I Love This Tree, It Just Keeps Getting Better

My great Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca, is finishing up year six in my care.  The leaves will be off the tree soon, but just as the deciduous tree gives us different looks throughout the year I like this in-between one too.








For those of you who haven’t worked with collected trees yet, this photo (the earliest one I have for this tree) is very instructive.  While you may have the impression that the tree came from the wild just like this, except for the wire that’s obviously on some of the branches, I can tell you it did not.  When I collected it, all of the branches that held foliage were higher than everything you see on this tree.  I chopped it dramatically.  Why?  Because bonsai is all about scale and proportion.  I wasn’t going to bring home a 10-foot tall tree; there wouldn’t have been any point in doing so, because you don’t make a bonsai out of a 10-foot tall tree.

So where do you begin, and how do you “calculate” what you’re bringing home to make into a bonsai?  First of all, let’s think height.  Most bonsai are not more than 48″ tall.  There are good reasons for this, not the least of which is you can’t lug around a tree that size very much.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love big bonsai.  But I also love not having back trouble.  So I limit the number of really big bonsai I maintain.  With that in mind, let’s figure that our average bonsai is going to be around 20″ tall.  A 20″ tall bonsai ought to have a trunk that’s about 2-3″ across, at the soil surface or above the root crown.  When you go out to lift a tree from the wild, you want to zero in on those trees you can work with in order to create good proportions from soil surface to apex.  That means a tapering trunk to produce the forced perspective you need.  And you have to be prepared to build a quickly-tapering leader near the apex.  My rule of thumb is that I’ll chop the trunk at a point where its diameter is half what it is at soil level.  This works beautifully.

The next thing to consider with a newly collected trunk is the branch structure.  You’re going to need one, of course.  Deciduous trees are pretty good about producing trunk buds.  These tend to appear at points where leaves originally appeared as the seedling was growing up.  You can’t see those dormant buds anymore, most of the time, but they’re there.  With a little luck, you get some new shoots to work with.  In the photo above, you can see the result.  This is what you build your branches out of.

I’ll post more updates on this tree in 2018.  The one thing I’m waiting for is flowers.  It takes time for a hawthorn to produce flowering spurs in a bonsai pot.  I like to think I’ve gotten that far.  There’s been very little hard-pruning of this specimen this year, as it’s reached a good stage of maturity as a bonsai.  So I’m hopeful about flowers.  But time will tell.

I added the first photo above to the Progression on this tree.  It’s becoming a really interesting story.

Don’t Ignore Problems At This Time Of Year

As the growing season comes to an end, we have certain chores we do to prepare for winter.  Deciduous trees are either in full color or already dropping foliage.  Watering needs decline from two or three times daily to once every few days.  Cold frames are getting filled.

It’s the ideal time of year to ignore problems that may have cropped up during the growing season.  Some are easier to see than others.  In the case of this Riverflat hawthorn, I spotted this issue last weekend when I turned the tree to examine it.

If you look closely, near the base of the carved out chop area you can see what looks like a bullet hole.  When I first spotted it, the giveaway was a little sawdust.  I immediately thought it might be a boring insect going to work.  I had previously treated this area with PC Petrifer® wood hardener, in order to ensure the carved area remained hard as it weathered.

It would have been easy to just ignore this problem until spring.  But that’s not a good approach to take.  Often you ignore a problem right through the timeframe when you can do something about it.  At that point it’s often too late.  I’ve been guilty of this before, and I like to think I’ve learned my lesson.  I don’t ignore these problems any more.

I first took the step of pouring some Bifenthrin® pesticide into the hole, in order to kill anything that might be down in the wood.  Today I got out my Dremel®.  A problem area like this needs to be addressed, first by carving down to durable wood (if possible).

Here’s the result after just a bit of carving.  I’ve smoothed down the area surrounding the hole.  There wasn’t any evidence of any insect present, which was a relief.  So if something stopped by for a chew, either I killed it right away or it decided to move on.

By the way, when you’re carving any sort of chop, uro or shari, be sure they’ll shed water when you’re done.  If you examine this carving work closely, you’ll see I designed it specifically to ensure this happens.  You don’t want standing water on dead wood.



The next step is to paint the carved area with PC Petrifier.









This is a great water-based wood hardener. Here’s what it looks like.  You can order it online.
















Finally, here’s the early fall portrait of this fine Riverflat hawthorn.  Six years in training now.

Let me know what you think.

How About What This Hawthorn Did?

Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca, is one of my favorite species for bonsai.  They take well to pot culture, grow roots fast and have small leaves.  When old enough, they get a nice rough bark.  What’s not to like?

I grew this specimen from a cutting struck in 2015.  By the end of 2016, it had really taken off.  The trunk base was 1″ across, and the leader had extended to 6′.  Really awesome.

I had planned to make some layers from this tree in 2016, but I never quite got around to it.  One thing I did do is move it to a large growing tub.  I did just a little pruning, otherwise it was just food, water and sun.







Well, here’s the same tree almost a year later.  Isn’t it amazing?  I chopped the leader, but a new leader has taken off and extended to 6′ in length.  Overall, the volume of growth has exploded by about tenfold.  The base has gained another 1/2″ in girth, but the “body” of the tree is also much increased.

I have the same plan next year as I did this year.  I will layer some additional specimens from this parent tree.  That will also allow me to do some training on this one itself, which is just a couple of years from a bonsai pot if the growth rate keeps up.




Here’s one more shot, from the other side.  I’m thinking this will end up being the front, but time will tell.

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.

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?