Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hawthorn, Cypress, Spekboom

bonsai odds & ends – hawthorn, cypress, spekboom

Sneak Peek

Fall brings a little color to our part of the Deep South. The growing season is over, but it’s still fun to work on tropicals.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hawthorn, Cypress, Spekboom

Here is the Deep South we pay for relatively mild winters with a general lack of fall color. That doesn’t mean we don’t get the occasional overachiever. My big Riverflat hawthorn just turned the other day, and I think it was all at once. Hard to miss on the benches full of green and bare trees.

The Bald cypresses that weren’t defoliated in July usually look pretty ratty this time of year. This big specimen is an exception. It’s the last BC I’ll be posting for sale this year. If you’re looking for a big one, check it out in the Shop.


The redesign of this Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) is progressing well. It got a hard pruning earlier in the season, and has responded with a ton of new growth. I don’t know if other enthusiasts work on tropicals as winter approaches, but I’ve always had good luck considering the fact that they’ll be moving into heated spaces soon anyway.

From the bottom up, time for this one to lose a good bit of foliage. It was a bit “bottom-heavy,” but that’s not a huge surprise given the characteristic growth habit for the species.


And the end-result. The crown of the tree needs a lot more development, but by the end of 2022 the new design should be complete.

Let me know what you think.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – American Elm, Lantana

bonsai odds & ends – american elm, lantana

Sneak Peek

Here’s another American elm that’s coming along, and a Lantana in bad need of a haircut.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – American Elm, Lantana

I’ve written about American elm before. It’s sadly under-utilized for bonsai, most likely because folks are afraid of Dutch Elm Disease. I’ve never had a bonsai affected by DED in 30+ years of experience, nor have I heard of a case (though perhaps it’s happened out there somewhere).

This specimen is a perfect example of the bullet-proof nature of the species. I collected it in the dead of summer, along with two others, because I was cleaning up a former ground growing area. This tree and a couple of oaks were dug at the same time; all of the American elms made it, and one of the oaks is barely alive. Not only that, but all of the growth on this tree above the smaller cut-back leader coming off the main trunk is following the lift. So you see, it’s a tough species!

How tough? Well, I’m willing to slip-pot the tree at this time and bet on it surviving. I just got in this nice Lary Howard oval, and it’s a perfect complement to the tree.

Now it’s all about a few things: more leader and branch development, closing over the trunk chop and making ramification. You can see many of the leaves are already pretty small. This is very typical of American elm.

As for the trunk chop, you may be thinking it seems pretty straight across and somewhat jarring visually. Not to worry. American elm calluses vigorously, so expect the chop to look much more like a realistic transition in about a year or so.

It’s been a while since I wrote about Lantana. Although I just started working with the species last year, I have to say I’m very pleased. They have interesting bark, aren’t fussy about care, and bloom profusely in a pot (don’t be alarmed about the length of those flower stalks – with pinching and pruning you can keep the flowers in very tight and reduce the stalk length dramatically).

As I mentioned above, this one is badly in need of a haircut. I actually let it run this year for a couple of reasons: one, it helps to thicken the branches; and two, I’ll get a nice crop of cuttings to make more Lantanas with.

A nice improvement. I will cut back additionally before we start growing next year, but I wanted to leave the branches a little long for now in case I get some dieback (which is not likely).



Let me know what you think of today’s work.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Dogwood, American Elm

bonsai odds & ends – dogwood, american elm

Sneak Peek

Last time I showed you a Roughleaf dogwood that was eligible for the burn pile – only I saw some potential in it. Here’s the result. Plus a small American elm.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Dogwood, American Elm

Last time I left off with this Roughleaf dogwood at the styling stage. I noted that the dead wood on the tree needed a lime sulfur treatment. Here’s how that turned out, plus you I’ve gotten a lot of growth in the past month. That’s one thing about Rougleaf dogwood, by the way. It’s considered a “trash tree” – which is another way of saying it’s very vigorous, hard to kill, and plentiful where it pops up. I love making bonsai from trash trees that have good characteristics.

So here’s the tree slip-potted into a nice Ashley Keller round. Considering where I started with this tree, I think it’s come a long way.

I’ve written on a number of occasions about American elm, which is one of my very favorite species to work with. This is a small one I’ve been growing from a cutting for about five years now. it’s been cut back a few times – in this shot you can see the original chop rolling over.

I think this looks like a good front.

Incidentally, the growth you see here is about three months’ worth. Yes, they grow fast!


A few minutes later, I’ve got a design to work with.

In a month it’ll be time once again to trim this tree. By not root-pruning along with removing all of that top-growth, I have a lot of supply and not enough demand yet.

I’ll put this tree into a bonsai pot next spring. At only 4″ tall, probably ending up about 6″, it should make a very nice shohin bonsai.

Let me know what you think of these two trees.

Making Bonsai Lemonade – Roughleaf Dogwood

making bonsai lemonade – roughleaf dogwood

Sneak Peek

We all have trees that don’t grow as planned. This usually involves dieback. But sometimes you can make bonsai lemonade out of a lemon.

Making Bonsai Lemonade – Roughleaf Dogwood

I’ve written about this Roughleaf dogwood (Cornus Drummondii) before. Faced with the challenge of a deciduous tree with a lot of dead wood, you can either toss it or try to make something out of it. That’s right – you have a lemon, and sometimes you can make some bonsai lemonade out of it. There’s no guarantee if these efforts will work, mind you, but there’s also the possibility that you’ll have a unique bonsai on your bench.

This tree has a completely dead side. As you probably know, deadwood on a deciduous bonsai is a tricky thing. This is because most deciduous species have non-durable wood. Dogwood wood, however, is quite dense. When I tested the deadwood on this tree, it was really solid. I’ll treat with lime sulfur and keep an eye on it, and if needed I can apply PC Petrifier to it. But I may not need to.

The first step was to chop the leader. You probably noticed that in the above photo, this tree completely ignored the fact that half of itself was dead and grew a couple of feet of leader. There’s strength here, in other words, and the tree is trying to grow out of its own impairment. This is just the sort of thing you can use when you’re stirring up that lemonade.

Now I’ve completed the pruning for today. Not much left of this one, is there!

Not a problem, though. In bonsai, of course, less is more (except for ramification, naturally!) so I only need a very few branches to express a representative tree form. This is a design I think works well.

The only thing left to do to this specimen today is to treat the dead wood with lime sulfur. In Spring of 2022, I’ll move this tree to a bonsai pot so it can continue its journey.

Let me know what you think.


Sweetgum Fast-Track Styling

sweetgum fast-track styling

Sneak Peek

I usually only have as much patience with a tree as it will force on me. When they seem to want to develop quickly, I do take advantage.

Sweetgum Fast-Track Styling

I lifted this Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) from my ground-growing area in late April (I was supposed to wait till May, but I figured a week’s head-start wouldn’t hurt). Defoliated, potted, watered. Done.

A month later, and the tree has made it (see those very long and strong shoots – that’s how you tell).

Earlier this month, the tree was begging to be wired. I tested the root strength, found the tree to be very solid meaning I had roots, so on went the wire.

This photo was taken today, which is right at two weeks from the one above. I almost have a tree!

You’ll notice that I went ahead and angle-cut the trunk chop. I was able to nibble it down with my knob cutters. I highly recommend you use that tool if you’re pushing a tree’s styling and you need to do some rough carving. Trunk splitters will sometimes get caught and you have to wiggle them off – bad for roots. Never, ever, try hand- (or power-) sawing the angle-cut as it will do a number on the tender new roots you’ve waited so patiently to form (if you use a power saw, remember the numbers 9, 1, and 1 in that order as you’ll likely do great harm to yourself; there’s a time and a place for power tools, and this is definitely not one of them).


The cut paste is on the angle-cut, after I fine-carved it smooth using hand tools. Is this a better front?

This is probably the best front for the tree, though there are obviously a couple of options.

Next step: grown out that leader, which will happen without any need for encouragement. Sweetgums are apically dominant, so you can get some heft on a branch fairly quickly and definitely thicken up a new leader in no time. I’d predict that by the end of the growing season I’ll have this one ready for a bonsai pot come Spring 2022.

My plan is to post this specimen for sale later in the season ($185 delivered). The base is 2″ across and the original trunk chop was at 16″. If it speaks to you and you have to have it, just shoot me an email and we’ll go from there. First come, first served of course.

Let me know how you like what I’ve done with this Sweetgum. I’m pretty excited at how fast it’s changed from stick to tree.


Live Oak Update

live oak update

Sneak Peek

Sometimes you have to start over with a bonsai. That has been the case with this old Live oak I was left by a bonsai friend who passed.

Live Oak Update

Back in May I started the rebuilding process on what started out as a legacy tree I was bequeathed by a good bonsai friend. The tree had been in training for quite some time, and was actually in need of renewal pruning when I first got it. Not wanting to tamper (at least not at first), I “nibbled” at it for a few years until the tree made it clear I needed to get on with the business at hand. I was left with just a stump, but that was enough.

Here we are, after the work on May 16th.

Here’s the tree, untouched except to remove the wire that was biting into the branches when I caught it (oops!). Not too bad, fortunately. Well, that’s a heck of a lot of growth.

We start with trimming off everything that doesn’t look like a Live oak bonsai (that’s a take on the old joke about carving an elephant from a big block of marble – just chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant).

Now we start applying wire. The branches grow where they want, of course, subject to their whims and my pruning shears.


More wire, more shaping. Those drooping branches are what Live oaks are known for, and though the superstructure of this tree is not in the classic form I think I can pull off a representative appearance with what I have to work with.

The final change for today is to lighten up that left-hand branch. Once I thicken up the other branching, I should have the balance I need.

That’s it for today. Let me know what you think.