(225) 784 - 2168 zach@bonsai-south.com

Some Things That Are Waking Up

Each winter there are certain specimens of certain species that decide to wake early from dormancy. It just takes a little warmth and sunshine, and they start popping buds.We just finished up Bald cypress collecting season last week. This one was collected two weeks ago and it, along with some others we harvested, is already pushing buds. It looks like we’re heading into a slight warming trend over the next couple of weeks, so this tree should have obvious foliage on it by the end of February.

Here’s a Red mulberry, Morus rubra, that I’ve had on the bench for over a year. It was in an oversized pot, and had thrown branches that were six feet in length. Starting this year it gets to be a shohin bonsai. Last week I did a number of it, top and bottom, and it fit nicely with all that coaxing into this Chuck Iker round. I think it’s going to make a great composition. You probably can’t see in this photo, but it’s got lots of green buds that are swelling and should be open in a week. Styling it is going to be a lot of fun.

This Parsley hawthorn was lifted from our field growing area on December 14th of last year. Parsley haw is one of the first species to leaf out each year, and this tendency is enhanced if you do root work on them. I cut back all of the roots hard on this specimen, and it’s doing just what I expected. Judging by the buds I see, I’ll be able to create a nice branch structure in about six weeks.
This Huckleberry was also lifted on December 14th. It’s another species that comes out very early, whether you do root work on them or not. I have some on the bench in bloom, and most are just starting to leaf out.I don’t know about you, but I’m really getting excited about the 2020 growing season. I still have some collecting to do, which will probably extend into early March, but it looks like an early spring is headed our way.

Tale Of A Hawthorn Cutting

I enjoy making new bonsai material by taking cuttings from the trees I work with. I also enjoy working with the species Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca. Unfortunately, those two pleasures seldom happen together.

I have found Riverflat hawthorn cuttings to be extremely difficult to root. Maybe it’s operator error, but maybe it’s just a quirk of the species. Regardless, this photo represents a single specimen I got to take about six or seven years ago. It’s been completely container grown since that time, and this is how it looked back in 2017. That’s a standard small concrete mixing tub which measures about 24″ long by 18″ wide, to give you an idea of scale.

Here’s the tree a couple of days ago, after I pruned off a good bit of the growth. The base of the trunk has thickened some more in the two years since the photo above was taken, and is now right at 1.75″ above the (nice) surface rootage. While I could either leave the tree in this container or plant it out, it’s actually big enough to work with.
A lot more pruning needed doing in order to start simplifying this specimen. It’s not always easy to choose which branches to keep, but in this case it wasn’t all that hard. I had selected a front for the tree years ago, and there was no need to change it.
As you can imagine, the tub had a lot of roots throughout. The easiest way for me to get the tree out so I could really reduce them was to pretend I was collecting it from the ground. So I sawed it out.
I washed off the roots and started cutting. One of the obvious features of the bonsai to be is those surface roots. Now I just need to remove crossing roots and enough root mass to fit the tree into a pot.
This is what I ended up with. The good thing about Riverflat hawthorns is they root very well and vigorously (not the cuttings, but once they have roots they really go gangbusters).
I just got this Chuck Iker round recently, and I think it works very well with this tree. The chop is at 12″. I know that stub at the top looks funny; I left it long to ensure I don’t lose it altogether; I should get buds not only on it but also at the chop point. Once that happens, I’ll prune it back. And I wired out a basic design.You can see in this photo some spots where in the past I pruned off large branches I was using to make the tree get bigger. Though you can’t see it in this shot, they’re already mostly healed. As time goes on, they should add to the character of this bonsai to be.So that’s my tale of a Riverflat hawthorn cutting. Let me know what you think.

An Early Start On Collecting Season

I planted out some Parsley hawthorn whips a few years ago. True to the old adage, “first year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps,” this year I’ve noticed a number of the specimens have put on some heft. A few have reached my minimum for lifting, namely, a trunk base of 1″. While I’ll certainly leave most to get bigger still, it’s nice to have some smaller specimens to offer.
I’m not sure what happened to this one or when, but it’s grown itself into a raft. Nice.
Here’s the first one on the potting bench. I have to choose between two leaders, either of which would do fine. You can see I’ve got some good roots to work with. My experience with hawthorn has been that they do quite well with a lot less root than you think they need when collecting them. My survival rate through the years has been 90% or better.
Yep, not much root at all.I’m still trying to decide on the leader.
I went with the straighter one. Not sure if it would have been better the other way, but the good news is this tree will produce multiple buds where I chopped that other leader. If I want, I can grow a new leader from one of those buds. So it’s not a big deal one way or another.
And here’s the raft, all potted up. I’m thinking this is going to make a very cool bonsai. What do you think?
I lifted this Huckleberry today. I’m very excited about it. I see a round pot and foliage confined to the upper part of each trunk. It’ll take a season or two to grow the left hand trunk the way I want it, but the results should be spectacular.
I have a choice of more than one front with this specimen. Which would you choose?

Fall Color, Pseudo Fall Color, And An Early Hard Freeze

My venerable old Crape myrtle bonsai was challenged this year. After I repotted it in spring, it started to bud out just in time for a good freeze. I mistakenly thought that, since Crapes are quite winter-hardy, the new buds would be likewise. Well, they froze and so the tree had to marshal its resources and produce a second first round of spring growth. I did very little to it this year, just letting it recover.Our heat finally broke a couple of weeks ago. Then following a cool night, I suddenly had a nice show of color. Nice end to a less than ideal growing season for this tree. Next year I’m sure we’ll be back on track.
The fun continued this week when got a hard freeze, down to about 22F. That’s very unusual for November – in fact, I can’t recall a similar event over the past three decades or more. We typically get our coldest weather in the early part of the year.I did my bonsai prep for it, putting on the ground many trees I knew would not stand up to the cold and a number of others I wanted to be sure and protect, given the circumstances. This Cedar elm was not one of them. Cedar elms, like Chinese elms, are very hardy and won’t blink when temps get down close to 20. So I left this one on the bench. I got rewarded with a few lingering leaves turning yellow-orangey.

My big Riverflat hawthorn had mostly green foliage last weekend, with just a hint of yellow on a few leaves. Though they are very hardy and this one was on the ground, the foliage most definitely did not like 22 degrees. So I got what I guess you’d call pseudo fall color, a bronze set of leaves. It’s actually pretty attractive, though I’d have preferred it if the weather had been more cooperative.

We’re now into the latter stages of fall, which means winter will be here soon. That also means collecting season, which I’m really looking forward to. I expect to have a lot of great new material come 2020. If there’s something you’re looking for, feel free to email me and I’ll be glad to put your name on my wish list.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hawthorn, Water-Elm, Trumpet Vine

Today I did a one on one workshop with a new bonsai enthusiast. One of the specimens we were worked on was a three-tree Parsley hawthorn composition, very similar to this one. I love bonsai forests. The three-tree planting is the smallest expression of this style of bonsai. While this may seem like a real challenge, you can evoke a great deal of emotion in a very small space with just a few items. In this group there’s dramatic tension, complementary movement, depth, and perspective. It doesn’t get much better than that.
(This specimen is available at our Hawthorn Bonsai page.)

Here’s a Water-elm that we collected last August. It had a great trunk, with an unusual secondary trunk in a strategic spot. I saw a great upright bonsai in the making.
What did I tell you! We also studied potting bonsai today, and this tree was definitely ready for its initial styling and first bonsai pot. It turned out even better than I thought it would.
I was clearing an overgrown area near my garden and ran across a few nice Trumpet vines. This one has a trunk base of 1.5″, some nice shari and wonderful movement.
Plenty of new growth, just as you’d expect from a vine,
Well, most of that had to go. I see a semi-cascade specimen in this one, so a little wire and some man-handling and it’s going the way I want it to. I’ll leave it alone for a good while now; it’ll probably grow six or eight feet of new vine before it annoys me enough for another pruning.

Sunday Evening Hawthorn Notes

Yesterday was my first one-on-one workshop for 2019.  We got a lot of work done, mostly on three large BCs.  This is a great time of year to do just about everything bonsai.  Problem is, it’s hard to get it all done!

Right now in my garden we’ve completed first flush, and than invariably means trees that need a first trimming for the season.  Below we check in on my big Riverflat hawthorn (I really need to name this tree).

This tree continues to rock along.  Last year it got a new, larger home that suits the tree perfectly.  And it’s clearly happy; the elongted shoots tell the tale.

A couple minutes of work later, here we are.

This is one of those trees I could study all day long.   I never get tired of it.

Spring is also the time for making new bonsai.  I had a great time today putting together a couple of new three-tree Parsley hawthorn groups.  These smaller specimens naturally lend themselves to this style of bonsai.

And one more.  There are two things to remember when you’re creating forests of tall trees: one, be sure that your tallest tree(s) have their foliage concentrated in the upper half to third of the trunk; and two, don’t let the branch spread get out of hand.  If you observe these two rules, your trees will look quite mature and believeable.

All in all, it was a great bonsai weekend.  The weather was great, and the trees even better.