The Humble Crape Myrtles Are Pretty Happy

Bonsai is high art, but it’s also a learning process.  You and your trees, cooperating to make something that’s more than the sum of its parts.  You’ll learn something on every tree that comes into your care.  And not just the big collected specimens that are all gnarly and old and beat up by life.

When we last left the saga of this small Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, it had responded beautifully to being wired and placed in a bonsai pot.  Within mere days it had started pushing new buds, which quickly became shoots.  I was particularly interested in the two lower-trunk shoots.  Why?  Because strong shoots get thick very fast, and everything “downstream” of those shoots gets thicker as they do.  In the case of this tree, I had a great opportunity to get thickening of the lower trunk.




Here’s where we are today.  You can see that there’s rampant growth all over the tree.  What’s more, those two shoots on the lower trunk are really taking off.  You know what this means.  I’m going to get a thicker trunk, which is just what a good bonsai can always use.

Now, it’s important to consider one other thing now that we’ve got all this nice growth, namely, I don’t want to do any pruning at all for a while.  Why?  Because strong growth thickens everything “downstream” of it.  So not only will I get a thicker lower trunk on this specimen, I’m going to get a thicker specimen period.  Ideally, I want the trunk base on this tree to be at least 1″ in diameter.  I think I can get this in a growing season, meaning between now and next summer.  So for now I just let this guy grow, and plan to remove wire when it binds and perhaps do some fall trimming in the upper part of the tree.

I wired and potted this tree a couple of weeks ago.  It’s finally sprouted some new buds, and these are growing quickly into shoots.  But notice a couple of things.  One, I don’t seem to have any buds near the base of the tree.  And two, there are no new buds anywhere on the branches I wired when I first styled the tree.  What does this mean?

One thing that will become apparent as you work on more and more trees is that they don’t always grow exactly the same as one another.  In this case I have two white-flowering Crapes.  They were grown from cuttings taken from the same tree, and grown the same way.  The initial styling was very similar.  But they’ve responded quite differently.  Why?

I don’t know, and that’s the best answer I have.  In a way it’s good.  Though you never see two bonsai that are exactly alike, you do see rough similarities and the fact is we want our bonsai to be unique art forms.  From a development perspective, I’ll have the challenge of thickening the lower trunk on this specimen and in the end it may not happen as I want.  But that’s okay.  When you’ve been doing bonsai for a long time, you learn to go with what your trees give you and to make that work.  We can only force things so much.

I solved today’s problem by simply cutting back the slim branches I’d wired and positioned last time.  They may produce buds now; they may not.  I’ll adjust the next development step accordingly.



Parsley Hawthorn Literati – Going In A Great Direction

Just over a month ago I decided it was time to do an initial styling on this Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii.  There was never any doubt about the future for this bonsai-to-be – it was going to be a literati.  The literati style is, for lack of a better term, the way for the bonsai artist to do the unusual with either less-than-stellar material or exquisite material.  It may be the purest artistic expression available to us with our trees.

In the case of this tree, it met all of the “requirements” for the literati style: tall, slender trunk with only modest taper; graceful, character-filled trunk movement; a concentration of growth near the putative apex.  The only think I had to do was bring out the best design for this specimen.  After the initial styling, I thought it was another step closer to the goal.




As of today, the tree had put on another strong round of growth (six weeks’ worth).  Based on this, plus a gentle push on the trunk, I concluded that the tree had rooted sufficiently for me to get a little aggressive and pot the tree.  I don’t recommend this for less-experienced artists.  In time, you’ll learn what you can do and what species you can do it with.  (I don’t always get it right myself.)







A little trimming and wiring was in order.  The tree gave me a nice sub-branch in the apex, which is actually going to end up as the final apex, so I simply wired and positioned it.  I trimmed the low-left branch back, trimmed the high-left branch back and wired a smaller shoot on it and continued the branch’s movement.











Picking the right pot for your tree is always important.  In this case, I had a great Chuck Iker round that just came in and I felt it had the size, style and color to suit this Parsley haw.  Here in the south, Parsley haws will produce a nice yellow fall color.  I’m anxious to see if I get some this year, because I think it’ll be complemented beautifully by this pot’s color.

This tree should resume growing in a week or so.  I plan to post it for sale within the next month, so stay tuned.

A Few New Bonsai I’m Working On

I collected this Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii, in February.  Though it was a decent piece of material, I knew there were quite a few years ahead of it in order for it to become a presentable bonsai.  Then a thought occurred to me.  That nice slender trunk emerging from near the base had a ton more character than the relatively straight main trunk.  Wouldn’t that make a much better bonsai, and much sooner to boot?





Here’s the tree just recently.  Allowing for all those shoots growing out, I’ve made just a few minor snips.  Can you see where I cut back?











I cut back the three branches on the slender trunk, and then simply removed the thicker trunk altogether.  Does this tree make a statement now?  I think it does.














I’ve been making Edible figs, Ficus carica, practically since I got the parent tree from my mother.  One I started about five years ago was a twin-trunk.  I put it in the ground about three years ago.  This year I decided to separate the smaller of the two trunks and pot into a bonsai pot.  It’s a pretty nice starter bonsai, don’t you think?  The trunk is 1″ in diameter and it’s 14″ tall.  And it will fruit in a pot.








I’m very fond of Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, as bonsai.  Not only are they horticulturally simple to grow, they bloom profusely in a bonsai pot.  This is a white-blooming variety that I made from a cutting last year.  I was able to wire a nice Crape myrtle shape into it and go right into this Chuck Iker round.  It’s 14″ tall.  I would expect it to resume growth in a couple of weeks, and it just might go ahead and bloom this summer.  Time will tell.

I’ll be posting these trees for sale sometime this summer.  Stay tuned.

Styling A Nice Little Parsley Hawthorn, And A Great One For Me

I was able to collect a few Parsley hawthorns, Crataegus marshallii, this winter.  Here’s one of the “sticks” that I brought home.  Though it was by no means a big one, I was nevertheless excited to find this one because of this very nice trunk movement.  Sometimes when you’re out collecting, you’ll see a tree and immediately think “literati.”

















Here’s the stick a couple of months later.  There are lots of nice long shoots, which is just the ticket for starting a literati bonsai.  Literati are bonsai that are expressed with relatively little foliage.  So even though there’s quite a bit on this new bonsai-to-be, most of it is going away.

You may notice that I’ve turned the tree in this photo.  That’s because there’s a neat scar in the lower part of the trunk that I think deserves to be seen.  Except for this, either view is equivalent to the other.










In a few minutes I completed this initial styling.  Well, it doesn’t look like much, does it?  But you can’t miss where I’m going with this tree.

Now it’s time to set the tree on its bench and just leave it alone.  Food, water, neglect.  It’ll continue to put on growth this year – likely quite a bit, if my experience with Parsley hawthorn is any indication – and that means the three branches that are left on this specimen will thicken up as I need them to.  In 2018 this one will begin to make a statement, most likely in a bonsai pot if the growth is strong enough.

The trunk base on this specimen is 0.75″, by the way, and it’s 16″ to the chop.






This is a more substantial stick that the one above.  It measures 3″ at the soil and is 13″ to the chop.  Isn’t the trunk character great?  When I first spotted this one I knew it was destined for my collection.












I didn’t take a before photo, but trust me when I say there was a lot more growth on this tree before I started the wiring and editing process.  Here I’ve established a good branch set; it’s just a matter now of letting everything continue growing.  I need for all of the branches to get a lot thicker, and that will take the rest of the growing season.

I’ll post updates as this one progresses.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear any feedback you’d like to share.

Don’t You Love Spring Growth? And Check Out A Blueberry Bonsai-To-Be

It’s just the best time of year for bonsai, spring.  Everything is putting on a fresh set of growth, meaning opportunities for the bonsai artist to make his or her trees better.  No matter if you’re styling or restyling or refining, these next four to eight weeks are going to make a big difference for your bonsai.

This Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, is one of our featured Progressions.  I grew it from a cutting, then grew it out in the ground for a few years, and then lifted and started the process of making it into a bonsai.  You’ll see just how far it’s come in the Progression update I posted today.

This photo is after the first flush of spring growth and the first trimming.  I’ve also shortened the leader, and will let a new one grow out for a while before repeating that process.



This Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, was slip-potted in March so I could continue its development as a bonsai.  It hasn’t missed a beat, and it now throwing strong shoots that will set into branches before long.  You can see it’s been wired out completely; this round of wire will be coming off by June, at which time I’ll have secondary branching in development.  It’ll also be time to rein in the growth, in order to maintain the correct proportions in the tree.  If you’d like to take on that chore, this tree is available at our Sweetgum Bonsai page and can be shipped next month.

Have you ever grown Blueberry, Vaccinium species, for bonsai?  There are many Blueberries native to North America, and eight that grow in my home state including the so-called Tree Huckleberry that can grow to 30 feet in height (it’s the tallest of the Blueberries, as you might imagine).

This one is another of the species, which I haven’t made a precise identification on.  I decided to direct-pot in in this nice Chuck Iker round, to speed up the development process.  It had a nice trunk line with little need for tapering in the apex.  That only left branch development and some crown work.










A little time and a little wire, and now we have a nice little Huckleberry bonsai-to-be.  The trunk base is 1″ and the finished height will be about 14″.  It’s got nice bark and trunk character.  I’ve posted it for sale at our Miscellaneous Bonsai page.




It Was A Happy Hawthorn Hunt – Check Out The Cool Parsleys

Collecting season 2017 is drawing to a close.  One species I wanted to be sure to have some stock of is Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii.  Today I took care of that chore.  Here are a few that I brought home.

This guy isn’t much to look at, having only slight taper, but once it buds out I can either grow out the tree as a taller slender specimen or select a low branch to make into a new leader.  I left it long to maximize the choices.












This one shouted “literati” at me from the woods, so it had to come home.  Notice in the first example how straight the trunk is.  This is normal for hawthorns.  But all the twists and turns on this one are most definitely not.  I’m looking forward to making something of this one.

















This is my best find of the day.  Taper and character, all in a neat package.

I should know in a couple of weeks if these trees have made it.  All but one I collected today were already leafing out.  Hawthorns are very forgiving when it comes to being lifted – my success rate is right at 90% – but you never know what will happen when you collect outside the dormant season.

Let me know what you think of these Parsley haws.

How To Make A Parsley Hawthorn Bonsai Better – A Cut And A New Pot

Creating a bonsai is a step by step process that goes roughly like this:

  • Select, buy or collect a piece of raw material
  • Prune away unneeded branches and excess trunk to create a single trunk line (for formal, informal, slanting, and cascade styles), wire and position branches; or, select and wire shoots and a leader of the purchased or collected specimen to create a branch structure and apex-in-training
  • Pot the tree into a bonsai container if it isn’t already in one
  • Continue development steps such as creating a tapering transition in the apex if needed, cutting back, shaping and ramifying branches, and working in the root zone to create a pleasing nebari
  • Make changes if and as needed to improve your bonsai

I collected this Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii, in January of 2016 and potted it directly into this Chuck Iker round.  Because the tree has little taper, I planned to make a literati-style bonsai out of it.  It responded by producing several buds along the trunk, certainly enough for the plan.  I did some wiring on it, fed and watered it, but left it alone otherwise.











Here’s the tree today.  You can see that my new leader emerged a couple of inches below the chop point.  No real problem, you always have to work on the chop point anyway.  Other than this, my other few branches are waiting to open up for spring.

As the months went on last year, I decided that I wasn’t happy with the pot.  To be sure, literati bonsai are usually placed in relatively small pots.  But this one just stopped seeming right to me.












The obvious first order of business was to eliminate the chop stub, and carve down what was left so that it tapered smoothly into the new leader.  This looks much better.  Now for a replacement pot.















I think this new Chuck Iker round better suits the tree.  What do you think?

This year’s development work on this bonsai will be aimed at building the branch structure and building the apex.  I plan to continue with the idea that this Parsley hawthorn will be a literati bonsai when all is said and done.  And I think it’ll be a nice one.

More New Collected Trees – Aren’t These Just Great?

Today was another opportunity to collect some great new material.  Here are a few of the trees I brought home today.

First up is yet another terrific Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum.  This one has a 5″ trunk 5″ above the soil surface, and is chopped at 27″.  The buttress is superb, and runs down into the soil.  I always bury my newly collected trees deep, to ensure the surface roots don’t dry out.  In the case of this cypress, the buttressing runs way down into the soil.  When this one finally gets raised in its bonsai pot, the effect is going to be stunning.












How’s this for a great American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)?  The base is nice and wide, the taper outstanding, and the muscling is so typical of the species.  The basal diameter is 3.5″, and it’s 20″ to the chop.
















And last but not least, here’s a really awesome Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii.  I’m planning to keep this one for myself.  I just love the fluting in the lower trunk, and it’s got nice taper in a relatively short specimen.  The trunk base is 2.5″ above the root crown, and I’ve chopped it at 13″.  I’m planning a finished height of about 18″.

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Repotting A Hawthorn; How To Correct A Root Problem

Here’s my specimen Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca.  I repotted this tree two years ago, and knew it had since filled its pot with roots.  Certain hawthorn species do not root all that vigorously, but Riverflat is not one of them.

At the same time, I’ve been faced from the beginning with a root problem.  So today I wanted to take advantage of the normal repotting time for this specimen in order to address the problem and make it better.  Sometimes this requires drastic action, for example layering, but in many cases you don’t have to take such steps.

Here’s the problem, namely that great big thick surface root.  This root isn’t going anywhere, at least not while the tree is in my care.  And since the remainder of the nebari is good, all I have to do is focus on this one root and see if I can make it better.  The answer?  Why carving, of course.



This work took about 10 minutes using a couple of hand tools.  What I’ve done here is to carve a wedge down into the root.  Beginning up near the trunk, I started carving a wedge-shaped section out of the single large root (which has produced smaller roots on either side, by the way).  As I carved farther down the length of the root, I made the cut deeper.  The ultimate plan will be to actually bring soil up into the wedge area, which will complete the illusion that this once-large root splits into two smaller sub-roots.  I’m confident this will reduce the appearance of “heaviness” in this root.

Back to business.  Here’s the tree out of its bonsai container.  As I knew it would, the root mass is thick and long roots are winding around the outer edge.  It’s definitely time for a root-pruning.








It’s common to be fearful of cutting off a lot of the old root mass.  This should give you an idea of just how far you can go, for species that root vigorously.  Everything I cut off will grow back this year, and in 2019 I’ll need to repeat this process.








Now this guy is back in his home.  The pot is a custom piece by Paul Katich, and I believe it complements the tree just perfectly.  The oval shape goes well with the graceful, curving trunk of this feminine hawthorn bonsai.  The trunk base is 3″ above the root crown, and it’s 30″ to the tip of the apex.






Here’s a final look at the problem root.  Once the exposed wood has dried, I’ll treat this area with lime sulfur just to be on the safe side, after which I’ll add some soil into the gap.

I’d love to hear what you think of this post.  Was it helpful to you?

The Awesome Beauty Of The Deciduous Bonsai In Winter

Fall in the Deep South is an iffy affair.  When we do get fall, it typically comes and goes in short order.  This year we actually got perfect conditions for a nice season of color, a lengthy drought that ended around Thanksgiving.  In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen our trees in the landscape produce nice yellows, reds and purples.  Then the rains came, and those colorful leaves have been falling quickly.  The gray, somber winter is just about upon us.

For the bonsai artist who loves deciduous trees, winter is actually a good time of year.  The well-ramified trees get to show off their development.  Those trees still in development get to show off where they are in the process, plus what they still lack.  All in all, I love deciduous bonsai in winter.  Here are a couple of nice examples.

This is my Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca, that I’ve been working on for five years now.  You can see the state of ramification this tree has achieved.  The final step in developing this bonsai is going to occur in the crown, which has come along very well over the past couple of years.  I’m confident that by the end of the 2017 growing season, this tree will be “finished.”






This Sweetgum forest, Liquidambar styraciflua, was put together in 2015.  In just two growing seasons, it’s reached a pretty nice stage of development.  With the leaves just about off all of the trees, it’s much easier to see the state of development of the individual trees.  This is important to any forest composition.  While it might seem easiest to grow a forest as simply a mass of foliage, this will never fly with deciduous species.  Winter will always rat you out.  So today I was able to get “inside” the forest and do some strategic pruning.  Each of the trees in this forest has its own structure, which I’m developing over time.  It’s only going to take one more growing season to get this forest to the point where constant pinching will finish the development.

I’d love to hear of any experiences you might want to share with regard to your deciduous bonsai in winter.  Just leave a comment below.