(225) 784 - 2168 zach@bonsai-south.com

BC Collecting Trip #2 For 2020

Our second BC collected trip for 2020 happened yesterday. As often happens, the weather did not cooperate. On the plus side, the rain was not Noah-worthy so we plowed through and got the job done.If you’re into big classically styled Bald cypress bonsai, this is the sort of specimen you’re after. Beautiful flaring, buttressed base, great trunk taper, chopped at just the right spot to grow out and finish up around 40″. This one is just about a perfect formal upright, which for the trees I collect is very unusual.
Here it is in the pot, shown from what should be the best front. The root base is buried, of course, to keep the roots from drying out.
Here’s another one the same size (5″ trunk), but more along the lines of what I usually find. This one will make a superb informal upright BC bonsai of the classic pyramidal style.
And in the pot. I love the fluting of the trunks of these trees, don’t you?
Here’s an unusual specimen. The trunk is the same size as the ones above, about 5″ across (that’s measured up the trunk about 5″ above the soil level once it’s potted), but I ended up chopping it lower because the trunk lost taper above what you see as the chop point. That means this tree will ending making a “stouter” bonsai when all is said and done. The two trees above are chopped at 26″; this one at 19″.
Here it is in its training home.
This is the most unusual specimen I brought home this trip. The trunk is not all that thick, but the flare at the base is just massive and in the final potting of the tree I plan to expose most of it. I’m confident it will make quite a statement!
All tucked in and waiting for the weather to warm up.If we get mild enough temperatures, I expect to see budding on these trees in early to mid-February. At that point or soon thereafter we should know who made it and who didn’t.Let me know what you think of our latest haul.

Tale Of A Hawthorn Cutting

I enjoy making new bonsai material by taking cuttings from the trees I work with. I also enjoy working with the species Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca. Unfortunately, those two pleasures seldom happen together.

I have found Riverflat hawthorn cuttings to be extremely difficult to root. Maybe it’s operator error, but maybe it’s just a quirk of the species. Regardless, this photo represents a single specimen I got to take about six or seven years ago. It’s been completely container grown since that time, and this is how it looked back in 2017. That’s a standard small concrete mixing tub which measures about 24″ long by 18″ wide, to give you an idea of scale.

Here’s the tree a couple of days ago, after I pruned off a good bit of the growth. The base of the trunk has thickened some more in the two years since the photo above was taken, and is now right at 1.75″ above the (nice) surface rootage. While I could either leave the tree in this container or plant it out, it’s actually big enough to work with.
A lot more pruning needed doing in order to start simplifying this specimen. It’s not always easy to choose which branches to keep, but in this case it wasn’t all that hard. I had selected a front for the tree years ago, and there was no need to change it.
As you can imagine, the tub had a lot of roots throughout. The easiest way for me to get the tree out so I could really reduce them was to pretend I was collecting it from the ground. So I sawed it out.
I washed off the roots and started cutting. One of the obvious features of the bonsai to be is those surface roots. Now I just need to remove crossing roots and enough root mass to fit the tree into a pot.
This is what I ended up with. The good thing about Riverflat hawthorns is they root very well and vigorously (not the cuttings, but once they have roots they really go gangbusters).
I just got this Chuck Iker round recently, and I think it works very well with this tree. The chop is at 12″. I know that stub at the top looks funny; I left it long to ensure I don’t lose it altogether; I should get buds not only on it but also at the chop point. Once that happens, I’ll prune it back. And I wired out a basic design.You can see in this photo some spots where in the past I pruned off large branches I was using to make the tree get bigger. Though you can’t see it in this shot, they’re already mostly healed. As time goes on, they should add to the character of this bonsai to be.So that’s my tale of a Riverflat hawthorn cutting. Let me know what you think.

Bald Cypress Progression

This Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) came home in 2015, and I knew from the start that I was keeping it for my personal collection. A BC of this size, 6″ trunk 6″ above the soil), will invariably take about 10 years to reach a “finished,” showable state. So as of the end of the 2019 growing season, I’m halfway there.
I got really good growth the first year the tree was on my bench. That encouraged me to defoliate in July of 2016. In this photo, you can see the progress in building a new leader. This must be done properly, or the tree will look unnatural during winter dormancy.
Here’s a closeup to show you the new apex building process, which includes growing a new leader and controlling the powerful rolling callus that BCs typically produce.
Here we are at the beginning of the 2017 growing season. I’ve got a good branch structure going, and my new apex is poised for further thickening. Again, this process is going to take a number of years and can’t be rushed.I’ve also got the tree potted into a training pot. This will slow the growth, of course, but I’ll still be able to accomplish all of my plans for this tree.
Two months later, the tree is full of foliage and continuing strong development.
Another defoliation in early July. It’s easy to see how much the branches and leader have thickened since the beginning of the year (two photos above).
Here’s a head-on view of the tapering transition point, showing how well the callus is filling in. At the top you can see the “shelf” of wood I left when making the year two chop. This is to prevent the callus at the top of the wound from growing too rapidly and thereby producing a reverse taper at the transition point. The shelf will be carved down either at the end of this growing season, or the beginning of the next.
This closeup, from February of 2019, shows an adjustment I made to the transition point on the left side. The callus did its thing as it was meant to, but there was a bit of a bulge where I didn’t need it. The solution? Carve it down. That makes it look much more natural.
Time for a root-pruning, as the tree has been in this pot for a couple of years now. Many collected trees will re-root with great vigor once you’ve taken them from the wild. It’s a normal response. BC commonly do this.Note: I don’t defoliate cypresses in the year they get root-pruned.
The tree is root-pruned and back in its home, ready for the 2019 growing season.
This shot was taken in June of 2019. The growth is not quite as vigorous as I’d like, though it isn’t bad. In situations like this, you make sure the tree gets enough fertilizer. I’ve also seen some occasions where BC will get chlorosis, and this specimen looked like it could use some iron. I’ve always found that works well, usually within a few weeks.
A few weeks later, and looking better.
This shot is from December 27th, 2019. I’ve removed the wire from earlier in the season and cleaned up the trunk. The state of development is very pleasing to me, though of course there are still some years ahead before this tree is showable.With that said, there’s a significant flaw in the design of this tree that I need to address now, before it becomes too hard to do so. Can you spot it? I took the opportunity to write an article illustrating the advanced training technique I used to correct this flaw. If you’re interested in learning more, send me an email and I’ll be glad to forward it to you (it’s in pdf format).

Harvesting A Hefty Huckleberry

It’s Huckleberry collecting time, and today I harvested a hefty one. Here it is, right out of the ground with the roots washed off. The trunk base is 2.5″ above the root crown. This is about the trunk size limit for the species, as near as I can tell. I’d estimate the age at 25-35 years.
Those of you who have followed my work for any length of time know I’m a firm believer in chopping roots hard. Why? It’s all about the bonsai pot. If you can’t get the roots you’ve chopped into a bonsai pot, with some room to spare for the new roots that are going to sprout from the cut ends, you’ve just handed yourself a big future headache! Yes, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and more than once. But I do learn, even if it’s sometimes a slow process.So these roots are cut back enough to comfortably fit the bonsai pot this tree will go into. Is the tree at risk? Absolutely not! When you collect deciduous and broadleaf evergreen trees, you’re removing not only most of the root but also most of the branching as well. This balances the tree perfectly, so when new roots and shoots get going there’s no undue stress. The tree “wants” to live, and it does what it has to in order to live. (Note: Boxwoods are a special case among the broadleaf evergreens, in that you have to leave foliage on the branches or you risk losing them; you can thin the branching, just don’t cut back to a bare trunk or branches.)
Here I’ve reduced the trunk to its proper line. I’ve also turned the tree. Is this a better front? It does have something going for it.
This is the better front. If you compare this photo to the one above, you can see the trunk has a little curve in it from this angle and that’s definitely better. There’s also a good rootage presentation from this angle as well.

And here’s the tree potted up. The trunk is chopped at 15-16″, which should produce a finished height of about 24″ or so. I love the color and character of the trunk, and I’m confident this Huckleberry is going to be a fine bonsai in three or four years.

Let me know what you think of this specimen.

What Lies Beneath – Zag When You Gotta

The mildness of winter (so far) plus the need to get things moving for 2020 encouraged me to pot up this Water-elm. It’s a nice smaller specimen, an unconventional triple-trunk. The larger ones are 3/4″ thick, with the entire base 2″ across.The first thing to figure out is the right front. Here’s one option.
Another option. The trunks seem a little too evenly spaced here.
I think this is it. There’s uneven spacing between the trunks, and good perspective among them. Also nice complementary movement among the trunks.
As for training at this time, I only needed to trim away some unneeded shoots and trim back some others. A little wire for a couple of stronger shoots was also called for.Once growth begins in spring, I’ll look to add more wire and finish the basic design. Then it’s all about grow and clip, which Water-elm seems to have been created for. I’ll have a complete bonsai by the end of the 2020 growing season.
Here’s where the tree zigged on me. When it came out of the ground, there was the main trunk and then, from the base of an original shoot that grew into two of the three current trunks, a large surface root. I left that root when I potted up the tree. Why? To remove it would have rendered the appearance of the tree odd and off-balance at the base, and I wanted to avoid that. At the same time, I left the main root base longer than I should have. True to form, new roots sprouted from all around edge of the cut base. In order to keep them going forward, I’d end up having to pot the tree relatively high in its bonsai pot. That won’t do with this specimen, which needs to be in a low-profile pot in order to look right.The only solution is to zag. I can’t cut off that surface root on the right, so I have to take off a good chuck of the base along with all the roots growing from it.
Here’s what I was able to make happen. The tree now sits low enough in the pot to make a believable multi-trunk specimen. I also retained the balance provided by the root on the right side.I think the zag worked.
The end-result says it all.The pot, by the way, is a nice unglazed Lary Howard round with a unique design cut into it that’s reminiscent of cobblestone. I think it suits the tree very well.Let me know what you think.

An Early Start On Collecting Season

I planted out some Parsley hawthorn whips a few years ago. True to the old adage, “first year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps,” this year I’ve noticed a number of the specimens have put on some heft. A few have reached my minimum for lifting, namely, a trunk base of 1″. While I’ll certainly leave most to get bigger still, it’s nice to have some smaller specimens to offer.
I’m not sure what happened to this one or when, but it’s grown itself into a raft. Nice.
Here’s the first one on the potting bench. I have to choose between two leaders, either of which would do fine. You can see I’ve got some good roots to work with. My experience with hawthorn has been that they do quite well with a lot less root than you think they need when collecting them. My survival rate through the years has been 90% or better.
Yep, not much root at all.I’m still trying to decide on the leader.
I went with the straighter one. Not sure if it would have been better the other way, but the good news is this tree will produce multiple buds where I chopped that other leader. If I want, I can grow a new leader from one of those buds. So it’s not a big deal one way or another.
And here’s the raft, all potted up. I’m thinking this is going to make a very cool bonsai. What do you think?
I lifted this Huckleberry today. I’m very excited about it. I see a round pot and foliage confined to the upper part of each trunk. It’ll take a season or two to grow the left hand trunk the way I want it, but the results should be spectacular.
I have a choice of more than one front with this specimen. Which would you choose?