are proportionately smaller, which is just what you want, so I think this could make a terrific multi-trunk bonsai in just a few years.






Continuing the theme of multi-trunk bonsai-to-be, this hornbeam is a very elegant twin-trunk.  Think of them as “close companions.”  Most twin-trunks don’t feature the trunks quite so close together.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this one looks once it’s designed.  With a base of 1.75″, it’s a good size also.









This hornbeam also has a 1.75″ trunk, and really great trunk character.  I chopped the trunk to a smaller branch that was growing straight up.  It’s not quite a formal upright, but it’s definitely an upright specimen and the height should be emphasized when it’s designed.













This Huckleberry has a pretty stout trunk, 1.75″ at the base, and also good taper.  It should produce a decent number of trunk buds, which will allow for good design choices.










This specimen is smaller than the one above, 1.25″ at the base, but really nice character and I was able to chop to a smaller trunk (which I left too long, but you can always chop more).  That makes for really good taper.  It’s currently 9″ from soil to apex, so when it gets chopped and then grown into a bonsai the finished height could well be less than 12″.  I’m really fond of shohin bonsai.  How about you?


More Great BC Material – Collecting Trip 3

The weather was dodgy today, meaning we had a torrential downpour all across South Louisiana.  We did have the good fortune to be able to collect a few nice trees before the sky really opened up, however.  Here are a few photos to give you an idea of how we did.

This is the biggest tree we got today, and probably the most unusual.  Out in the wild, Cypresses tend to grow with very straight trunks that sometimes feature just a little movement.  This particular specimen evidently had something happen to it when it was much younger, and it subsequently righted itself which produced a neat curve in the trunk.










The tree looks good from either side.  I’m thinking this may be the better front.  What’s your preference?

The trunk is 6″ across 6″ above the soil surface, and it’s 27″ to the chop. This is going to be a powerful Bald cypress bonsai.












How about a formal upright BC?  I collected this one because of the terrific fluting and buttressing all around.  It’s a classic specimen BC.  The trunk is 5″ 5″ above the soil, and it’s chopped at 24″.
















This is probably my favorite from today’s group.  The trunk is 4″, and it’s chopped at 25″, but I just love the buttressing roots, fluting, trunk movement, and taper.  I see a very nice informal upright Bald cypress bonsai with this one.  I think I’ll hold it for training.

Our BC stock is growing for 2018.  I’m planning two or three more trips, so I should have something for everyone who’s contacted us.  Stay tuned.

I’d Like Your Opinion On This

After posting yesterday’s blog, a reader commented that I should include a standard reference object in order to make it easier to gauge the size of certain trees.  Here’s a photo of the really big two-tree Bald cypress specimen I showed you yesterday:

I’ve never done this before though I have seen other vendors do it, so I’m wondering what you think.  The Swamp Pop bottle measures 2.25″ in diameter at the base.  The larger of the two trees measures 7″ across 7″ above the soil surface.  Does the bottle help put it into perspective?

Great Bald Cypress Material – Collecting Trip 2

So, four days ago we had a couple of inches of snow here, and temperatures around 15°F for a couple of nights.  Today it was 60°.  That could only mean one thing: go collect more Bald cypress!

Here’s today’s haul.  I focused on larger specimens today, which means I looked for good buttressing.  It’s the classic BC look, after all.








This may be the show-stopper for the day, another of my famous “natural companion” Bald cypress bonsai-to-be.  The larger of these specimens has a 7″ trunk (7″ above the soil level) and is 33″ tall.  The smaller one has a 4″ trunk.  While they are not connected at the base, their roots are intertwined and they didn’t separate as I cleaned them up, so the only conclusion I can draw is that they’re meant for each other.












Here’s another cool specimen.  The trunk is 4″ 4″ above the soil level, and it’s chopped at 24″.  Aren’t the roots terrific?  A little different than usual.
















I’m really excited about this one.  The trunk is 5″ 5″ above the soil, and it’s 29.5″ to the chop.  It’s deeply fluted and the trunk has beautiful movement.  I’m planning to hang onto this one for a few seasons and train it as a flat-top.  It’s going to make a great impression when it’s done.














My heart skipped a beat when I saw this tree.  It’s got a knee coming off one of the radial roots, and a really nice one at that.  What’s fascinating about this is the fact that the trunk of this tree is only 3.5″ above the root crown.  It’s also got subtle fluting, and lots of radial roots that can be exposed when it gets to a bonsai pot.

This is just a killer Bald cypress (maybe it’s the show-stopper of the day).  The trunk is chopped at 26″, and I think a flat-top will accentuate the knee better than a more traditional upright style.

Let me know what you think of today’s catch.  I’m really excited about them.

More Collected BC Fun – Hard Chops And Small Stars

I often get questions about chopping the roots of collected trees, and it seems the question most often asked is, “If you chop the roots back that far, will the tree survive?”  The short answer, of course, is always, “Yes, it will.”  This is from a lot of experience, by the way, not theorizing.

There seems to be a general misunderstanding of the collecting process, and I believe it is rooted in the very stark difference in how deciduous trees respond to the collecting process versus pines and junipers.  I’m confident this is true because I can recall reading, many many years ago, that when you collect trees you should collect as much root as possible in order to ensure the survival of the tree.  Oh, and you should also make sure you get a lot of fibrous roots when you collect trees (this almost never happens with most hardwoods).

I have always been a big fan of deciduous trees, so that’s where my collecting efforts were (and still are) focused.  So when I began collecting my own material, I naturally did my level best to collect as much root as possible, as the experts taught, within the constraints of the pot the tree was going into.  This seemed to work, so I kept on doing it that way.

Unfortunately, three things made this approach more challenging than it should have been for the ultimate goal of making great bonsai.  One was the fact that the larger radial roots tended to always sprout new growth from the cut ends, and not all along their length.  This in turn created the second problem, namely, when it came time to place the tree in an oval or rectangular bonsai pot the radial roots would not fit front to back and required re-chopping (the success of which was not guaranteed).  And then there was the third problem, and that is the large radial roots of collected trees almost invariably have no taper near the trunks.  Surface roots are no different that the trunks and branches of trees – they should taper from base to tip.

Let’s take another look at one of the cypresses I wrote about yesterday.  I did indeed get a question about the chances of survival of this tree with so much root removed.  But consider two of the points I made above.  First of all, this tree ultimately has to fit into a bonsai pot.  Leaving a lot more root could jeopardize that part of the bonsai’s development.  Secondly, these radial roots are no different than what I see on every tree I collect.  No taper.  So I’ll have to create it, to make a more believable tree.







In this photo I’ve drawn a line where the soil surface is going to be.  This tree, having a 6″ trunk, will need to go into a pot that’s not more than 6″ deep.  So cutting the base of the tree is done with this in mind.










In this closeup I’ve noted another fun fact about the recovery of deciduous trees from collecting.  New roots sprout from the cut ends of the large radial roots.  You’ll get one or two, which may appear anywhere around the root.  And you usually don’t get more than a couple.  These are the roots that need to be allowed to run, to thicken up, so that the radial roots will end up with good taper in time.  Notice in this photo, especially on the roots at the left and center, that they’re chopped a couple of diameters from their emergence point.  This will make for a good tapering transition as the fresh new roots grow.

Shifting gears slightly, I thought it would be fun to post some shots of two smaller BC I collected yesterday.  It’s only natural to ooh and ah over the really big ones, but I’m often surprised by the quality of some of the smaller trees I bring home.  Here’s a good example.  I didn’t know for sure what was below the surface when I first stuck the saw in the ground, but after cleaning this one up I was pretty wowed.  Isn’t this flaring base and rootage just awesome?  I’m seeing a flat-top down the road.











And potted up.  If you collect your own, make sure you bury the surface roots to protect them.  They’ll get uncovered again when it comes time to go to a bonsai pot.















Check out this little guy.  The trunk is even smaller, just 2″ across.  But check out the base, the movement and the taper.  Isn’t it just lovely?
















And potted up.  I also see a flat-top with this one.  It just has that literati-look, and so a flat-top style will be appropriate.

One final note.  Do not try to apply anything in this blog post to collecting pines or junipers.  It will not work!


The Harvest Is Underway

With the new year only nine days away, and with some time to spare today (after wrapping Cathy’s Christmas present), I decided to lift a few trees and get a head-start on the season.

A couple of weeks ago I lifted two Huckleberries, Vaccinium sp., to see if I could get even more of a head-start on the season.  I had been eyeing this specimen since the fall.  It’s bigger than the ones I collected earlier, and frankly is destined for my collection if it survives.  As you can see, I have one of the two trunks of this tree in exactly the shape it needs to be in in order to make a believable tree form.  There’s movement and taper, and sub-trunks that I can train branches from.  My plan is to develop a typical Huckleberry shape in miniature.  The second trunk is going to require a few years of development.  From the chop point I need a new leader that I can let run (and wire to introduce some movement in it; if I don’t do this at the right time, once the wood sets it’ll be way too hard to bend).  I don’t mind this development challenge.  It’s a very, very nice Huckleberry.

The trunk base is 3.5″ across, and it’s 18″ to the chop on the taller trunk.  I figure it’s got to be on the order of 50 years old, mostly based on the size.  My home was built in 1982, and this Huckleberry was growing at the base of a pine tree that’s been here all that time, so it’s most likely at least 35 years old.  Fifty isn’t out of the question.

Here’s a Live oak, Quercus virginiana, that I grew from seed started in 2010.  It’s been in the field getting thicker for about five years now.  The trunk base is 2.5″ above the root crown, and it’s got nice taper to the chop point.  My plan for it will be to train it in the classic Live oak style, with broad spreading branches that droop to the ground.  Depending on where this one pushes buds, another chop may be in order.  But I’ve got a good start.

In a few minutes I had the tree potted up, with the rootage buried.  Live oaks can be lifted with good success in January, so I figure late December should pose no challenge for them.

Let me know what you think of these trees.  And I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas!


Getting Ready For 2018

Now that winter has set in, it’s time to begin working on the 2018 growing season.  The “official” collecting season begins on January 1 and goes through about March.  Sometimes the weather throws this schedule off, but most of the time it’s a reliable 12 weeks during which most species I offer can be lifted with good success.

It’s always nice to get a head start on the season, which as of now means two weeks during which I can identify and lift specimens that can be offered next year.  Here are a couple that seemed ready to begin their lives in pots.

Here’s a Water oak, Quercus nigra, that has been growing on my property for several years now.  I’ve chopped it back in order to build taper, in preparation for its ultimate styling as a bonsai.  Since the trunk is now thick enough to work with, today seemed like a good time to go ahead and harvest it.

What a mess!  When you look at a specimen like this, it’s not all that easy to see what you ought to do with it.  But trust me, in here is a bonsai.  You just have to be prepared to identify and create a trunk line.

If you can compare this photo to the one above, I think you can get an idea of how to go about finding your trunk line.  The basic process involves identifying progressively smaller upright branches that when chopped to produce a smooth tapering from base to tip.  In this case, there’s the trunk base which rises about 5″, then a slimmer leader emerging from this point on the trunk that rises another 3″, then a final smaller leader that completes the trunk line that’s 9.5″ from base to apex.

As you grow trees to size, this is the process you’ll follow most of the time.  You allow the tree to grow, then you chop back, then new shoots take over (apically dominant, so they want to run), you chop them back when their thickness is sufficient, and the process is repeated.

This specimen is now potted and the chops sealed.  Isn’t the taper terrific, not to mention the trunk movement?  Come spring, it will throw buds in suitable places along the trunk which I can wire into place.  I expect this specimen to be a nice shohin Water oak bonsai in just a few years.








Now onto this American elm, Ulmus americana.  I’ve been field-growing this tree for about five years now, and it’s gained a lot of trunk thickness quickly (trunk base 2.75″).

There are two problems with this specimen: one, that thick high root on the right-hand side of the tree; and two, the swelling that has occurred at the original trunk chop point (where multiple leaders emerged and grew unchecked for too long).

Since I have a nice set of radial roots, I’m attempting to make the offending root look right by splitting it.  Where it’s chopped it should heal over, and the spot on the lower trunk that’s bare should also roll over fine.  Now, what about the thickness of the root?  In a year or two, this root can be split longitudinally and the center area carved out.  Once this heals over, the appearance should be natural.

Failing this, it should be possible to layer roots in the trunk area above this big root, and eliminate it entirely.  But one thing at a time.

As for the swelling area, I simply chopped that off.  I’ll come back and carve it this next growing season to make the appearance look smooth.  It’ll heal over in a year or two.




I did a final chop of the two leaders I’m keeping.
American elm grows with such vigor that I should have a smooth transition into the upper part of this tree by the end of the 2018 growing season.

If you’re looking for Water oak or American elm, stay tuned for new material this coming spring.  If you’d like to be on our wish list for these species, drop me an email.


Trying Stuff = Getting Better At Bonsai

Unless you are strictly into bonsai as a connoisseur, meaning you collect bonsai and have a visiting or resident artist/curator maintain them for your viewing pleasure, you can’t ever ever stop trying and learning stuff.  Now, don’t take that to mean you should learn the same lesson over and over again (I’ve had a few that way); but no one, and I mean no one, ever knows it all.  So I have to keep on learning, and so do you.  Learning means trying things.  If you’re always trying things, you’re bound to get better at bonsai.

Okay, with all that said, collecting season is right around the corner.  Most of the deciduous trees here are now dormant, so they are just about in the ideal condition for collecting.  They’re sleeping, in other words, having built up their food stores for winter, and that’s when they can be collected with the highest odds of success.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t lift this Huckleberry, Vaccinium sp., until next month.  It’s the sort of concept I’ve stuck with for 25 years now, because it’s a known concept horticulturally and I’ve had great success following the script.  But why can’t I collect this specimen now?  What’s magical about waiting another 22 days to collect it?  Well, nothing I can think of.  So this is me trying something new, and if it works then I’ve added to my bonsai knowledge.

What if this tree doesn’t survive?  What if going straight to this bonsai pot wasn’t a good way to test this idea?  I’ll lift another one tomorrow and pot it into a nursery container, so that will give me two subjects to experiment on.

Huckleberry is very easy to collect, by the way.  I don’t recall ever losing one, so the survival rate is in excess of 90%.

The tree in the photo, by the way, has a base that’s 1.75″ above the root crown.  It’s 17″ to the chop.  Huckleberries typically produce nice radial roots, and this one is no exception.  I’ve buried them for now; the tree can be potted higher in a couple of years to expose the nebari.

Now for two critical questions, and I’d like your input.  Should I remove the right-hand leader?  The taper would be much better if I did.  And should I remove the secondary trunk?  Let me know what you think.

A Few Sweetgums For 2018

It’s not time to dig trees yet, certainly not Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua), but it’s not a bad time to scout for specimens to dig when the time comes.  Here are a few that I expect to lift in 2018.

This one volunteered four or five years ago, and I finally chopped it earlier this year to begin stunting it.  Sweetgums like to grow straight and tall, and very fast, so you have to be prepared to rein in that growth or the tree can get away from you quickly.  By this I mean the trunk will lose its taper, usually by the time the tree gets to be about six to ten feet tall.  Up until that magic moment, you can harvest nice upright specimens with subtle but suitable taper and create a nice apical tapering transition.

This one has a 2″ trunk base at the soil level.  Most likely it has nice radial roots as well, but I’ll know more about that this coming May.  When I chopped it earlier this year, it produced two strong new leaders.  Today it was time to eliminate one and chop the other.  I like the one I’m looking at in this photo.






Here I’ve sawed off the leader in back, leaving a stub that will be reduced in spring.  I don’t want to chance cutting it flush now; the tree may object and die back at the bottom edge of the cut.  By leaving the stub, I can carve down this coming spring and the tree should respond by throwing buds near that fresh cut.  Then I’m assured of proper healing.

You can see I also chopped the new leader down.  I also left this leader long, as it won’t bud right at the chop but rather at an internode below the chop.  I can remove that stub next spring once I have a new leader going.

The trunk of this tree is just over 1″ at the transition point, by the way, which is 14″ above the soil surface.  This will allow me to finish out this specimen at about 18-20″.  I plan to train the tree in the typical Sweetgum columnar style.  It’s actually just beginning the process of barking up, so that will lend a lot of character to the trunk.

Here’s another specimen I chopped recently.  Also with a 2″ base, this one got chopped at 10″ above the soil to a new leader.  I need this leader to continue running, in order to make the tapering transition look right.  Although the photo doesn’t show it, the trunk is about 1″ across at the transition point.  Nice taper in another nice upright specimen.  The bark on this one is also starting to roughen up.









Finally, here’s a triple-trunk specimen that volunteered two or three years ago.  I didn’t chop it to the ground or anything, it just decided that three trunks were better than one.  I like its appearance, and I think it’ll make a nice bonsai starting in 2018.

Let me know what you think.