Bonsai Odds & Ends – American Elm, Lantana

bonsai odds & ends – american elm, lantana

Sneak Peek

Here’s another American elm that’s coming along, and a Lantana in bad need of a haircut.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – American Elm, Lantana

I’ve written about American elm before. It’s sadly under-utilized for bonsai, most likely because folks are afraid of Dutch Elm Disease. I’ve never had a bonsai affected by DED in 30+ years of experience, nor have I heard of a case (though perhaps it’s happened out there somewhere).

This specimen is a perfect example of the bullet-proof nature of the species. I collected it in the dead of summer, along with two others, because I was cleaning up a former ground growing area. This tree and a couple of oaks were dug at the same time; all of the American elms made it, and one of the oaks is barely alive. Not only that, but all of the growth on this tree above the smaller cut-back leader coming off the main trunk is following the lift. So you see, it’s a tough species!

How tough? Well, I’m willing to slip-pot the tree at this time and bet on it surviving. I just got in this nice Lary Howard oval, and it’s a perfect complement to the tree.

Now it’s all about a few things: more leader and branch development, closing over the trunk chop and making ramification. You can see many of the leaves are already pretty small. This is very typical of American elm.

As for the trunk chop, you may be thinking it seems pretty straight across and somewhat jarring visually. Not to worry. American elm calluses vigorously, so expect the chop to look much more like a realistic transition in about a year or so.

It’s been a while since I wrote about Lantana. Although I just started working with the species last year, I have to say I’m very pleased. They have interesting bark, aren’t fussy about care, and bloom profusely in a pot (don’t be alarmed about the length of those flower stalks – with pinching and pruning you can keep the flowers in very tight and reduce the stalk length dramatically).

As I mentioned above, this one is badly in need of a haircut. I actually let it run this year for a couple of reasons: one, it helps to thicken the branches; and two, I’ll get a nice crop of cuttings to make more Lantanas with.

A nice improvement. I will cut back additionally before we start growing next year, but I wanted to leave the branches a little long for now in case I get some dieback (which is not likely).



Let me know what you think of today’s work.

Mayhaw Work And Lantana Flowers (Surprise)

mayhaw work and lantana flowers (surprise)

Sneak Peek

I have this Mayhaw I collected a couple of years ago. It’s grown well enough that some development work is called for. Plus I have a Lantana that is producing flowers that are – reduced in size?

Mayhaw Work and Lantana Flowers (Surprise)

I collected this Mayhaw a couple of years ago, and left it alone except for watering and fertilizing. I did wire up a new leader for the tree, as this is a must with all trunk-chopped specimens you don’t plan to make into trunk-damaged survivor-type bonsai.

Lots of branches here – too many, in fact.

Editing out branches is the first step. With the vast majority of collected deciduous and broadleaf evergreen specimens, you’ll have more branches to choose from than you need (not a bad problem to have, of course). So at some point early on you have to focus the tree’s energy by removing many if not most of those branches.

We’re about as close to bare bones on this one as I care to get for today. I may end up using everything you see – for sure two-thirds of it. I’ll know as the design progresses.

Notice I also dove into the trunk chop; time to do some carving. This is typically a year two task, but with slow-rooting specimens such as Mayhaw I usually end up doing it in year three.

This is the way I need the chop to look – angled downward into the original trunk line. As the leader grows out and the base thickens, I’ll end up with a smoothly tapering transition from the original trunk into the new leader. That leader, incidentally, is going to get pruned back a few times before this tree is fully trained. Hawthorns will grow out branches with little taper, and this new leader is no exception. So to build taper, I’ll use the ever-reliable grow and chop technique. I expect it’ll take about five years to do it right.

This tree is available at our Shop, by the way, if you’d like to take over the training.


I couldn’t resist posting a photo of this Lantana (Lantana camara). Why? Notice the flowers. It’s a truism in bonsai that flower size does not reduce. While these flowers seem to be normal size, their stems are at least one-half if not one-third normal length. Does this qualify as flower-size reduction? Considering that it makes the whole blooming thing much more compact, I’m calling it a win.

I had no idea this would happen. If any of you have had experience with Lantana to this effect, please let me know. There’s nothing new under the sun, so I figure it can’t be a secret. I’ve just never run across any information on it before, and I’m new to the Lantana bonsai game.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Rip, Swamp Maple, Ginkgo, Surprise

bonsai odds & ends – rip, swamp maple, ginkgo, surprise

Sneak Peek

Spring is in full force, and there’s lots going on around here. Today it’s worth checking in on ‘Rip van Winkle’ the Willow oak, the Swamp maple and Ginkgo I potted late, and a surprise.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Rip, Swamp Maple, Ginkgo, Surprise

This was the before photo in my last blog – a little Swamp maple in too small of a pot that needed more room. Not looking too bonsai-y.

It’s been two weeks, and this little guy has obviously survived the late repotting. There’s a lot of work to do on this tree, but with more growing room it’ll be easier to do that work and have the tree respond well.


Ginkgo potted late.

Bag on ….

Bag off ….

Another success story – surviving the late potting.


I almost titled this blog “They don’t call me Rip van Winkle for nuthin’.” I can almost always count on this Willow oak to come out last – even after all of the Water-elms have broken bud. Sure as shootin’, this guy is finally waking up. In about a week it’ll be full of new shoots that I’ll be starting to pinch back.

Now for something of a surprise. Last year, in the course of my day job, I was walking a field with a firm doing a Phase I Environmental Assessment, and in a stand of trees noticed some pale orange fruits lying all over the ground. I immediately knew they were native persimmons (Diospyros virginiana). I have never seen one in the wild, though they certainly are around, and that’s most likely because I don’t collect trees in the areas where they grow at the time they’re dropping fruit. I gathered as many of the fruits as I could carry, then last fall I planted them in a pot to let them cold-stratify over the winter. I’ve ended up with a couple of dozen sprouts. Now we see how well they grow, and ultimately what I can do with them. A pleasant surprise ….


Huckleberries Leafing Out, And Freeze Protection

huckleberries leafing out, and freeze protection

Sneak Peek

Not only are my Huckleberries opening flower buds, they’re also starting to leaf out. Here comes the coldest night of the year so far!

Huckleberries Leafing Out, and Freeze Protection

Recently I wrote about the faithful Huckleberry, which in the gloomiest time of the year starts opening flower buds.

While that is all well and good, and appears to be as natural as can be, today I was out checking on my trees and I noticed that all of my Huckleberries are starting to leaf out! Ordinarily I’d be writing this in great excitement, wondering if an early spring is in the offing, but in about a week we’re going to get our coldest night of the year!

Here you can see pretty well the new leaves that are just starting to appear.

And more over on the other trunk.

We’re forecast to have a night in the mid-20’s a week from now, and that takes me into one of my danger zones temperature-wise. For all of my temperate-zone trees, the cutoff point for staying on the bench is about 27F (with one exception – see below). Below that point, it’s time for my trees to start going on the ground. As I was mentioning this to Cathy over coffee, it occurred to me that I’ve never laid out my guidelines for protecting trees in a blog (at least not that I can recall). So here goes. Bear in mind that, first of all, the lowest temperature we’ve experienced in my current location is 15F (over a couple of days, with temps not getting above about 25). Normally in the course of the winter we range down to about 28 or so, a few times spaced weeks apart, with maybe 5-10 nights below freezing overall. The low temps only persist for four or five hours, and then we’re back above freezing. So our winter weather is truly mild (though I hate the cold and it’s hard for me to admit that).

A list of species and what I’ve experienced (your mileage may vary):

  • Bald cypress – did fine on the bench at 15F frozen in blocks of ice for a couple of days; but go on the ground under 27F
  • Crape myrtle – also did fine on the bench at 15F; go on the ground under 27F
  • Beech – was killed at 15F (despite the fact that the species ranges all the way to Canada naturally); go on the ground under 27F
  • Water-elms – all killed at 15F except for one large specimen in a large tub; this species is more cold-sensitive than my other temperate-zone trees, so they go on the ground under 30F
  • American elm – did fine on the bench at 15F; go on the ground under 25F (this species also ranges to Canada)
  • Winged elm – had at least one die at 15F; go on the ground under 27F
  • Chinese elm – a very small specimen survived 15F on the bench frozen in ice (I was amazed); go on the ground under 27F
  • Cedar elm – no data at 15F but they have done fine at 17F; but still go on the ground under 27F
  • Hawthorns – survived 15F on the bench; go on the ground under 27F
  • Sweetgum – survived on the bench at 15F (very surprising); go on the ground under 27F
  • Roughleaf dogwood – survived on the bench at 15F frozen in ice; lost two on the bench in a later season at 22F thinking they should be all right; now go on the ground under 27F
  • Oaks – mixed bag here, lost one or more Water oaks on the bench at 15F, my specimen Willow oak survived 15F frozen in ice; all go on the ground now under 27F
  • Chinese privet – lost at least one on the bench at 15F (died back significantly); go on the ground below 27F

You probably noticed that my magic temperature number is 27F for most everything. As I said, our lows only persist (typically) for 4-5 hours and this cutoff has proven safe for me. If where you are you experience sub-freezing weather with no warmup for several days, you may need to adjust your practices accordingly.

It’s worth mentioning that whenever possible I will put my trees on the ground right under the bench in their individual spots. This provides not only the latent heat of the earth near the root zone, it also protects from radiant heat loss in the part of the tree above the soil. This is not always possible, of course, but generally speaking larger specimens have more cold resistance than smaller ones.

I also always make sure to point out that each of us has a mini-environment in our individual backyards. What works for one of us in terms of care – watering, amount of sunlight, winter cold protection – might not work for all of us. It never hurts to be cautious, even though it’s not fun moving a hundred trees around four or five times every winter. That’s part of the bonsai game, though, and if you accept that it is I can almost guarantee you fewer winter casualties.

Huckleberry Flowers – A January Tradition

huckleberry flowers – a january tradition

Sneak Peek

Huckleberries flower and fruit reliably in a bonsai pot. Because they flower so early, they help brighten up an otherwise drab time of year.

Huckleberry Flowers – a January Tradition

We’re getting closer to the official start of the 2021 growing season. While there’s not much cheer in the bonsai garden right now, one thing you can rely on in January is Huckleberry flowers. I collected this specimen in 2019, and the design is coming along nicely. Better yet, it’s loaded with flower buds.

They’re swelling now, and will start opening in the next one to three days.

Since it’s year three for this specimen, I know I can go ahead and pot it up for spring. First, though, a light pruning to remove some of the more rank growth.

If you decide to collect your own blueberries, you’ll find that it takes a few years to get a decent root system going. Like this. Huckleberries produce a dense mat of fine roots, much like azaleas do. (They are also acid-loving like azaleas, which is important to keep in mind when the inevitable droughts come.)

I did prune away some roots, as I had more than would fit in this bonsai pot. The tree won’t mind, since it also got some above ground pruning to balance things out.

You can see I’ve left the leader long, in order to thicken it and make the tapering transition look right. I may be able to shorten it next year; time will tell.

Another good thing about Huckleberries is that they produce nice ramification without much more than pruning. So once you wire the primaries into place, you can rely on grow and clip to complete your design.

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?