Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hawthorn, Cypress, Spekboom

bonsai odds & ends – hawthorn, cypress, spekboom

Sneak Peek

Fall brings a little color to our part of the Deep South. The growing season is over, but it’s still fun to work on tropicals.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hawthorn, Cypress, Spekboom

Here is the Deep South we pay for relatively mild winters with a general lack of fall color. That doesn’t mean we don’t get the occasional overachiever. My big Riverflat hawthorn just turned the other day, and I think it was all at once. Hard to miss on the benches full of green and bare trees.

The Bald cypresses that weren’t defoliated in July usually look pretty ratty this time of year. This big specimen is an exception. It’s the last BC I’ll be posting for sale this year. If you’re looking for a big one, check it out in the Shop.


The redesign of this Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) is progressing well. It got a hard pruning earlier in the season, and has responded with a ton of new growth. I don’t know if other enthusiasts work on tropicals as winter approaches, but I’ve always had good luck considering the fact that they’ll be moving into heated spaces soon anyway.

From the bottom up, time for this one to lose a good bit of foliage. It was a bit “bottom-heavy,” but that’s not a huge surprise given the characteristic growth habit for the species.


And the end-result. The crown of the tree needs a lot more development, but by the end of 2022 the new design should be complete.

Let me know what you think.

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.

Portrait Time – Hawthorn, Oak, Elm

portrait time – hawthorn, oak, elm

Sneak Peek

There’s nothing like the combination of spring, sunny weather and nicely developed bonsai.

Portrait Time – Hawthorn, Oak, Water-Elm

Well, after the winter we had it does your heart good to see your trees responding to spring. Here’s my Riverflat hawthorn, 10 years in the making.

The next step for this one is a hard-pruning, but I’ll wait until next year when it’s time to repot again.

“Rip van Winkle” is finally leafing out. I thought it would be nice to catch him while his leaves are still tiny. They’ll get somewhat bigger, but the leaf-size reduction has been gratifying (that part has taken some years).

This one has also been with me for 10 years.


And here’s the newcomer, a very large Water-elm I potted this year. I’ve only had it for a few years now, but in another two it’ll look like it’s been in training for a decade. Lovely tree.

Let me know what you think of these guys.

Riverflat Hawthorn Progression

Zach’s Personal Collection

riverflat hawthorn

Progression Carousel

Riverflat Hawthorn



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Updates are in date order beginning with the first date Zach began documenting the progression.


The tree was collected as a bare trunk – which is most common for collected material. Buds form directly on the trunk, then extend forming shoots, and these shoots are then wired into position to create the branch structure of the bonsai-to-be. A shoot near the chop is wired into position as the new leader. This is the first stage of developing a bonsai from collected material.


Nearly a year later, the shoots have gained thickness in their first year. You can see that the apical shoot, the new leader, grew the strongest (along with other shoots in the upper part of the tree – this is caused by apical dominance, which most species exhibit).


What a difference a week has made.

Next, I will pot this tree.


The tree is placed in its bonsai pot, a fine piece by the late Paul Katich, just over a year after it was collected. All of the development of this tree as a bonsai can be done with the tree in a bonsai pot.


A couple of months later, and the tree continues to develop.


The tree has filled out very nicely. There’s more to do, but the tree is just about showable.


The Fall 2015 appearance.

The apex, along with further ramification, is all that remains in completing this bonsai.


In the beginning of the fifth year since collection. A fine Riverflat hawthorn specimen.


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It’s time to repot this hawthorn. While some species do not root vigorously, the same can’t be said for Riverflat hawthorn.

I’ve got a pot full of roots here. In addition, I have a large root in the front of this tree that’s visually just a bit too large. So I need to do something about that during this repotting.


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In this case, some judicious carving is going to help make this root less obtrusive while allowing me to keep it as part of the nebari.


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The tree out of its pot.

Ignoring the root zone for a moment, isn’t the structure of this tree just superb?

I’ve gotten very nice ramification all throughout the tree in the course of the five years I’ve been training it. As a bonsai, this specimen is reaching maturity.

Now take a look at the root mass. If you strain you can see that the tree did indeed fill the pot with roots in just a few years.


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It usually surprises people when I show them how much root you can cut off on a tree like this one.

It’s common to be timid when you’re new to bonsai and just learning how to repot your trees.

Eventually you get bolder.

I know from experience that this tree is not going to mind having over half of its root mass removed.

In fact, the result should be more vigor.


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Back in its home, and waiting for spring.

It may be a bit hard to see, but doing bit of carving on the large root in front has really helped changed its appearance.

As the raw wood fades in color and the root begins to heal, it’ll blend in much better.


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I haven’t touched the tree all spring. After a root-pruning and repotting, you should allow your tree to grow without any restraint until well into spring. This allows it to recover from the drastic root-pruning you’ve done (when you’re experienced enough to be so bold).


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I gave the tree a light trimming, removing branches that were crossing others and those running back into the tree.

I also trimmed to bring the silhouette back in.


Today I gave the tree another light trim to bring the silhouette back in, and removed some minor crossing branches and a few unhappy leaves. Other than that, I think it’s really stunning at present.

I may show the tree this fall if it finishes out the summer in good shape, otherwise I don’t have any work planned until next spring. At that time, I’ll do a harder pruning to encourage renewal growth and further increase ramification.


Today I gave the trunk of this tree a good cleaning.

A lot of the foliage has dropped, so it won’t be long till we’re back to winter bareness. The crown of this tree has really filled in well this year.

I’m at the point where all I need to do is work on increasing ramification. But there’s no denying this bonsai has turned into a stunning specimen.


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Here’s the tree in March. After much study I came to the conclusion that this pot, though a fine one, was just too small for the size of the tree. I ordered a custom oval from Byron Myrick.


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I’ve removed the tree from the old pot, and you can see here the extra space I’m giving the tree. I’m convinced this will make the composition much better.


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Soil added and the tree is all wired and tucked in. Compare this photo with the first one, and I think you’ll agree I made the right decision.


What better way to end the year than with some really nice fall color? This is the best show this tree has put on since I started working on it. As I noted in a blog post about it, this is a portrait of what we all work toward with our trees.

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Picture Day – Hawthorn, Oak, Crape Myrtle

picture day: hawthorn, oak, crape myrtle

Sneak Peak

We’re wonderfully in the depths of spring, with warms days, cool nights and a nice breeze each day. Most everything is responding very well, so I thought it a good time to update photos of three trees in our collection. Two have been on the bench for almost a decade now, while the third has been in training for over 30 years. Nothing to sneeze at! But don’t be misled: just as it is for us, every tree you ever care for will have its ups and downs along the way. This used to frustrate me, but I finally came to understand that bonsai is not about perfect trees, it’s about working to perfect our trees while they work hard at growing the way they were created to grow. These two intentions are often at odds, but that’s the fun of bonsai, right?

Hawthorn, Oak, Crape Myrtle

picture day

This Riverflat hawthorn has just about reached full maturity as a bonsai. The biggest challenge it has posed in recent times was last fall, when an early freeze caught the tree with its still-green foliage on display. The result was an attractive though concerning bronzing of the leaves, which happened despite the tree being placed on the ground in a sheltered location. I was a little concerned, but once spring arrived the tree seemed to shake off the event. The good news is, I’m a year or two away from a repotting so the tree shouldn’t experience any new shock any time soon.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an oak bonsai with a more attractive base than this one. I’m just always amazed whenever I look at it. Now entering its 10th year of training, this one has seen its share of challenging times but always bounces back. A couple of years ago I named it “Rip van Winkle,” for the simple reason that it’s one of the last of my trees to come out each and every spring. I don’t mind, though it would be nice if it came to the show sooner.

This year I expect to continue building ramification on this specimen. That’s one thing about any tree you develop. Trunk, branch structure, ramification. It pretty much always has to go this way. I had the trunk I needed when the tree came home in 2011. The branch structure took the past several years of painstaking work. Now it’s time to move into refinement. Notice the relatively large leaves. They need to be smaller, obviously. That’s a process I can start to work on this year, with the next step being to prune the new growth back pretty hard in about two more weeks. I’ll then get another flush of growth, along with the back-budding that will increase twig density and reduce leaf size. We’ll see how it goes.

This is the old Crape myrtle I’ve written about on a number of occasions. In checking Allen’s hand-written notes, training was begun on this specimen in 1986 after he and I collected it before that growing season began. It sure has come a long way.

This one had its most recent challenge in Winter 2019. We had had a warm snap, which is not unusual for late winter down here, and this tree decided it was time to start pushing buds. With a light freeze on the way, I thought nothing of leaving the tree on the bench. I’ve had plenty of experience with Crape myrtles, enough to know they are surprisingly cold-hardy. I expected this to extend to the new growth, especially considering that the sap in the emerging foliage should have enough sugar to lower its freeze point. Well, the sap did not.

So the new buds withered and dropped off, meaning the tree had to push a second round of first-round growth. That’s a setback, of course, but Crapes are pretty tough customers so I figured it would recover given time and not pushing it. I let it grow out last year, with only minor trimming and adding a little wire where needed. This year, I should be able to do some reshaping work toward summer. I’ll also remove any flowers buds, to ensure the tree doesn’t suffer any undue stress.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Elm, Maple, Hawthorn

Spring is gathering speed now, and most everything on my benches (beech and most oaks are usually last) is coming into leaf. Water-elms also lag, so I took the opportunity today to pot up a couple of small ones. This is another of the trees that came home last summer. Nice smaller specimen, 1″ trunk and destined to finish at 12″. As with small bonsai in general (and you should take this as a hard and fast rule), your tree will consist of fewer than a dozen primary branches in total. This includes the branches in the crown. So here you see I’ve made a design with only four branches (so far). There will be two to four max in the crown. And that’s it!
I think this Chuck Iker round is going to go perfectly with this tree. The root system was very good, considering the tree has only been on the bench for a few months’ worth of growth (last summer/fall).
And another small Water-elm, trunk base slightly larger than 1″ and again it’ll finish at 12″. Here I’ve got five primary branches along with the leader, so again a simple structure. (If you crowd your branching too much in a small tree, there’s no way to avoid the “shrub” effect. That’s not bonsai. Less is more.)
Another nice Chuck Iker round helps to make this tree.
Fun with Swamp maples continues. I collected a handful of nice ones this year, my goal being to see how well they hold up over the next few years. I’ve been encouraged by the last two I brought home. By keeping an intact root mass and avoiding completely cleaning the roots, it appears they don’t become susceptible to trunk rot. If this does prove to be the key to success, then you’ll see more specimens over the next few years. They really do have some nice characteristics, so I’m excited. Today I wired a single branch on this very tall specimen (18″ trunk with a 1.5″ base; I had one I blogged about the past couple of years that went on to a client; I’m trying to duplicate that design). Why wire one branch? It should help redirect energy elsewhere, especially to the many trunk buds you can’t yet see. I’ll need this branch in my design, and I don’t want it getting too thick too fast. I’ll also be pruning it later in the season, to activate the buds that appear at the nodes on the branch.
Finally, this Parsley hawthorn came out of my ground growing area earlier in the year. It’s exploding with growth, as you can see. That includes some shoots on the recumbent trunk that will make upright trunks to go along with the four I currently have. So I’ll let them grow without restraint for some time, possibly even all season. I do want variety in the trunk thicknesses, but I can control that as this tree develops. You’ve probably noticed that one of the two largest trunks leans a bit too much, making the design less harmonious than it can be. I’ll notch this trunk a little later in spring, bringing it more upright.