Season’s End – Apple & Oak

season’s end – apple & oak

Sneak Peek

The 2021 season has come to an end. The year was a strange one out there in the world, but in the world of bonsai we continue on. Here are two late-season show-offs.

Season’s End – Apple & Oak

The 2021 season is now over, and we look forward to 2022. I think we can all agree that 2021 was a strange year. Over here found ourselves diverted to other priorities quite a bit. We’ve found the best thing to do when the future is totally uncertain is to pray, plan and work. The rest takes care of itself.

No one knows what the new year will bring, but the bonsai world goes on so look for posts after the first featuring newly collected material.

I wanted to show you this big apple I styled earlier in the season. It was late changing colors, but I love the reds which are typical of species of the apple and pear family (rosaceae).

Give the large trunk on this specimen, it’s obviously going to take a number of years to fully develop it. The key to early development is to let the leader and branches grow out – and that means just about as far as they want. Premature pruning stunts that growth and slows down the thickening process, which is crucial. So I’ll continue to let this one grow on out next year. I also need to do some pruning to the two large chops, before rot sets in and causes me to have to do more than I want.

Rip van Winkle here took a while to turn, and the next thing I knew it dropped most of its leaves. But I did catch it in a little color before full dormancy.

This tree, along with quite a few others on my bench, really needs a repotting next year. I’m anxious to see the state of root development. I’ll definitely post a blog featuring this work when the time comes.

I hope your 2021 is ending well, and our best wishes for the holiday season. My next post will be early in 2022.


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.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Rip, Swamp Maple, Ginkgo, Surprise

bonsai odds & ends – rip, swamp maple, ginkgo, surprise

Sneak Peek

Spring is in full force, and there’s lots going on around here. Today it’s worth checking in on ‘Rip van Winkle’ the Willow oak, the Swamp maple and Ginkgo I potted late, and a surprise.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Rip, Swamp Maple, Ginkgo, Surprise

This was the before photo in my last blog – a little Swamp maple in too small of a pot that needed more room. Not looking too bonsai-y.

It’s been two weeks, and this little guy has obviously survived the late repotting. There’s a lot of work to do on this tree, but with more growing room it’ll be easier to do that work and have the tree respond well.


Ginkgo potted late.

Bag on ….

Bag off ….

Another success story – surviving the late potting.


I almost titled this blog “They don’t call me Rip van Winkle for nuthin’.” I can almost always count on this Willow oak to come out last – even after all of the Water-elms have broken bud. Sure as shootin’, this guy is finally waking up. In about a week it’ll be full of new shoots that I’ll be starting to pinch back.

Now for something of a surprise. Last year, in the course of my day job, I was walking a field with a firm doing a Phase I Environmental Assessment, and in a stand of trees noticed some pale orange fruits lying all over the ground. I immediately knew they were native persimmons (Diospyros virginiana). I have never seen one in the wild, though they certainly are around, and that’s most likely because I don’t collect trees in the areas where they grow at the time they’re dropping fruit. I gathered as many of the fruits as I could carry, then last fall I planted them in a pot to let them cold-stratify over the winter. I’ve ended up with a couple of dozen sprouts. Now we see how well they grow, and ultimately what I can do with them. A pleasant surprise ….


Bonsai Odds & Ends – Big BC And Rip Van Winkle Color Up

big bc and rip van winkle color up

Sneak Peek

Fall is supposed to mean fall color, but this is not necessarily the case here in the Deep South. With that said, I’m really proud of these two specimens.

Big BC and Rip Van Winkle Color Up


Down here in the Deep South you never know if you’ll get fall color on your deciduous trees. It’s truly hit or miss. With Bald cypress, though, you can exercise some control by defoliating in July. My big BC is a good example of this phenomenon. This year was a defoliation year, and true to form the tree produced a nice fresh set of foliage (which is the point, of course). That will often set you up for fall color (and more reliably if you’re farther north than I am). You can see here that it paid off for me.

“Rip Van Winkle,” Fall 2020. For those of you new to the site, this tree got named a few years back when it was about the last of my trees to wake up in spring.

This is, by far, the best this tree has looked in the fall since I collected it. What’s not apparent in this photo is the development that happened in 2020, whereby the tree moved into the ramification phase of its life as a bonsai. Willow oak produces willow-shaped leaves that tend to be quite long. In the early going you wonder if they’ll ever get smaller. I can tell you that they do, and I think this photo is proof. Yes, Willow oaks ramify, but you can’t rush this part of the development. The payoff comes years down the road, but it’s well worth the wait.

This photo is from December 2017, and I’m posting it to illustrate the principle I mentioned above. See how long the leaves are? That’s to be expected. If you aren’t famliar with the growth habit of the species, you might get frustrated if you’re getting leaves this long several years into your development work. But don’t despair. Before leaf reduction comes branch development. Notice the thickness of the branches in this photo. Compare them to the thickness of the branches in the previous photo. You can see where I’ve been going with this tree ever since it came home. We all want our bonsai to be finished quickly, but there are just some things that can’t be rushed (the base is 4″ across, to give you an idea of scale).

Trunk Building Oaks

trunk building oaks

Sneak Peek

Most of the time we can get a good trunk line with our collected trees. Sometimes, however, you have to rebuild almost from the ground up.

Trunk Building Oaks

I collected this Water oak, Quercus nigra, from my iris swamp two years ago where it had grown up as a volunteer. The lower trunk was especially interesting to me, considering that having grown in such a wet environment it really took on a lot of character as the tree got bigger. With a base measuring 2.5″, I figured I’d have a nice oak bonsai about 20″ tall give or take.

Alas, as sometimes happens this tree did not push buds all the way up the trunk. With oaks, you frankly don’t know going in. You just lift them and hope for the best (at least that’s been my experience). Oaks are great bonsai subjects, so the effort is always worth it.


Here’s what I ended up with (in September of last year), after letting this strong shoot run. The base of the tree makes this effort continue to be worthwhile. You just have to have “future” vision.

This is more or less the way you always build trunks from specimens like this one. You let a shoot grow out, then you cut it back to just above a node so the tree will push a shoot from there and allow you to continue building.

Doesn’t look like much, right?

Now we’ve got almost another year’s growth on the tree. I put some wire on the shoot that grew out following the second chop, so I could get a little movement in what’s going to be the trunk and avoid having it become boring (too much work goes in to allow that to happen).

Here are a couple of tips for handling your trees during the trunk-building phase. One, pay no attention to all of those branches that have chosen to festoon the leader; they’re all going to get chopped off, sooner or later, because we’re trunk building (remember?); and two, always remember to keep a node close to where your leader is emerging from its origin. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with an empty length of trunk that may not work with your design. You can always not use an extra shoot. If you’re missing one in a spot, that may only be remedied by grafting.

As I’ve noted before, whenever you carve on your deciduous trees you need to carve until you find living tissue. In this case, I ended up with a very nice angled chop which is going to be needed sooner or later – so why not now?

There’s nothing more to do on this tree for 2020. I need additional thickening at the transition point, and the fall engorgement of the branches should help with that. Come 2021, I may be ready to build the next section of trunk.

Here’s another oak that didn’t bud quite like I wanted. I’m pretty sure it’s a Willow oak, Quercus phellos, as the leaves are mostly willow-shaped and for species in the wild this is common.

So during the 2019 growing season I was able to do a little wiring of what the tree gave me. This is something you’ll no doubt do on many occasions, if you collect trees.

If you study this photo closely, you’ll be able to see where I chopped back the leader from the shot above, after it had grown out about five feet (and thickened, which was the goal). I’ve wired up the new leader, and wired another branch/leader on the right side that can be used in the design. My goal with this specimen is the so-called broom-form, which is very common for oaks in the wild.

I’d love to hear what you think about these two oaks. Leave me a comment below.

Willow Oak Progression

Zach’s Personal Collection

willow oak

Progression Carousel

Willow Oak



The image has an arrow on both the right and left side.

Click the arrow on the right ( > ) to go forward and see the next image(s) in the progression.

Click the arrow on the left ( < ) to go back and see the previous image(s) in the progression.


Want to read a quick synopsis about each image on the carousel? Scroll down for more …




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


Willow oak, Quercus phellos, is one of the best oak species to grow as bonsai. It features willow-shaped leaves that reduce well in bonsai culture, to 1″ or less in length, it ramifies well and is very easy to maintain horticulturally.

This specimen was collected in the winter of 2012. This is the earliest photo I have, which was taken 3/17/12. The trunk is 4″ in diameter at the base, and it’s about 12″ to the chop.

What you can’t see in this photo is that the trunk base has been buried to protect the surface roots of the tree while they recover. But all in all, this is a tremendous specimen.


Two weeks later, it’s clear this tree is going to make it.

Look at the strong growth of the new shoots.


Here’s what a Willow oak can do in just over a year from lifting.

An amazing amount of growth, right?


I’m not sure of the exact date of this photograph, but 2014 was the year of bitter cold and a lot of my trees came out late. This specimen always comes out late each spring, but always makes up for it as the growing season progresses.


(1 of 3)

This is the beginning of year three for this specimen, and it’s time for the initial potting. Compare this photo with the first one above. We’ve come a long way!


(2 of 3)

Now you can see what I meant by burying the surface roots.

Here the tree has been removed from its nursery container, the roots combed out and trimmed for the bonsai pot. This is just what you can expect from a Willow oak, in terms of root growth. What began as simply large roots chopped back is now a dense fibrous root system, exactly what is needed to ensure the health of a fine bonsai.


(3 of 3)

And here’s the tree in its bonsai pot, a fine custom oval by Bryon Myrick.

The new leader needs to be reduced, and the branches need much further development. This can all be accomplished in a bonsai pot.



Later in the season, the apex was reduced and regrown and there’s been more development in the lower branches.



In spring of 2016 I decided to regrow the lowest right branch because I didn’t like the way it was designed. Sometimes you just have to start over. So I have two new branches emerging from the stump of the branch, which I think will make for a better design as it develops. Otherwise, this tree is coming along beautifully.


Showing some fall color. I gave this tree a trimming while leaving the leaders long on the lowest right branch. They will be allowed to grow untrimmed throughout spring of next year, after which time I’ll cut them back hard to continue redevelopment of the branch. But isn’t this tree looking fantastic?

Next year the ramification should move to the next level over most of the tree.


After repotting.

My plan is to continue developing the lower right-hand branch, plus improve ramification.


The tree had different plans from mine. It dropped the low right-hand branch, and the spring growing season saw the tree struggle quite a bit. I failed to recognize the growth of shade where this tree was sited, due to some willows that have been getting bigger for the past few years. So I moved this oak into more direct sun. That did the trick. You can see how nice the foliage looks by the end of the season. Now to deal with the missing branch.


Who’d’ve thought. The tree actually looks a lot better without that branch. It doesn’t comply with the standard bonsai “rules,” but frankly if the right-hand branch had survived in preference to the one across from it on the left, I’d have had a “compliant” bonsai that would have been much less dramatic. Notice how the additional carving has also added to the appearance of this specimen.


The growth has ended for 2020, and now I’m just waiting for (hopefully) some fall color before leaf drop. The tree has done well this year, despite a few lengthy droughts which are always hard on bonsai. It powered on through, and produced a lot more ramification.

Next spring will be repotting time once again. I’m considering a change of pots, but we’ll see.


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