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More Fall Work – Water-Elm

This nice Water-elm got its first bonsai pot in late February of this year (2109). I had collected it as a bare trunk, and chopped it where you see the obvious mark.
So here we are, just under 10 months later. There’s been a good bit of wiring and trimming during that time, and the tree is shaping up well. But … time for a cut and style!
Whenever you’re doing this sort of work, you need to examine the tree closely for this problem – namely, overgrown apical branches. Just about everything you’ll grow for bonsai will be apically dominant, and it’s this phenomenon that can literally ruin a tree. I’ve caught this one in time, but I do have to take strong measures to rebalance the tree’s energy.
This is the first step in controlling the imbalance, namely, cutting back the strong branch hard. Now, it will react as you’d expect, and try to regrow what I hacked off. As long as I come right behind and keep the branch trimmed, I’ll win the fight.
The problem is not as bad over on the right, but if I don’t cut back pretty hard it’ll just keep on thickening and get out of balance as the left one did.
And this completes the pruning of the crown of this tree. It’ll bud like crazy some spring, so I’ll need to be on my toes. But I’ll achieve at least tertiary ramification in the crown in 2020.
In this photo, I’ve done the rest of the cleanup pruning and trimming. All that’s left is to do some necessary wiring to get the structure back in line.
All set for the start of the 2020 growing season. This tree should be ready for grow and clip, for the most part, by next summer.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Oak, Oak, Sweetgum

Here’s a nice smaller Water oak I started working on last year.  Water oak is quickly becoming one of my favorite species, featuring small leaves, short internodes and ease of ramification.  They are very happy in a bonsai pot.

This one budded fairly high on the trunk, but I’m going with what I have.  You can probably tell I’ve been through two rounds of leader building already.  That’s an indispensable process when you work with collected trunks.  Usually you’ll chop fairly low, 10-24″ depending on the size of the tree, then build the tapering transition and a third to more than half of the entire structure of the tree from nothing.  As you can see with this tree, you can make very fast progress.

Snip, wire, shape.  Now the next iteration of the trunk line of this tree has begun.

Incidentally, one of the nice features of Water oak is they often hang onto most of their leaves through winter.  Though certainly not as persistent as Live oaks, you could actually term them persistent-leafed. 

I haven’t published an update on my world-class Willow oak in a while.  Frankly, it had a tough spring and I had to give it some extra attention to get it back to good health.  My secret?  More sun.  Where I have my garden, there are some Willow trees growing and as you may know they grow super fast.  This has brought more shade to that part of the garden, including where I’ve had this tree sitting for a couple of years.  So the extra shade snuck up on both of us.  I relocated the tree to my Bald cypress bench, which is in full sun, and it responded by pushing a lot of good new growth.  We’re both much happer now.

Here’s the tree after a trim last month.  For those of you familiar with this specimen, you may notice I don’t have a low right-hand branch anymore.  Unfortunately (?), I lost that branch this year.  I also acquired some more dead wood.  But is that a bad thing?

Here’s the fall almost-bare look, which gives you a better idea of the new structure of the tree.  I’ve always been a little unhappy with the fact that I had more or less a bar-branch situation in the lower part of the tree.  Of course, the traditional view of things is you would want the low right-hand branch and not the left-hand branch above it.  Well, trees do what they want in the end.  I actually don’t mind this structure at all.  It’s not as unbalanced as you’d expect it to look, and that works for me.  It may have to do with the incredible basal flare on the tree.  I mean, it looks at least a hundred years old (I’d guess it’s about 60 or so).  So for my money, this specimen has enough gravitas to carry just about any design.

I worked on the dead wood some while I was doing a general pruning back.  Oaks have solid wood, of course, so the amount of punky stuff I had to remove was not that great.  I painted on some lime sulfur, and will follow with PC Petrifier in the coming week.

This Sweetgum has been in training for just over a year.  In the Progression I’ve posted, you can see the quick development including the potting that happened almost five months ago.  Now, with the leaves about off the tree, it’s easy to see what needs doing.

Young Sweetgum branches are very supple, so there’s not a big chance of snapping one if you do fall wiring.  Here I’ve put the branches back where they belong, in anticipation of spring.

It’s important to bear in mind, when doing the early development work on a Sweetgum, not to remove terminal buds in fall or winter from non-ramified branches.  This increases the risk of dieback, probably due to auxin withdrawal.  If the branch is ramified, meaning there are multiple terminal buds, removing one or two won’t hurt (just don’t remove them all).

Flat-Top Bald Cypress Design Work

This flat-top Bald cypress is coming along really well for a single year of training. With that said, the design can stand some tweaking and fall is a perfect time to do it. All of the foliage will be off this tree within the next few days, so knocking some off today won’t hurt a thing.

Now, there are a couple of things that bother me about the basic design of this tree: one, the two apical leaders are too symmetrical; and two, the top of the tree is insufficiently “flat.” You can easily see what I mean by the former; by the latter I mean the crown of this tree is too rounded, and this is something that will need to be controlled as this tree continues to develop.

So let’s tackle both problems, shall we?

The first step in making the two leaders asymmetrical is to wrap some thick-gauge wire around them.
The change I’ve made here is subtle but important. I’ve pulled down the left leader and pushed up the right leader, both just enough to introduce the asymmetry I need. That’s the first step. The next few are equally important.
A sub-branch of the left leader is wired and pulled down. Again, a subtle change but very important.
A closer view, and more in line with the typical viewing angle. Take a closer look at the change in the leaders I made above, from this view. It’s all about the apical asymmetry that’s typical of flat-top BC.
More wiring on the left leader, the sub-branch at the rear. It’s brought down flatter into the plane where it belongs, and moved toward the back of the tree.
Moving over to the right leader, notice I’ve pruned out the sub-branch that was sticking straight up. It was too heavy and its further growth would adversely affect the design of this leader.
A close up, after a little more trimming. I know it may seem like I’m removing needed ramification, but trust me when I say it’ll all grow back and more! What’s vital at this point in the life of this bonsai is to properly establish the finer branch structure. BC are so apically dominant that you can completely develop a flat-top crown in a couple of seasons. In fact, if you don’t manage the growth during this crucial time, the tree will literally outgrow itself and force you to start over.
Now I’ve wired and positioned two sub-branches on the right leader. These will provide me with a good base for ramification in 2020.

Notice how flat the profile of the crown is from this view. It’s just what I need.

And the final shot for today. It’s easy to see where I’m going with this tree. I expect that by summer of 2020 I’ll be almost completely through with the overall design. Obviously I have to develop the lower branches on the trunk, and this will take a couple more seasons as the tree will push most of its energy upward. But I’ve won that fight before!

Let me know what you think of this flat-top BC. And if you haven’t already done so, sign up for our BC wish list for 2020. Plus consider a workshop – buy a BC and do the initial styling in year one, the perfect way to kick-start a great BC bonsai.

A Huckleberry Bonsai For 2020

So it’s time for Thanksgiving weekend, and aside from overeating that can only mean bonsai fun for me.

I collected this Huckleberry, Vaccinium sp., this past winter. Except for minimal training work, I’ve just let it grow to get established. With the weather see-sawing back to warm (we went from 22F overnight last week to 70F overnight last night – yeah, that’s South Louisiana weather!), I figured why not learn something new.

Where’s the front? I’m not sure yet, but that doesn’t stop me from starting the trimming process. Huckleberries are vigorous growers, so I’m very confident in my design fleshing out next year regardless of what I do now.
More pruning of long stuff.
Now that’s pruned back good!
It does take a while for Huckleberries to put on some good root growth, but this one did its thing in just a year. Like I said, I just let it grow this year without trying to rush things (today’s the day to rush things, right?).
More wiring, shaping, and into a pot by Lary Howard. I switched back to this front. The leader will be cut back in spring, once it buds out at the first node. I left it long in case of dieback.I think this composition is nice. The slanting style isn’t my favorite, but now and then you come across a tree that just insists. I always like to go with the flow whenever possible.Let me know what you think. I’m personally very fond of Huckleberries.

Roughleaf Dogwood Styling Work

I recently acquired this Roughleaf dogwood, Cornus drummondii, from a local collector. The great trunk base, taper and movement were what drew me to the tree. The styling is on its way, but there’s always more to do. So today I set out to make a few minor adjustments in advance of Spring 2020.

Beginning at the bottom, of course, the number one left-hand branch and the first back branch were ideal to wire together. Why not the number one right-hand branch along with the left-hand branch? Read on and you’ll find out below.

So the trick with both of these branches is in their positioning. They both start out fine, but since dogwoods tend to produce long arrow-straight branches, you have to introduce some movement into them. Also, both branches needed pulling down a bit, which I’ve done here. Subtle changes, but very important.

Here’s why I left that lowest right-hand branch out of the equation in that wiring job. Notice the slender shoot emerging to the left of the thicker branch? It’s actually positioned much more advantageously than the thicker one; therefore my goal for 2020 will be to remove the thicker one altogether, assuming the slim one survives winter and pushes on next year. I’ll have the opportunity to wire it and introduce movement from the start, and once it thickens up it’s going to be in just the right spot.
Another obvious problem with this tree is the very thick branch on the left side up near where the crown begins. Ideally I’d just remove it and hope for a new bud at the base. However, this is not the time of year for this sort of work. Without the strong growth of spring through early summer, there’s a pretty good chance I won’t get a bud there at all. So I’ll likely make this move in the coming year. For now, though, I trimmed it back pretty hard.

The last thing I can do today is to trim back the crown. It was a little heavy toward the right, affecting the balance of the tree, so with some judicious trimming I think I’ve succeeded for the most part in restoring the balance. I’ll need to do more next year; I’ll accomplish that by allowing the branch moving up and toward the left, where the main trunk line veers off to the right, to run and thicken.

I’d love to hear what you think of this Roughleaf dogwood. Also, I expect to have some pre-bonsai stock available next summer, so if you’d like a nice dogwood specimen let me know.

Quick Design Clinic – Styling A Couple Of Elms

There are some tried and true bonsai design principles. The reason they’re tried and true is because they conform to fundamental design principles that are not strictly endemic to bonsai. Balance, proportion, perspective, positive and negative spaces, all of these are valid across the visual arts. So if we can learn and apply them to our bonsai, it’s hard to go wrong.This is a small Water-elm specimen with a trunk base of about 1″. It will, once designed, make a nice smaller bonsai not more than 12″ tall. You can see from this photo that the trunk tapers, and this automatically produces perspective. Now we have to strive for proportion and balance, and positive and negative spaces.
First I cut away all of the extra branches. The best bonsai are those that use the fewest branches possible to execute the design. For a small tree such as this one, the main body of the trunk will have only four or five branches. More would not make it better.So with the attitude of this tree slanting toward the right of the viewer, I know my first branch needs to be on the left. After that I need back and right branches, and so on until I reach the leader. You can see that I’ve trimmed away everything that does not fit with that plan.
The rest is wiring, positioning and trimming to shape, and that doesn’t take long at all. I have branches that, once they develop, will fill out the body of the tree. I have a leader emerging at the stub of the trunk, and this part (along with the lower branches, in time) I can develop using the grow and clip method.So with just a little study and then execution, I have created perspective, proportion, balance, and positive and negative spaces on this specimen. All I need to do next year is to move it to a bonsai pot and continue trimming to shape.
Here’s another specimen. It’s similar but different, as they say. There’s good trunk taper and movement, and I have plenty of branches to choose from. The first step is to visually determine where I want branches, then cut away the ones that I don’t need.
Some quick snipping, and I’m down to the bare bones which is all I need.
And now I have another bonsai in the making that has very good styling. This tree will be ready for a bonsai pot around next May or June.Let me know what you think. Has this been helpful?For those of you who are already planning your 2020 bonsai learning events, we will once again be conducting one on one workshops for both beginners as well as more advanced enthusiasts, starting in April. I’ll be announcing the schedule early next year, but if you’re interested feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll put you on the list.