Bonsai Odds & Ends – Eleagnus and Muscadine

bonsai odds & ends – eleagnus and muscadine

Sneak Peek

Monster sumo-style bonsai take time to develop, but the end-result is well worth it. This Eleagnus is two years out of the ground, but just at the beginning of the process.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Eleagnus and Muscadine

It’s been a while since I posted a blog. When the world changed in 2020 we had a shift in family and personal priorities, and this shift accelerated in 2022. I plan to get back on a more regular schedule of posting, however.

This Eleagnus x ebbingei was lifted from a neighbor’s yard in October of 2020. We had jointly bought a bunch of 3-gallon specimens in 2012 to line our respective properties, and the neighbors decided to remove theirs. That’s good news to a bonsai hunter!

From a 3-gallon specimen this one has advanced to an 8″ trunk base. Eleagnus is quite a grower once it gets started.


I left it alone for two years, and this is what I got for my neglect (except for watering and feeding, of course).

One thing you’ll find out with Eleagnus when you begin to work with them is the new shoots pop off very easily. This means they’re a challenge to wire. Once they thicken up enough, however, they don’t pop off anymore but you also can’t bend them anymore. This means they’re a challenge to wire. I think the message here is, they’re a challenge to wire.

The goal for today is to thin and cut back. I want the volume of branch and foliar growth directed into branches selected to be part of the design.

After a few minutes I have things thinned out enough to where I can see the basics of my branches. For sumo trees, you’ll often have a specimen like this one to work with where there’s not a definitive curving trunk but rather a squat but very impressive “body.” I’ll end up with a broom-form style when it’s all done.

With wiring these branches out of the question (except for that thin one on the right and the branchlets elsewhere), I’ll need to stick with grow and clip. That’s okay, though. Making this bonsai will take several years in any event, and I’ll get a good result taking my time.


I lifted this Muscadine grape, Vitis rotundifolia, last year. This photo is from January of this year. Cool root bump off the right.

I’ve done some wiring on this specimen in 2022, let it run wild in between, and here’s where I got to today.


With vines we tend toward cascade or semi-cascade specimens. As I studied this one it just didn’t seem like the way to go, especially with that “Loch Ness” root on the right, so I’ve decided to make it an upright specimen. This trimming gives you an idea of what my plan is.

Let me know what you think of these two trees.

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 – Trumpet Vine, Yaupon, Spekboom

bonsai odds & ends – trumpet vine, yaupon, spekboom

Sneak Peek

For those of you interested in vines for bonsai, here are a couple. Plus a Yaupon and another Spekboom in the works.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Trumpet Vine, Yaupon, Spekboom

Last year I pulled up some Trumpet vines from an area of ground I was leveling. Like most vines, they are tough to kill and grow rampantly. But the big question is, why isn’t the species grown as bonsai? I’ve fooled around with them for years, and they seem to do all right in pot culture. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect them to flower in a pot, but I can’t imagine that it’s impossible. Regardless, it appears I’m the only person in the U.S. who grows Trumpet vine as bonsai. That must mean it’s a real challenge, so that makes it hard to resist.

This specimen is one of those I pulled up last year, and recently I decided it was worth potting into a bonsai pot. The trunk movement is hard to beat, and for me it was easy to see a design before it started coming back from all the pruning.




From this photo, taken just a month after the one above, you can probably get an idea of why I wonder that this species isn’t grown more as bonsai. I mean, it’s already got a design and all I have to do is keep it trimmed to maintain it.

Here’s another of the group, which I potted up a couple of weeks after the one above. I love the taper and twisting movement of the trunk – vines do tend to grow without taper, but movement isn’t hard to get. This photo is post-potting, with the foliage that’s left looking all scraggeldy.




True to the resiliency of the species, here’s the next step for this specimen – new little fronds/tendrils pushing from most of the nodes. I started the design of this one last year, once it had recovered from collecting. The primary branches were wired into position, and then I just let them run so they’d thicken up. As with all the vines you’ll ever work with, I had to go in late last summer and cut all those tendrils out of everthing else nearby on the bench. Yes, they do tend to aggressively invade their neighbors’ spaces. “Bad Trumpet vine!”

Yaupon (in this case Ilex vomitoria, our native species) make great bonsai. They grow fast, have naturally small leaves and the evergreen species make a good leafy show on the bench in winter. Here’s one I collected this year, a female (it had berries on it when I dug it). It took a while to recover, but it then grew well enough to allow me to do the initial styling. Next year I should make a lot more headway with it.

Yaupons do root slowly, so remember if you do decide to acquire one that you must treat them accordingly. Following collection, give them at least a year to get established in the growing pot. Never try to go directly to a bonsai pot with a Yaupon – I have done that experiment for you, and it doesn’t work.

You can see that this specimen needs thickening in the leader. Yaupons are not apically dominant, so I can grow out the horizontal branches at the same time I let the leader run. It’ll take about three years, but I should have a very presentable bonsai by then.


How about another Spekboom? This is one I started last year, and I left it alone until recently to grow out enough so I could start a somewhat larger bonsai with it. Today I did some strategic pruning to get the design under way. In 2021, this one is really going to develop nicely.

In this awesome reverse progression you can see where I started with this one a month ago. (The rocks are there to help stabilize the tree.) It has already put on new growth, so today’s editing was a next necessary step.

Let me know what you think of today’s show and tell.


Looking To 2020 – Flowering And Fruiting Species

Though the holidays are not yet upon us, it’s not too soon to start thinking of 2020. A lot of the work we do now will have an impact on how our trees develop next year. Today I looked at a few flowering and/or fruiting specimens that will make great progress in 2020. This Crape myrtle was grown from a cutting made a few years ago. It’s a small specimen, but nonetheless it’s developing a nice classic Crape myrtle shape. I’ve been helping it along with some wiring, and added a little today. This one should make a nice starter bonsai this coming year.
Here’s a starter size Muscadine I lifted earlier in the season. The base is very nice, and it has a low leader than I’ll continue to let run to thicken. This is about a two- to three-year project to a bonsai pot. For now, there’s no real benefit to wiring or trunk-chopping. For vines, it’s generally best to trunk-chop in the spring when you can expect strong growth and healing.
I have grown to love Huckleberries. Not only do they flower in a pot, they fruit as well; I even ate some berries off a specimen earlier this year. This one was collected in Winter 2019. I think the tight twin-trunk configuration is pretty cool. I’ve let it grow all year with little interference; today I want to take the next development step.
So I carved down to the respective leaders on the two trunks, then put a little wire on the tree to establish a basic shape. This one is a larger specimen, having a 2″ trunk base. I anticipate a finished height of about 16″ when all is said and done.
And finally, one more Huckleberry I wired and shaped earlier in the season. This one doesn’t need any more work today, but I wanted to show you what can be done at this stage of the process. Huckleberries (blueberries) are good bonsai subjects. They do root slowly, however, so you have to take this into account. The branches also can be brittle, so some extra care is needed when you wire and shape them (you’ll inevitably crack a branch here and there). By the third year in a pot, they get really lush with growth and that’s when you can expect fruiting to begin. Blueberries also like acid soil, so remember to keep some soil acidifier handy. Let me know what you think of these specimens.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Hawthorn, Water-Elm, Trumpet Vine

Today I did a one on one workshop with a new bonsai enthusiast. One of the specimens we were worked on was a three-tree Parsley hawthorn composition, very similar to this one. I love bonsai forests. The three-tree planting is the smallest expression of this style of bonsai. While this may seem like a real challenge, you can evoke a great deal of emotion in a very small space with just a few items. In this group there’s dramatic tension, complementary movement, depth, and perspective. It doesn’t get much better than that.
(This specimen is available at our Hawthorn Bonsai page.)

Here’s a Water-elm that we collected last August. It had a great trunk, with an unusual secondary trunk in a strategic spot. I saw a great upright bonsai in the making.
What did I tell you! We also studied potting bonsai today, and this tree was definitely ready for its initial styling and first bonsai pot. It turned out even better than I thought it would.
I was clearing an overgrown area near my garden and ran across a few nice Trumpet vines. This one has a trunk base of 1.5″, some nice shari and wonderful movement.
Plenty of new growth, just as you’d expect from a vine,
Well, most of that had to go. I see a semi-cascade specimen in this one, so a little wire and some man-handling and it’s going the way I want it to. I’ll leave it alone for a good while now; it’ll probably grow six or eight feet of new vine before it annoys me enough for another pruning.

Muscadine Redesign

You may remember this Muscadine grape, Vitis rotundifolia, from last summer. It came out of the ground with two trunks, so I planned to make a twin-trunk bonsai out of it.

Something of a start. There’s a lot of character in the trunk. Major development work needed in the structure of the bonsai (it was pretty ho-hum at this point).

Last fall the smaller trunk died. I have no idea why. But that completely changed my plan for this bonsai.

Here’s the tree with this year’s spring flush of growth on it. Obviously strong, so I’ve got something to work with.

I’m not seeing how I can make a viable upright bonsai from this specimen, given how it’s grown out. So I either have to chop it back and see what happens, or change the design. I’m thinking a semi-cascade may work. Let’s find out. First order of business, change the position of the trunk.

Next, make the leader “semi-cascady.”

Trim back, clear out the overgrowth, find the lines, put on some wire.

Let’s get some movement into the branching.

Adios, dead trunk.

And finally, repot, reduce the weight of the apex and do a final trim.

I think this bonsai in the making is much better than my original vision. Which just goes to show, when your tree throws you a curve ball just relax and redesign.

Let me know what you think.