Potting & Repotting Season – Beech And Crape Myrtle

potting & repotting season – beech and crape myrtle

Sneak Peek

Spring is all about potting and repotting. Here are an American beech and an old Crape myrtle getting some attention.

Potting and Repotting Season – Beech and Crape Myrtle

I’ve been working on this American beech, Fagus grandifolia, for a couple of years now. Last year I got the tree to really kick in some ramification by a technique of leaf-cutting described in this blog. With a good set of roots already going, I decided there’s no point in waiting any longer to move the tree to a bonsai pot.


I’ve had this Richard Robertson pot for about 30 years now. I figured it would make a good home for my beech – only I discovered that due to the root base “configuration” the tree would not fit deep enough into the pot to keep some roots from pointing a little too much upward.

The lesson here is to always have alternatives (more than one, too!). This pot is a beautiful piece by the late Paul Katich. It’s somewhat too big for the tree, however, it does posses adequate depth. It will do nicely until repotting time.

And here’s the result. I did a little trimming of the branching, and now we wait for bud-burst. I’ll post an update later in spring.

I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that Crape myrtles are “super rooters.” This venerable old specimen, which I helped my friend Allen Gautreau collect over 30 years ago, is definitely in need of root-pruning. It’s been a couple of years since the last round.


I removed the moss, carefully loosened the tie-down wires, and here’s what I found. Lots and lots of roots.

No need to be shy when root-pruning Crapes. Here I’ve removed about half of the total root mass. The tree will not care; in fact, it will do better for having more room to grow.


Back in the pot.

How many different scoops have you tried for putting bonsai soil in your pots? I’ve used my share, still do, but this is by far the best one ever. Nothing else gets the soil right where it needs to be.


Soil’s in, light trimming done. The tree should bud very soon – this is typical behavior right after a spring root-pruning.

This Crape will be a lot happier now, with room to grow fresh new roots. Repotting is one of the easiest bonsai activities to neglect, and also one of the most damaging ones.

Let me know what you think.

Crape Myrtle Fall Fun

crape myrtle fall fun

Sneak Peek

Crape myrtles give pretty reliable fall color for us down here. Here’s my legacy Crape starting to show off. Then there’s that really big one again.

Crape Myrtle Fall Fun

Crape myrtles are pretty reliable around here for fall color. Here’s my legacy Crape. Even though it’s lost a good bit of foliage early (this is a common theme for many of my trees this year), what’s left has turned fiery.


Here’s the big guy again. I’ll call him “The Ogre” – which will be an amusing name when he’s decked out in white flowers next summer. I don’t think I need to comment on the growth, except to say it needs attention.

So we edit out the foliage in the lower part of the tree. It doesn’t serve any purpose – Crapes heal very well from large chops – so best to direct the growth where it belongs.

Continuing the process. This tree, at this stage, only needs a handful of branches at most (that includes the new leaders).

These selections can be a bit tricky, and usually there’s more than one right answer. You need a good feel for your design once you get to this stage of the reducing process. I’m comfortable with what I’ll be working with now.

I started with the lower of the two main leaders on this tree. Just a branch and a new leader needing direction.


And this is what I ended up with for today. It’s not unreasonable to ask if both of the sub-trunks are needed here for a good design. I see a nice possibility if I take out the one on the left. The good news is, I can continue to develop this tree with the basic design I’ve set, and then change my mind later. More options in the early going are always better.

Our first frost here will likely be around the middle of next month. We’ve had some cool nights, and lately our temperatures have moderated some. This tree will push more growth to restore its balance over the next three to six weeks. With a little winter protection, this Crape has a great head-start on 2021.

Let me know what you think.

Here’s the other one. It’s also 8″ across at the base, a little less front to back, and also 10″ tall. Two very nice sumo-style specimens.

Let me know what you think. Have you ever worked with Silverberry?



How Big Is That Crape, Really? And The Iris Spreads

how big is that crape, really?

Sneak Peek

I first posted on this big Crape last month when I lifted it. Someone asked, Will it survive? Boy, has it!

How Big is that Crape, really? And the Iris is spreading.

I left off here with the monster Crape myrtle I lifted last month. This photo was taken a few weeks after the tree was potted up.


A reader asked, “Will it survive?” That’s the obvious question for a tree collected outside the normal collecting season. Well, here we are just over a month later. I think the tree speaks for itself.

Remember I said it was big, and I even gave some numbers as proof. But how big is it, really?

It often helps to have a scale to go by. I don’t like beer bottles in my photos, or tape measures. But I figured a hand and a hand-sized Spekboom would put things in perspective.

This is a big Crape myrtle!

I published a couple of photos of this Louisiana iris a year ago. It’s one of those fun experiments I’m conducting. In this shot, the plant is just starting to get accustomed to its new home.

I had gone through the development step of removing that arching part of the rhizome, which I didn’t think would work out well long-term. That left me with a little tuft of blades.

A year later, my iris is spreading nicely across the pot. The blades are fairly tall, but not too tall. The good news is, they’re about half the normal width. I take this as a good sign.

In 2021, I expect the iris to spread some more, meaning the rhizome will continue to colonize the pot like any good root system would. Once it gets sufficiently root-bound, I should see much more miniaturization of the plant.

Hopefully I’ll have the next episode of this accent to post sometime next year.

Sunday Fun – Cedar Elms And The Monster Crape

sunday fun – cedar elms and the monster crape

Sneak Peek

Fall is a good time to do some pruning and wiring on your deciduous trees. I worked on a couple of Cedar elms today. Then there’s that monster Crape myrtle.

Sunday Fun – Cedar Elms and the Monster Crape

I’ve been rebuilding this Cedar elm that I collected a couple of years ago, since it didn’t want to bud low enough on the trunk for me. This photo is from about a month ago, when I chopped the leader back.




The growth has been good, so why not go ahead and do some styling on it?

With plenty of branches to choose from, it wasn’t hard to come up with this basic design. I don’t expect a lot of growth from this tree between now and dormancy, but next year is going to be an important one in terms of finishing out this tree. I even expect to be able to pot in sometime around June or July. Stay tuned for more.




I’ve posted my work on this Cedar elm since I first started styling it back in 2018. It’s a somewhat odd tree, what with that low branch, but I figured why not do something a little different?

The only problem with this is, as time has gone on I’ve become less and less enamored with that low branch. No doubt it makes for a different style tree, but whenever you break a rule you have to get back more than you give up. I don’t think this one has paid off.

There. Odd low branch is gone. The tree is looking better, but … there’s still something not quite right.

Proportions. I write often about maintaining correct proportions in our bonsai. In the before photo above, the spread of the crown of the tree is out of proportion with the trunk thickness and height. This tree has only a slight taper to it, so in order to trick the brain into thinking it’s a bigger tree than what it is, the branches must be brought in. So after a quick shearing, this is now a much more presentable bonsai.

One last photo for today, the monster Crape myrtle I recently lifted. You can see the shoots just starting to extend. I’m growing pretty confident this one is going to make it.

Let me know what you think about today’s Cedar elm work.

Checking In On A Few Trees – Pocomoke Crape, Trumpet Vine, Privet

checking in on a few trees

Sneak Peek

The 2020 growing season is coming to an end. Here are a few trees that have made a lot of progress in a short time.

Checking in on a Few Trees

Here’s where we left this Pocomoke Crape Myrtle at the end of June. I had tackled the shrub and come up with a good design. All that was needed was for it to grow, and it did so with nice vigor.

Then came the real heat of summer, and give the propensity for every Crape to grow a lot of roots fast, this one started to look unhappy due to the heat on the pot and the fact that the roots had all reached the edge. I took quick action and moved the tree to a spot where it didn’t get any sun on the pot, and that did the trick. It took a while, but the tree came back fine.




You can see in this photo that the design is getting better defined. One of the biggest problems with growing naturally shrubby species as bonsai is there’s a tendency to make them into shrubs in pots. That’s not what bonsai is all about. We want to take our shrubs and turn them into trees. That’s a whole different critter.

One of the things you’ll notice about this iteration of the Pocomoke is that I’m starting to get definition in both the structure as well as the foliage pads. Rather than everything hiding behind a mass of foliage, there’s plenty of definition and a more tree-like form.

I need to continue working the sub-branching to enhance the structure and areas of foliage. But this is a very good start.

You saw this Trumpet vine earlier in the month, as it was recovering from potting done a couple of weeks before.




It doesn’t take long for vines to become vines again! This is a few weeks growth, and I don’t plan to touch it for the rest of the season. It’ll likely try to commandeer support from the nearby trees on the bench, but that’s okay. When the time comes, I’ll shear everything back. For now, I need more thickening in my branching so that what are actually tendrils become branches. With winter on its way, I also want to do everything I can to prevent dieback. This will happen to the finer growth, nothing to be done about that. But I want to go into 2021 with a good branch structure to build on.


Here’s that lovely “Pasture Privet” that I potted at the end of July. It looks a little beat up from the potting – but that won’t stop a privet.

I’ve already trimmed this guy at least three times. Boy, did it recover!

I won’t do any more on this one in 2020. But in 2021, I have to do the same thing I’m doing with the Pocomoke above. I need definition in the structure, and definition in the foliage. As I work on this, I’ll get leaf size reduction which is an added bonus. Privets come with naturally small leaves, but they get even smaller once the confinement of a bonsai pot kicks in.

Let me know what you think of these trees (I already know privet is “illegal” in Florida).

Rulebreaking 101 – Crape Myrtle

rulebreaking 101 – crape myrtle

Sneak Peek

I enjoy breaking rules when something good comes of it. One of my hardest and fastest rules is to never collect a tree twice. Well ….

Rulebreaking 101 – Crape Myrtle

And so, way back in 2012 I was invited to collect some white Crape myrtles from a commercial growing field. The trees were available primarily because their trunks were not straight enough (the anti-bonsai approach to the landscape, right?). Not that they were all twisty-turny, they just had some low trunk movement which made them fair game for bonsai. Seeing as how each had a trunk base of 5-6″, and Crape myrtle wood is one of the absolute toughest you’ll ever try to saw, I limited myself to five specimens.

I brought them home and potted them up. A couple failed to bud all the way up and down the trunk. One I planted out – this one – and the second stayed in its pot and has grown its way into the ground; I’ll be lifting it next spring. The others I sold.

So I’ve been mowing around this specimen for years now, and as time has gone on it’s started to take on some interest as a very stout kinda guy. The more I’ve studied it, the more it has started to intrigue me. Finally, I decided to break one of my most sacred rules: never collect a tree twice.




Don’t let this picture fool you – the sawing and lifting was awesome and lengthy! It took me a couple of battery packs to get to this stage.

This is the nebari check before filling in the pot. This tree has some killer roots – should I say to die for? Is that redundant?

I could only think “Ogre” at this point. This tree definitely needs a name. Any ideas?

That trunk under the mouth of the tree technically makes it a clump – not to mention making it somewhat obscene. It only lasted a day.




Here we are the next day, after the final editing. This takes the tree out of the clump category pretty well. I think I can work with the two leaders on this one, sumo-style. I can also eliminate one and go for a single trunk line. Plenty of time to decide.

Here’s another view of the tree. Could this be the front? It looks like I’ve got a couple of choices, so no need to make any decisions now. Besides, who re-collects a tree at this time of the year? That’s another rule I managed to break this go-round. But here’s the secret: Crape myrtles are a different breed. I don’t know of any species that roots as exorbitantly as Crapes. So that gives me a lot of confidence, considering that we have a couple of months until our first frost.

By way of scale, the trunk on this specimen measures 7-8″ across at the soil. The root spread is a good 12″.

I spotted the a couple of trunk buds today, meaning I just might’ve gotten away with breaking another rule or two!