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Fall Color, Pseudo Fall Color, And An Early Hard Freeze

My venerable old Crape myrtle bonsai was challenged this year. After I repotted it in spring, it started to bud out just in time for a good freeze. I mistakenly thought that, since Crapes are quite winter-hardy, the new buds would be likewise. Well, they froze and so the tree had to marshal its resources and produce a second first round of spring growth. I did very little to it this year, just letting it recover.Our heat finally broke a couple of weeks ago. Then following a cool night, I suddenly had a nice show of color. Nice end to a less than ideal growing season for this tree. Next year I’m sure we’ll be back on track.
The fun continued this week when got a hard freeze, down to about 22F. That’s very unusual for November – in fact, I can’t recall a similar event over the past three decades or more. We typically get our coldest weather in the early part of the year.I did my bonsai prep for it, putting on the ground many trees I knew would not stand up to the cold and a number of others I wanted to be sure and protect, given the circumstances. This Cedar elm was not one of them. Cedar elms, like Chinese elms, are very hardy and won’t blink when temps get down close to 20. So I left this one on the bench. I got rewarded with a few lingering leaves turning yellow-orangey.

My big Riverflat hawthorn had mostly green foliage last weekend, with just a hint of yellow on a few leaves. Though they are very hardy and this one was on the ground, the foliage most definitely did not like 22 degrees. So I got what I guess you’d call pseudo fall color, a bronze set of leaves. It’s actually pretty attractive, though I’d have preferred it if the weather had been more cooperative.

We’re now into the latter stages of fall, which means winter will be here soon. That also means collecting season, which I’m really looking forward to. I expect to have a lot of great new material come 2020. If there’s something you’re looking for, feel free to email me and I’ll be glad to put your name on my wish list.

Looking To 2020 – Flowering And Fruiting Species

Though the holidays are not yet upon us, it’s not too soon to start thinking of 2020. A lot of the work we do now will have an impact on how our trees develop next year. Today I looked at a few flowering and/or fruiting specimens that will make great progress in 2020.This Crape myrtle was grown from a cutting made a few years ago. It’s a small specimen, but nonetheless it’s developing a nice classic Crape myrtle shape. I’ve been helping it along with some wiring, and added a little today. This one should make a nice starter bonsai this coming year.
Here’s a starter size Muscadine I lifted earlier in the season. The base is very nice, and it has a low leader than I’ll continue to let run to thicken. This is about a two- to three-year project to a bonsai pot. For now, there’s no real benefit to wiring or trunk-chopping. For vines, it’s generally best to trunk-chop in the spring when you can expect strong growth and healing.
I have grown to love Huckleberries. Not only do they flower in a pot, they fruit as well; I even ate some berries off a specimen earlier this year.This one was collected in Winter 2019. I think the tight twin-trunk configuration is pretty cool. I’ve let it grow all year with little interference; today I want to take the next development step.
So I carved down to the respective leaders on the two trunks, then put a little wire on the tree to establish a basic shape.This one is a larger specimen, having a 2″ trunk base. I anticipate a finished height of about 16″ when all is said and done.
And finally, one more Huckleberry I wired and shaped earlier in the season. This one doesn’t need any more work today, but I wanted to show you what can be done at this stage of the process. Huckleberries (blueberries) are good bonsai subjects. They do root slowly, however, so you have to take this into account. The branches also can be brittle, so some extra care is needed when you wire and shape them (you’ll inevitably crack a branch here and there). By the third year in a pot, they get really lush with growth and that’s when you can expect fruiting to begin.Blueberries also like acid soil, so remember to keep some soil acidifier handy.Let me know what you think of these specimens.

New Bonsai Coming – Crape & Hawthorn

I lifted this ground-grown Crape myrtle specimen last summer.  From a bare trunk it grew shoots very quickly, and I was able to wire the complete structure in the same season.

This is the same tree, nine months later.  It’s got a nice structure and the leader is developing well.  I will need to cut it back hard after the spring flush, which will thicken the transition point, and by this coming fall this will be a very nice Crape myrtle bonsai.  The flowers are purple, and it’s almost certain to bloom this summer (and every summer).

The pot is a custom piece by Byron Myrick.

I expect to post this tree for sale once it has recovered from potting, most likely by the end of March.

I have a bunch of gallon-size Parsley hawthorns I haven’t planted out yet.  Why not make a group planting with a few of them?

A nice result.  If you have some smaller stock that you’d like to do something with, group plantings are a good answer.  You get a nice bonsai right away.

The trunks on the larger two specimens are 1/2″, and the height of the planting is 16″.  The pot is a terrific piece by Lary Howard.

This specimen should be posted for sale in mid- to late-April.

Crape Myrtle Repotting

It’s been two years ago that this Crape myrtle, Lagerstoemia indica, got a new pot and some much-needed design work.  The tree has been happily growing (and blooming in summer) in its Byron Myrick custom pot.  But as with all bonsai, sooner or later you’ve got to repot.  Crape myrtles in particular are going to need this to be done more frequently than most species.  Why?  They grow roots more vigorously than just about any other species.  So in order to keep them healthy, they need attention every couple of years.

But first, the tree has gotten rangy on me and it’s got to be taken back in.  This is one of those chores that many bonsai enthusiasts either fail to do or don’t do to the degree it’s needed.  For those of you who’ve been at it for a long time, you know what I mean!  It’s hard to make yourself prune back hard.  But it must be done.

Next step: pull the tree from the pot.  You can see how successful this Crape has been in filling its pot.  We’ve got the telltale circling roots.  They grow to the edge of the pot, then they circle.  Happens every time, which is another reason we have to root-prune periodically.

Notice the new white roots that are growing.  This means the tree is going to be pushing buds very soon.

How much root should you take off?  I like to remove roughly half the volume of root.  Here’s what that looks like.

Another view.  In addition to removing root around the edges of the mass, I’ve also removed some from beneath.  The tree also needs some fresh soil in the bottom of the pot.

I cleaned the pot and replaced the drain hole screens, then put a layer of fresh soil in the bottom.

Now the tree is placed in the pot.  You may notice that I’ve turned the tree slightly.  This helps fill a gap between the first right-hand branch and the apex, which I actually created by pruning a sub-branch off the first left-hand branch that had been used to fill in behind the tree.  I decided this branch looked funny and needed to go.

I’ll come back and wire that right-side branch (which I had coaxed from a bud this past year), then pull it down and into position.

The tree placed on top of the layer of soil I put in the pot.  I’ve made sure it sits at the proper level in the pot.

The final step of the repotting, filling in with soil.

I like the tree with this front, so until next repotting time this is the composition.

Now, you may have recognized that this tree does not exhibit the ideal design.  There’s a slight curve to the trunk, taking it from left to right.  If we’re following the standard design principles, the first branch should appear on the left side of the tree.  Then second branch right, third branch in back, and so on.  However … there’s also nothing saying you can’t break rules.  I think this is most true when you’re maintaining a venerable old bonsai.  This tree has been in training for about 30 years now.  Should I remove that lowest branch because it’s on the wrong side of the tree?  Not on your life!  It can take a very long time to get your branches to the right thickness, and that right-hand branch is right at half the thickness of the trunk where it emerges.  The relative proportions make it look very natural.  Also notice that as you move up the tree, the branches get progressively less thick but remain proportionate with the trunk thickness.  From this standpoint, the tree certainly complies with the rules.  So to me, this is a very pleasing bonsai and looks its age.

Let me know your thoughts on this one.

Here’s Something Expected, And Something Unexpected

We’ve been following along with the development of this Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, for a couple of months now.  It’s a small specimen that I made from a venerable old Crape left to me by my friend Allen Gautreau.  I love the trunk of this literati bonsai, and the Chuck Iker pot really complements the tree well.

Here’s something totally expected.  Crapes are about the most eager thing to bloom I know of.  In fact, even the cuttings I take will often bloom after they’re potted up.  So I wasn’t at all surprised when I noticed flower buds forming on this tree.  It’ll probably put on a few more flowers for the year, and after that I can focus on developing the branches.

Now for the unexpected.  I collected this large Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, back in February.  It responded very well, throwing nice long shoots by April.  So as per normal practice, I just fed and watered it and let it grow.

When summer starts to really set in, it’s common for BC foliage to start looking poorly.  This is especially true if you use an automatic overhead watering system, like I do.  The trees have to get enough water, but when the air circulation dies out the interior foliage suffers.  For established specimens, this problem is remedied by defoliating.  You’ve seen how I do this in a recent video.  But I have never recommended, nor have I ever done, a defoliation on a tree in the first year after collection.  The reason for this is pretty obvious: you don’t want to stress a tree any more than you have to.  Better to leave the tree alone than to risk harming it.

But ….

Last week I decided to test my own rule on this tree, so I defoliated and did an initial wiring on it.  That made me nervous!  While I know the tree has already been producing roots, would it have enough to recover from the complete removal of foliage?  Well, no better way to find out than to try it.

The other day I thought I noticed a bud or two.  That looked promising.  Today?  All the branches you see have new buds on them, and there are also new trunk buds.  So I’m pretty confident the tree has come through the experiment intact.

I plan to try this technique on other specimens in year one, so I can see if it helps or hurts the recovery and growth.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s Time To Make Some More Bonsai

There are distinct phases in the bonsai year.  Spring 2018 is just a memory now.  But that’s okay.  Summer is never dull.  While you can’t do everything in summer you can in spring, I guarantee you’ll keep busy if you know what needs doing and how your individual trees will respond.  Here are a few examples to consider.

I lifted this Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, in May.  True to the species, it came back quickly and with great vigor.  Within a month I had this design under way.

Crapes love summer.  They grow fast and bloom like crazy from about July through August and even into September.  If you’re developing a bonsai, the fast growth is just what you want.

Today I had to do some more trimming (that vigor thing, you know).  While I was cleaning up the chop point and one of the earlier trunk chop points lower down on the tree, I happened to turn it.  What did I see?  I’m thinking a better front.  What’s your preference?

This Hackberry, Celtis laevigata,came home in February.  Spring brought some cool weather, so I’ve been patiently waiting for this and a lot of other specimens to kick into high growth gear.  It finally paid off, and today looked like a good time to do an initial styling on it.  The leader remains thin, so I’ll let it run wild for the remainder of the 2018 growing season.  Next year, this tree should develop quickly.

You may remember this photo from March.  This is a branch on a Sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana.  That big fat bud at the terminus is not a foliar bud – at least that’s what I thought at the time it set, namely last fall.  I’ve never grown the species, so I wasn’t sure what I was looking at.

The buds are opening now.  And they are definitely flowers!  Pretty awesome.

I decided to advance my knowledge of this species the hard way, by slip-potting this specimen.  Yes, the branches are way too long, but once the flowering is over I should be able to cut them back and reduce the profile of the tree.

I think I’ve got a nice literati bonsai to be, assuming it doesn’t object to the “out of season” potting.

Back in May I posed the question, “Is this a Catbird grape?”  This was because of the leaf shape as the specimen recovered from collecting.  I figured once the initial recovery growth settled down, I’d find out for sure.

It’s not a Catbird grape; it’s a Muscadine.  You can see that very large leaf in the left of the photo.  While the older leaves are of a very different shape, all of the growth now is quite round.  So the scientific name, Vitis rotundifolia (“round leaf”), makes perfect sense.

I decided to slip-pot this specimen too.

Plus some wiring and trimming.  You can see the connecting root of the two trunks, which I’d buried to protect it when I first lifted the specimen.  It’s 3″ across at the base.  This was the time to expose it.  The pot is an exquisite handmade piece by Lary Howard.

I’m planning to keep this one for my personal collection.  If you’d like a Muscadine let me know.  There are plenty around here.

And that’s what I did today.

Let me know what you think.