Checking In On A Few Trees – Pocomoke Crape, Trumpet Vine, Privet

checking in on a few trees

Sneak Peek

The 2020 growing season is coming to an end. Here are a few trees that have made a lot of progress in a short time.

Checking in on a Few Trees

Here’s where we left this Pocomoke Crape Myrtle at the end of June. I had tackled the shrub and come up with a good design. All that was needed was for it to grow, and it did so with nice vigor.

Then came the real heat of summer, and give the propensity for every Crape to grow a lot of roots fast, this one started to look unhappy due to the heat on the pot and the fact that the roots had all reached the edge. I took quick action and moved the tree to a spot where it didn’t get any sun on the pot, and that did the trick. It took a while, but the tree came back fine.




You can see in this photo that the design is getting better defined. One of the biggest problems with growing naturally shrubby species as bonsai is there’s a tendency to make them into shrubs in pots. That’s not what bonsai is all about. We want to take our shrubs and turn them into trees. That’s a whole different critter.

One of the things you’ll notice about this iteration of the Pocomoke is that I’m starting to get definition in both the structure as well as the foliage pads. Rather than everything hiding behind a mass of foliage, there’s plenty of definition and a more tree-like form.

I need to continue working the sub-branching to enhance the structure and areas of foliage. But this is a very good start.

You saw this Trumpet vine earlier in the month, as it was recovering from potting done a couple of weeks before.




It doesn’t take long for vines to become vines again! This is a few weeks growth, and I don’t plan to touch it for the rest of the season. It’ll likely try to commandeer support from the nearby trees on the bench, but that’s okay. When the time comes, I’ll shear everything back. For now, I need more thickening in my branching so that what are actually tendrils become branches. With winter on its way, I also want to do everything I can to prevent dieback. This will happen to the finer growth, nothing to be done about that. But I want to go into 2021 with a good branch structure to build on.


Here’s that lovely “Pasture Privet” that I potted at the end of July. It looks a little beat up from the potting – but that won’t stop a privet.

I’ve already trimmed this guy at least three times. Boy, did it recover!

I won’t do any more on this one in 2020. But in 2021, I have to do the same thing I’m doing with the Pocomoke above. I need definition in the structure, and definition in the foliage. As I work on this, I’ll get leaf size reduction which is an added bonus. Privets come with naturally small leaves, but they get even smaller once the confinement of a bonsai pot kicks in.

Let me know what you think of these trees (I already know privet is “illegal” in Florida).

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Fall Arrives

bonsai odds & ends – fall arrives

Sneak Peek

There comes a point in the season where you can feel the change coming, yet it doesn’t quite. Then there comes a point where it just happens. Today fall arrived.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Fall Arrives

Our heat broke a few days ago, and to be sure we’ve noticed signs of the season changing for a few weeks now (sinus-driven!). But today came a cold, light rain, the sort that taps you on the shoulder and says “Fall’s here.” Yes, it’s here. We can count on at least one warm snap between now and Christmas, but no matter: the growing season is effectively over.

In today’s post are a few trees I felt like commenting on. This Bald cypress was collected back in January and though it came out on schedule it plodded along until July. At that point we got another push of growth, and that told me the tree was going to be all right. The other day I decided to go ahead and start work on it. The plan is for a flat-top, which should proceed quickly in 2021.

But where’s the front? This is one possibility.




I think this may be a better front. It doesn’t matter right now, the styling will go the same. But which do you prefer?

I’m very pleased with this guy. It got defoliated back in July, and the regrowth was picture-perfect. I’m confident I’ll be able to just about complete the crown in 2021. After five years of training, this one is in the home stretch. (I’ve also commissioned a pot for it, so that will happen in 2021 as well.)




This pasture privet – along with all of its brothers – has kept on growing and will continue until it’s just too cold to keep on. The styling has gone quickly and quite well. I just wired that small branch on the right-hand side down near the base, and I think it’s going to add to the design.

I started working on this Spekboom last year. My goal was to directionally prune, and the tree cooperated very nicely; I have four changes of direction now in the upright trunk. It also threw a sub-trunk which I figured was ideal for thickening the base, so I just let it run all season. I’ve been toying with potting this specimen for weeks now, and today I brought it to the workbench determined to make it happen. In the course of studying it, I thought maybe the best thing to do with it was to make a semi-cascade specimen. I had this Chuck Iker square on the shelf, and I think the whole design worked out pretty well.

Obviously there’s plenty of work to do on the cascading branch. I plan to use directional pruning on it in 2021. Stay tuned for updates.

I imagine many of you are already experiencing outright cold weather, and possibly even some snow. I’m not there yet, but it won’t be long before I’m putting some trees to bed for the winter.


Privet Progression – A Fast Year

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? Or at least a few hundred. Here are six pictures that tell a story all on their own. Pay close attention to the dates.







It’s also worth noting that in addition to the design and development work that’s gone into this tree, I also did some ground layering to improve the surface rootage. It was indeed a fast year in the life of this Chinese privet.

Design Principles: Is It A Tree Or An Abstract Tree?

design principles: is it a tree or an abstract tree?

Sneak Peek

A bonsai is literally a tree in a tray. But as I’m sure we can all agree, it’s far more than that. But what exactly is it? A tree or an abstract tree? The best way to answer this question may be by considering the shohin bonsai.

Design Principles: Is it a Tree or an Abstract Tree?

So here’s another one of my pasture privets that I dug in June. Very cool lower trunk damage (character!), nice taper and movement, all in a small package – the trunk was chopped at about 6″. There’s plenty of growth and plenty of roots to style and pot this tree, so that’s the goal for today with this one.

But let’s talk about design principles and what bonsai is all about. Bonsai is the art and craft of designing, potting and maintaining miniature trees. That’s pretty straightforward as it goes. But what exactly is it we’re creating? Is it a tree or something else?

I ask the question because the objective fact is that no bonsai is an exact representation of a tree in nature on a small scale. Why? Take an 80 foot-tall tree with a two-foot trunk diameter near the ground. For a bonsai with a 2″ trunk base, you’re talking an 80″ tall bonsai. Well, we know that isn’t the way bonsai works. So we’re compressing the proportions into a manageable scale and tricking the brain into believing something that isn’t objectively so.

The next thing to consider is how many branches a bonsai has. This varies, of course, but suffice it to say that almost always a bonsai has far fewer branches than a tree in nature. But this is necessary due to the limited scale in which we have to operate.

Nowhere is this more exaggerated than in the shohin bonsai. Which brings us to today’s subjects. Count the branches on this very small tree. What are there, maybe eight? And we’re going to make a whole tree out of that?


Yes, that’s exactly it. I even started by removing two branches, one that was an extra down near that right-hand branch, and one that was jutting out toward us. Neither was of any use in the ultimate design. But look, I’ve actually created two branches for this bonsai to be that make the impression I want to make.

Right branch, left branch, back branch. Now I’ve introduced visual depth into this tree structure I’m making. You always need this in your bonsai, in order to trick the brain into seeing a three-dimensional tree in a very small space. We create perspective by foreshortening from front to back and using taper from base to apex to make the tree look a lot taller than it is.

Now the basic design is finished. There are five branches (there’s one in the back below the two upper branches that’s a bit hard to see), plus the leader. That’s all. Yet it’s not at all hard to see a tree in this very small package. It’s an abstract tree, for sure, but it can produce exactly the effect I want.

With the bonsai pot, of course. The function of the bonsai pot is to complete the abstract impression of size and viewing distance in our tree. Viewing distance is achieved by the shallow pot that is reminiscent of a slice of ground (this effect just does not happen in a deep nursery container – put one beside a potted bonsai and you’ll see the difference immediately). Note: the cascade pot is designed to represent a slice of mountainside, producing the same effect of viewing distance.

This tree will fill out over the next couple of months, and by that time we’ll be heading into fall. Privets retain a good bit of their foliage through winter down here in the South, but are deciduous in the North.

Okay, maybe you were thinking that the tree above was, in the end, a pretty easy subject. I had enough branches in the right spots to make a whole tree structure. I can’t argue that. But take a look at this one. How in the world do you make a whole tree out of just a few branches?

Here’s how I did it. I’m going to make use of that low branch, which actually emerges pretty far down on the trunk; when it’s filled out I’ll have a good bit of foliage all the way from the lower third of the tree into the crown – both front and back. That next branch up the tree gives me visual balance on the right-hand side, and I can finish off the crown in just a few branches. Abstract tree!

Do you grow shohin bonsai? I’d love to hear what you think of these two specimens.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Privet And Bald Cypress

bonsai odds & ends – privet and bald cypress

Sneak Peek

This is just a quick redux on the ‘Pasture Privet’ I posted about the other day, plus a couple of others that got potted; plus it was time to check in on the big Bald cypress I defoliated, styled and potted recently.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Privet and Bald Cypress

I knew by the amount of growth on this tree that it was strong enough to go into a bonsai pot. When I took it out of its nursery container and saw all the nice white feeder roots, my hunch was right. It took just a few minutes to get it settled into this very fine Byron Myrick round (love the squiddy).


Here’s another of the gang that I styled and potted. Same thing with the amount of roots. It got a lovely Chuck Iker round.

I love these “kissing cousin” twin-trunk specimens that are partially fused. You can make nice designs with them.

The base on this little tree is just amazing, by the way, one of the best I’ve seen.

This is a nice upright specimen with great trunk character. Also a fine Chuck Iker pot.

These last two privets will fill out quickly over the next month or two, and I’ll post them for sale when the time comes.

Last but not least, here’s the big BC I recently defoliated, potted and styled. It has reliably pushed lots of fresh new growth, and this should give me a great shot at some fall color when the time comes. In the meantime, the development of this very fine specimen continues. I expect to offer it for sale in 2021. It’s going to make a great addition to someone’s collection.

It’s fun to check back on these trees once they’ve reached a certain stage of development. Here’s a photo of this guy before it had any buds on it, back in March of 2018. Love that flute in the trunk that goes all the way up.

I imagine I’ll put together and post a progression later this year.

Pasture Privet Progress

pasture privet progress

Sneak Peek

I got over 90% success with the pasture privets I collected last month (actually they all lived; a couple probably won’t be usable). They’ve grown out very well, and today I tackled what I consider the best specimen among them.

Pasture Privet Progress

Making great bonsai is all about starting with the best material you can find or buy, then making good decisions as you style, pot, refine, and maintain your tree. This is one of the “pasture privets” I collected last month, almost two months ago now. This photo of the bare tree shows you the beginning of the decisionmaking process (in an easier to see way – the photo below explains why).


This is good strong growth, just what we’d expect from a Chinese privet. Trees that put on a lot of growth in a hurry are always good to work with – you make progress much faster.

Some decisions are very easy. You always eliminate branches that have absolutely no future. Like the one the arrow’s pointing toward in this shot.

In this shot I’ve already removed some superfluous shoots, those with either no future or that are redundant. Time for the first important decision – which trunk stays, and which goes?

This was an easy one. I’ve got trunk movement and taper on the smaller trunk. It’s just what you’re always looking for in your trees, whether they’re single-trunk or multiple.

And now the trunk is pointed into the leader, with an angle cut behind it.

Things seem to get a bit trickier on the main trunk, but if you look closely you’ll realize that it’s going to be very hard to make that fork moving off to the side look right. It’s lacking taper all along its length. So the solution is pretty easy, in the end.

The angle of the photo makes this trunk look less tapering than it really is. It’s also not totally pole-straight, which would be less than desirable.

With the trunk lines established and the excess foliage gone, it’s time to wire out this tree and see what we end up with.

Not too shabby, eh? I knew I really liked this specimen when I first spotted it. It’s got so much going for it, it’s just a matter of working the plan. The tough decisions are already behind me.

Look what I discovered – a better front! This view of the tree is so much better than the one above, and I didn’t notice it until today. I love it when things work out!

Let me know what you think of this Pasture Privet.