Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hophornbeam & Dogwood

Eastern hophornbeam, Ostrya virginiana, is a good species for bonsai though seldom grown. It’s a member of the birch family, as is its close cousin the hornbeam. The leaves, however, are coarser. On the good side of the ledger, they produce a rough bark when mature which is quite attractive. Another negative is that they’re hard to lift successfully relative to the hornbeam. I’ve had this smaller specimen for a couple of years now, and I think it’s reached a point where I can style and pot it. You can see I let a leader grow out, in order to produce a nice apex tapering from the trunk chop.
Step one: prune the leader. This is not the ultimate length for the leader, but I don’t yet have obvious buds at the nodes so I’ve pruned long to prevent dieback. Once I get the buds I need, I can train the next stage of the leader.
Next comes wiring some branches and doing a final trim for today. You may be able to see the bud on the left side of the trunk about a third of the way up. I want this bud to grow out; a branch lower on the trunk should produce a more stable design.
You may remember this Roughleaf dogwood from last fall. At the time, I mentioned that the second branch on the left side of the trunk is way too heavy. My intent for this year was to simply chop it off at the right time, counting on the tree to produce one or more buds at the base. To that end, I pruned it pretty hard last fall.
The branch behaved better than I hoped it would. If you look closely you can see two adventitious buds, one near the base and the other halfway between the trunk and the first sub-branch. So I have a couple of options for today: either chop the branch near that second bud, or prune more off the branch to push more energy inward.
I took the conservative approach, taking off two branchlets at the end of the branch. Yes, the tree will activate buds where these were removed; however, it will also send more energy to the two buds that popped on old wood. My plan is to prune the branch back to the bud nearest the trunk; that will enable me to carve down the stub of the original branch, and end up with a branch more in scale with the others on the tree. You may have noticed a lot of ugly leaves on this tree. For whatever reason, the tree never dropped its leaves over the winter; they did endure some freezes, so they got some discoloration. But they didn’t fall. My plan is to remove them soon, as there’s plenty of new foliage now. Let me know what you think.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Some Evening Shots

I took a few minutes this evening to do some quick trimming on a couple of trees, including this Chinese elm. Most of you are familiar with this specimen. It continues to fill out and get nicer.

I liked the lighting as the sun was going down, so took the opportunity to snap a few photos.

I recently potted this American hornbeam that I acquired from a fellow collector. As the tree put on its first flush of growth I wired it out and positioned the branches. American hornbeam grows all year long, so this specimen will make great progress in 2019. The trunk is 3″ across, and the tree stands about 20″ from the soil. The pot is a lovely custom round by Lary Howard.

This Parsley hawthorn group was featured in a recent blog. After I created the composition, I set it aside in a nice shady location and just waited. Today I noticed new growth on all the trees, so it appears the work was successful. Soon I’ll be able to do some more detailed work on the branch structure of each tree.

And that’s how I spent my Sunday evening. I hope yours was as pleasant.

Hornbeam Collecting & More

Today we hunted hornbeam. The native species is American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana. It ranges from Canada all the way to the Deep South, and west a little past the Mississippi River. I rate it as one of the best bonsai trees for beginners, because it takes readily to pot culture, it grows all season long, and ramifies easily with good leaf reduction. If you don’t have one and you love deciduous trees, you need one.

This specimen has nice trunk movement and taper. There’s also trunk “muscling,” that’s not readily apparent in this photo. The root base is very nice, but it’s buried to protect it. Assuming it survives collecting, I expect to have a good start on a bonsai by summer.

The trunk base on this specimen is 2.5″ across, and it’s chopped at 13″.

Here’s another nice one I brought home today. When you’re collecting hornbeam, look for specimens with low forking of the trunk. This will often allow you to chop to a tapering trunkline with good movement, as is the case here. I’ll be able to go a long way toward completing a branch structure, including the crown, by the end of the growing season. Nothing like shortening the timeframe.

The trunk base on this one is 2″, and it’s 11″ to the chop. Very very nice.

Native Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, is tough to find with decent taper and trunk movement. This twin-trunk specimen was a treat to run across – not to mention the fact that it’s a female. So I had to bring it home. Yaupon is easy to collect successfully – just hard to find.

The trunk base of the larger trunk is 1.5″ across, and it’s 17.5″ to the chop.

This isn’t something you’ll often see at Bonsai South. It’s an American beech, Fagus grandifolia. American beech is a very challenging bonsai subject. Why? Because it only wants to grow in one flush, which happens in spring. Any pinching of foliage you plan to do, you do it when the shoots extend. But don’t expect anything else to happen. Occasionally I’ve seen some additional growth in late spring, but it’s just not enough to move your design along. So everything you plan for an American beech must be done before budburst, with a little pinching after. Slooooooow to make into a nice bonsai.

With that said, don’t you just love the light gray bark and persistent golden leaves? These features do make you want to try your hand at them, even if you’ve been frustrated a bunch of times. So here I go.

The base of this one is 2″, and it’s chopped at 18″. I was encouraged by the nice branches already in place (another reason I went for it).

That’s a good overview of today’s work. Let me know what you think.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hornbeam, Water Oak

I acquired this American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, from another collector last summer. It had been wired, a new leader grown out, then allowed to grow to get strong. Today it was time to make the next move with it.

I took the leader way back. It needs to thicken more at the base, but I want to be careful to create taper in it as it develops.

I also removed the strong upright shoot on the first right-hand branch, to make it less heavy. This branch will need to be kept “cool” this growing season. It’s not out of scale, but it has outpaced its brothers.

The last thing for today, carving down the chop area. I’ll be doing additional carving later on, but I needed to cut away some dead wood to get down to live tissue, to encourage callus formation.

I sealed this area, along with the cut point on the leader. Now I wait till spring.

I’ve had my eye on this Water oak, Quercus nigra, for a few years now. It’s suffered some mistreatment, hence the long shari in the upper part of the tree. I’m fine with that, it gives the tree extra character.

The trunk base of this specimen is 1.5″ at the soil, which is adequate to make a nice smaller specimen. I figured on going directly to a bonsai pot with it. There’s a risk doing this, of course, but I don’t mind taking some risks here and there.

There’s not much left, is there! But bonsai is all about finding the essence of your tree. You have to be brutal enough to take off everything that doesn’t add to the “tree-ness” of your bonsai. It’s often tough to make yourself do it, but with enough practice you’ll get right to the hard pruning. Your trees will be better for it.

I think the Byron Myrick rectangle really goes well with this oak.

If this one makes it, I should have plenty of new shoots to work with come spring, and by fall I expect this specimen should be filled out nicely. Water oak grows very quickly, and that makes it very good for bonsai – in fact, right up near the top of the oak list.

Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below.


American Hornbeam #3

I collected this American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, in January of 2018. I couldn’t resist the nice twin-trunk structure and the trunk character, especially the rugged bark. I only run across rugged bark on a hornbeam occasionally, so I try not to pass up any specimens with this feature if they also possess other good qualities for bonsai.

I let the tree grow out all year, only feeding and watering it. The trunk base is 4″ across, and the height to the taller chop is 14″.

Now for the challenge. Half of the left-hand trunk failed to produce any buds, and over the season succumbed. Unfortunate, but it’s something that can be remedied.

I used my handy Japanese pull saw, and quickly had the trunk cut back to a nice leader that has a good shape already and plenty of strength. I carved the chop down with my knob cutters, followed by a carving knife to smooth it.

The new leader has a good start, but needs to be about four times as thick as it is now. That means I need to let it run in 2019 without any pruning back. That’s the fastest way to ensure getting this trunk back on track.

The work continues. I carved down the originally flat chop on the right-hand trunk. I wired two branches on the left-hand trunk and positioned them (they look a little funny right now, but as the tree grows in 2019 I’ll have new buds and shoots to wire that will complement these first two).

I also pruned off two strong shoots on the right-hand trunk, as they were two thick to bend to a believable horizontal position. The good news is, by not cutting them back flush I can expect dormant buds at the base of each shoots to come out in spring. These I’ll be able to work with while they’re still young and tender.

To complete today’s work, I wired and positioned a few branches on the right-hand trunk. That’s pretty much all that can be done for now. I did seal the chops and larger pruning wounds with cut seal, in order to prevent their drying out.

I’ll post updates in 2019 as this tree continues to develop. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this “rough-bark” hornbeam turns out.

Let me know what you think.

American Hornbeam Work

This past September I acquired this American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, from a fellow enthusiast. It’s a fine specimen, with “muscling” to die for. My goal is to create a great hornbeam bonsai out of it, which I can achieve in just two years. It’s well on its way already. A new leader has been selected and some shape wired into it. Additional initial wiring was done on some of the branches.

Let’s see where this tree is now, and what I was able to do with it in advance of the coming spring.

I left the tree alone after I acquired it, only unwiring branches that were starting to get the wire bite. As you can see, it’s a strong specimen.

It’s worth noticing the transition point where the new leader emerges from the trunk chop. If you compare this with the photo above, you can see that it thickened more going into dormancy. This is common for trees in fall. Branches tend to thicken up as the tree stores food for winter. That’s why you have to keep a close eye on your wires!

Fast-forward a few minutes, and here’s all the work the tree needed at this time. But keep on reading to find out what’s going on in each part of the tree, and what needs to happen as the new growing season comes.

I pruned out an unneeded shoot that was emerging from where the left-hand first branch sits. Then I wired the branch as needed and positioned everything, then trimmed a bit.

This tree is currently hampered by the lack of a right-side branch between the lowest left branch and the one higher up in the tree. I can mitigate this problem temporarily by bringing over a shoot from that branch in the middle of the trunk. That will give me visual foliage on the right side where I need it.

Sometimes a collected tree will produce new growth where we need it; sometimes not. Then we have to put our problem-solving cap on. I’d love for this tree to push a bud or two on the right side of the trunk next year. Failing that, I’ll need to graft one in the right spot.

The next branch on this tree, on the left side (it will actually also provide foliage in back of the tree that’s needed), was very strong and could only be brought more horizontal by wiring. American hornbeam shoots get surprisingly brittle when they reach a certain size. They tend to snap when you least expect it. Fortunately, it’s not hard to save them with a little glue. But best if you don’t have to.

This branch will begin ramifying quickly in 2019, so I can use grow and clip to give it a better shape. For now, I’ve done all I can.

The next stop is the original chop point. I leave this area alone in year one after collection, in order to prevent/minimize dieback down the trunk. This coming spring, I’ll go ahead and carve it down and make the transition a lot smoother looking. As the wound rolls over and the leader continues to thicken at the base, the taper will look very natural.

I wired the branches in the apex, to finish giving shape to the tree. As growth comes on in 2019, I’ll fall back to grow and clip to develop the crown and branching. This is my preferred method for all deciduous trees, following the initial wiring and shaping.

Let me know what you think of this nice hornbeam. I’ll probably go ahead and pot it in spring. The tree can develop well in a bonsai pot from this point on.