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.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Tulip Poplar, Hackberry, And Is This A Catbird Grape?

Everybody knows that you avoid trying to make bonsai out of magnolias. Grandiflora, specifically, with its dinner-plate sized flowers. No, I don’t go there, so this isn’t going to be about some valiant effort to overcome the species. With that said, this Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, which is a close cousin to Southern magnolia, was growing right where my driveway begins and there was no way it could keep on doing that. I’d seen where someone out there was trying to grow this species as bonsai, and the trunk on this one had nice movement and some taper, so I figured why not. So into a nursery pot it went, and once the shoots were out enough I did some wiring on it. Isn’t that leaf size huge? So I’ll keep playing with this specimen, and if something comes of it I’ll post an update later in the season.

This is one of the Hackberries, Celtis laevigata, that I collected in February. It’s put on enough strong growth that today I felt it was time for an initial styling. Most of the growth is in the top third of the trunk that I lifted, so that means I’ll need to grow the tree a little taller. But I’m confident I can make something of it.

Not a lot to this quick styling, but I think you can see where the tree is going. I just love the movement of the trunk, and that “owl hole” or uro to the Japanese is a great feature. The leader is going to carry probably a handful or so of branches once it gains some heft … but that’s for another time. For today, this is enough to get something going.

And finally, we have this really interesting vine. I had someone contact me who was interested in our native southern grape, the Muscadine (Vitis rotundilfolia). We have plenty of them around here, so I went out and found this specimen which I was sure was a Muscadine. I never heard back from the guy, but once I started getting some tendrils pushing I noticed the leaves did not look like Muscadine leaves. They’re palmate, rather than roundish. So I pulled out my handy guide to native vines, and it appears this specimen may be what’s called a Catbird grape, Vitis palmata. Sometimes when you collect a tree, shrub or vine, the recovery leaf shape is different from the shape once the growth gets established and reverts to normal. I don’t know if it’ll happen here, but regardless I think it’ll be fun to work with this twin-trunk Grape vine.

Let me know what you think about today’s odds & ends. I’d love if you leave a comment below.

Hackberry Collecting Goes Well – Weather Sucked

So we left home on Friday around noon to travel to North Mississippi, where I was meeting up with a friend to go Hackberry (Celtis laevigata) collecting. It was almost 80° and sunny when we left. 300 miles later, the temperature was about 45° and it was overcast. Next morning, it was 40° and raining. Brrr! Collecting is sorta like the Postal Service – neither rain nor hail, etc. So off we went. Here are some of the trees we got.


Here’s a neat stump I’m planning to hang onto for a few years and see what I can make of it. The trunk base is 3″ above the root crown, and it’s chopped at 13″. What’s really nice about this specimen is the warty bark, which Hackberries develop over time. So it’s got some age going for it.

But it gets even better when you turn it around. How about this nice shari from top to bottom? There’s no way I can not make this a feature of the bonsai I’ll be developing from it. It’s just too cool and natural.

The big flaw in this tree is the obvious lack of surface roots on the left side and in the back. But not to worry, I can ground-layer roots where I need them. That won’t happen until next year (assuming the tree survives collecting); stay tuned.



This is another very nice specimen I brought home. This one has good surface rootage, and nice trunk movement and taper. The base is 3.5″ above the root crown, and it’s chopped at 18″. Very nice proportions in the making.

Here it is to your right, all potted up snugly.




There were a ton of small trees just begging to be made into forest plantings, so I brought a bunch of them home. Here’s a tubful.

I should know in about four to six weeks if these trees will recover. With a little luck I’ll be able to post some for sale in April.


Grow And Chop – How It’s Working For Three Bonsai-To-Be

I’ve written often about developing bonsai from the ground up. Today, following our first couple of freezing nights for the year, we warmed up enough to make working outdoors pleasant. Here are a few bonsai-to-be that I’ve been growing in the ground for a while. Today it was time to do the next round of chopping.

Here’s an American elm, Ulmus Americana, that I’ve been growing for a few years from a volunteer. American elm grows quickly in the ground if left alone to grow. From a seedling it grew strongly in the typical upright fashion. Last year I chopped it back hard – you can see the chop point in this photo – and then selected the strongest leader and put some wire on it in order to create just a little movement in the trunk. Then I just left it alone; I did remove the wire once it started to bite.








Here’s the tree from another angle, after I cut off the other leaders that had emerged from the chop point. I could have left multiple leaders on this tree and grown it in the classic “vase-shape” style of the American elm in nature. But instead I opted for a more typical informal upright style.

Now, as you can tell this new leader loses it taper pretty quickly once it leaves the original chop point. This is all right – I needed the leader to thicken sufficiently to produce a nice tapering transition. But if I don’t chop the tree again now, I’ll lose that transition.









I left the leader extra-long here, but it is cut back enough to prevent loss of taper. Next spring I’m going to get buds all up and down the leader, at which point I’ll select one and cut the excess off. For now I’ve done all the needs doing.

The trunk base is 1.5″ and the new chop is at 8″ from the soil. When I cut back again next year the new chop point is going to be around 4″ from the soil.






I’ve shown you this Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, before. This past year I chopped back the main trunk line to about 12″ from the soil, and allowed a low branch to take off in order to thicken the base. Boy, did that work! I got a base of 3″ by doing this, and the new leader literally took over the tree growing about 8′ tall. We’ve reached a point, however, where I had to put a stop to this. By allowing the new leader to continue growing, the main trunk line would begin to weaken and could possibly die. So today I felt it was a good time to eliminate the sacrifice trunk.


A closeup of the trunk base, from the other side.






This is a very important photo. If you’ll look at the point where the trunk changes color from gray to green, you’ll notice just below that point there’s a circular bit of wood that forms a ring below the green part (which is the new strong trunk I need to get rid of). This is the equivalent of a branch collar. For those of you familiar with arborist work, when large branches are removed from trees they’re always cut just beyond the branch collar. Why? Simply to preserve the sap flow from the roots up past the branch. If you remove the lower part of the branch collar, you run the risk of killing off part of the trunk below the collar. In the case of this Sweetgum, I could kill all of the roots below this leader. So I’ll be careful to avoid this when I chop.

And here we are, in just a few minutes. Now I’ve got a great tapering trunk line on my Sweetgum. The original chop on this specimen was at 12″, so with a 3″ trunk base I can finish out this specimen at 18″ and have a perfect base to height ratio.

I don’t plan to lift this specimen until next May. I’ll post a follow-up at that time.





I collected this Hackberry, Celtis laevigata, in 2012. To be honest it was pretty ugly, more so when I got it home. But there’s always hope. So I planted it out a few years ago and just let it get established and start to take off. It’s been a few years, but I finally got strong growth in a leader and I’m beginning to think there may be something to this specimen after all – in a few more years.














A shot from the other side. Doesn’t look like much, does it?

















Just a quick chop later, I think 2017 may see this specimen begin to look like wanting to be a bonsai some day. It’s going to take several more years, but that’s just part of the fun. Patient work. Grow and chop. Grow and chop.









And finally, the tree from another angle.

This specimen has a 2.5″ trunk base and has now been chopped to 8″ above the soil surface. In the spring the leader is going to push a number of buds, which will allow me to choose the next leader for growing out.