Potting & Repotting Season – Beech And Crape Myrtle

potting & repotting season – beech and crape myrtle

Sneak Peek

Spring is all about potting and repotting. Here are an American beech and an old Crape myrtle getting some attention.

Potting and Repotting Season – Beech and Crape Myrtle

I’ve been working on this American beech, Fagus grandifolia, for a couple of years now. Last year I got the tree to really kick in some ramification by a technique of leaf-cutting described in this blog. With a good set of roots already going, I decided there’s no point in waiting any longer to move the tree to a bonsai pot.


I’ve had this Richard Robertson pot for about 30 years now. I figured it would make a good home for my beech – only I discovered that due to the root base “configuration” the tree would not fit deep enough into the pot to keep some roots from pointing a little too much upward.

The lesson here is to always have alternatives (more than one, too!). This pot is a beautiful piece by the late Paul Katich. It’s somewhat too big for the tree, however, it does posses adequate depth. It will do nicely until repotting time.

And here’s the result. I did a little trimming of the branching, and now we wait for bud-burst. I’ll post an update later in spring.

I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that Crape myrtles are “super rooters.” This venerable old specimen, which I helped my friend Allen Gautreau collect over 30 years ago, is definitely in need of root-pruning. It’s been a couple of years since the last round.


I removed the moss, carefully loosened the tie-down wires, and here’s what I found. Lots and lots of roots.

No need to be shy when root-pruning Crapes. Here I’ve removed about half of the total root mass. The tree will not care; in fact, it will do better for having more room to grow.


Back in the pot.

How many different scoops have you tried for putting bonsai soil in your pots? I’ve used my share, still do, but this is by far the best one ever. Nothing else gets the soil right where it needs to be.


Soil’s in, light trimming done. The tree should bud very soon – this is typical behavior right after a spring root-pruning.

This Crape will be a lot happier now, with room to grow fresh new roots. Repotting is one of the easiest bonsai activities to neglect, and also one of the most damaging ones.

Let me know what you think.

The Beech Code?

the beech code?

Sneak Peek

Beech make wonderful bonsai. American beech, however, is nowhere near as amenable to development as its European or Japanese counterparts. But that might not be the end of the story ….

The Beech Code?

I collected this American beech, Fagus grandifolia (grandifolia means large leaf – hurray!) in early 2019. This is the first photo I took of it, in April of 2019.

I rarely collect American beech because they present more than their fare share of challenges in making bonsai out of them. Here’s a partial list:

  • Large leaves that are hard to reduce in size
  • Slow growth, hence slow ramification
  • Sensivitity to summer heat
  • Surprising sensivitity to low temperatures (and by that I don’t mean below zero – the species ranges all the way to Canada, but I’ve had them die at 15F)

With that said, I was out with a bonsai friend hunting for American hornbeams, and spotted this beech at quite a distance. This is easy in winter, as they have the trademark persistent leaves that are a beautiful light golden color. This one had some things going for it: tapering trunk in a reasonable length (less than 20″); some branching already in place; and some very cool trunk damage that had healed (character!). My normal reticence went away, and the tree was soon in the back of my SUV.

I didn’t do anything but feed and water the tree in 2019. It did its part, getting an established root system going. It also produced some growth in the apex I could use to start building a crown.

A year after collection, we’ve now got an apex and the usual whopping big leaves. The latter wasn’t too worrisome – you can eventually get leaf size reduction even on American beech, and it’s not an early-stage technique you should be using anyway.

Here’s the January photo of this tree. It’s very important to take note of this photo – very important. What happens following this is pretty remarkable.


Now it’s April, and the tree is completely wired out and ready for its single round of growth for 2021. Not a bad looking tree. It did, by the way, sustain some damage during our big snow storm with the ice and very cold weather (some broken branching in the crown).

This is the first photo taken of this tree today. You may want to refer back to the photos above for comparison.

You can’t help but notice the foliar density and unexpected progress in leaf-size reduction. I have been more than amazed at how this tree has progressed in just the past month. I have had to repeatedly pinch what has turned out to be almost continual growth. But how did it happen?

I didn’t take a photo of this tree once the first flush of shoots had extended, the leaves unfurling and expanding to rather grandifolia proportions; I wish I had. But here’s what I did do. Something popped into my head one day when I was studying the tree with its new and luxuriant foliage: why not cut the leaves in half?

To be honest, the reason I did this is the tree responded to my shortening the new leader by pushing two previously dormant buds there while at the same time presenting a couple on the ends of lower branches. I wondered if I could prompt the tree to make yet more buds on other, lower branches. I was pleasantly surprised when I got fresh buds everywhere I cut the leaves in half.

Here’s a principle of trees to remember: they don’t care how many leaves they have; what they care about is the total amount of leaf surface area, because their survival is based on photosynthesis and this occurs in the leaves. Total leaf surface area is directly related to how well the photosynthesis goes. So the tree can have a few large leaves, or a lot of smaller leaves. This is one way we’re able to make bonsai look realistic, by way of leaf-size reduction.

So is this the Beech Code, working the new spring growth by cutting leaves and pinching new growth? I don’t know for sure, but you can bet it’s going to be my practice from now on. To be able to grow nice American beech bonsai is a really worthwhile goal for the American bonsai artist. They’re such lovely trees in nature; they should be on our benches.


Here’s the last shot for today. I wired up a new leader, thinned some foliage in the apex and – you guessed it – cut some more leaves in half.

I expect this tree to stop growing once the summer heat sets in. But by that time, I expect to have a presentable beech in only two years of work – an incredible achievement, to be honest. Next year it gets a bonsai pot, and I expect it will come even closer to a showable condition.

Let me know what you think.

An American Beech With Potential

an american beech with potential

Sneak Peek

I seldom collect American beech, despite their natural beauty. They’re just way sloooow to train. But sometimes you find one with potential.

An American Beech with Potential

I rarely collect American beech, Fagus grandifolia. Despite their natural beauty, as bonsai subjects they seem to take forever to train. Why? Because you can only reliably get one flush of growth per growing season. With most other species there are two or more, and you can get additional growth or regrowth by hard-pruning. Not so with American beech. If you decide to hard-prune in, say, June, at best you’ll probably get some weak regrowth. Not very rewarding and it doesn’t get you much closer to a design goal.

Now, this is a specimen I spotted two years ago while hunting for hornbeams with a bonsai friend. In winter they’re easy to spot – the clinging golden leaves are a dead giveaway (though you may get fooled if there are hophornbeams around). In the case of this one, there was also a set of branches and considering how long it takes to grow your own set, I had to jump on this possibility. So home it came, looking like this.

Fast-forward ten months, and this is the season’s growth. It’s actually not bad, considering. But if I hadn’t had something to start with, I most definitely would not have had this result in this timeframe.

Fast-forward some more, to today. After two growing seasons, you can see a branch structure taking shape. From the beginning I saw a classic stately beech shape, with horizontal branches and the lovely smooth gray bark. There’s no doubt in my mind that this tree can make a fine bonsai.

Today’s work will be selective pruning, wiring and shaping.

Beech trees hold their leaves through winter because the species is one that does not form an abscission layer when its leaves turn in the fall. But once spring is in the offing, the leaves do release on their own or can be gently pulled off without damaging or pulling off the dormant (and quite prominent) buds. This is essential for ease of wiring.

I’m working my way up the tree, wiring the branches and positioning them. They naturally grow where they want, and while enough time would resolve any odd branch placement issues in the wild, bonsai training demands that we step in and shorten the timeframe (this is never so true as it is with beech).

Continuing the process. The leader needs wiring, in order to continue the graceful line of the trunk. I’ll leave the leader and its terminal (apical) bud intact, as I need another season of strong growth in order to make the tapering transition look smooth and natural. Eventually, the tree will terminate at a height roughly halfway up this leader – but it’s going to take another three or four seasons to do all of the work that needs doing in the crown.

I had a little more work to do on that lowest right-hand branch. Now it looks more in sync with the remainder of the design.

We have another month at least until our beeches start showing signs of budding. Those tight dormant buds will unfurl, and the growth that is “baked in the cake” for this season will push on out. I’ll need to do some pinching, of course, but no other wiring until at least summer.

Let me know what you think of this beech. As the blog title says, it’s got potential.