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.


Bald Cypress With Knee Gets Initial Styling

bald cypress with knee gets intial styling

Sneak Peek

It’s always great to find Bald cypresses in the swamp that have knees, especially when the scale is right. Here’s one that’s ready for its first styling.

Bald Cypress with Knee Gets Initial Styling

I was really excited to find out that this Bald cypress came with an attached knee (often we find knees near the BC’s we harvest, which alas are unattached). It’s grown with good vigor since we brought it home in February, enough so that it’s clearly ready to be styled.

Here’s a closeup that makes it easier to see the knee, which is behind the trunk in a good spot from the front view.

Is it alive? That’s a good question. When a knee is attached to the trunk of a BC at the time of harvest, you absolutely have to have it produce roots at the cut end or it’ll die. In this case of this one, there are two feeder roots that are going down into the pot and seem to be in great shape. I’ll be sure next year.

After the initial editing of superfluous branches, I start the wiring process. Bottom to top.


Sometimes you’ll get stumped as to which branches to keep and which to remove. While the spacing doesn’t have to be perfect, you want your branch selection to be reasonably full with good spacing all around the trunk.


In the classic “pyramidal” style, you want to be sure your lowest branches are not only heaviest but also extend outward more than the ones above them. More or less like a Christmas tree. This complies with a key rule of horticulture, namely, if it doesn’t get sunlight it dies.

I always cut back the upper branches the most, because I know they’ll be the most dominant. This gives the lower branches an opportunity to gain strength.


The leader doesn’t need a lot of movement, but it does need movement. Without this slight curve I’ve wired into it, the tree will look static in the apex and your eye will be drawn to that spot. As you view a bonsai, your eye should “roam” around the tree constantly. If it stops somewhere, that’s almost always a flaw.

Notice I also went ahead and angle-chopped the initial trunk chop. Normally I’d wait until year two, but I’m confident the tree will do fine. (I did seal the new chop area.)

This is all I need to do for now to this tree. We’ll get more growth from now into fall, and by this time next year the tree could very well be ready for a bonsai pot.

I’d love to hear what you think of this one.

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.


New Flat-Top Bald Cypress

new flat-top bald cypress

Sneak Peek

Each year we bring home a few BC’s that catch my eye to the point that I want to train them. This one shouted “flat-top.” So let’s see if we can get that going.

New Flat-Top Bald Cypress

When we brought home this year’s Bald cypress specimens, a few said “train me.” This is one of them. The trunk character, taper and movement are really outstanding, and I knew from the start that this would make a fine flat-top bonsai.

The photo above is from January 30th, while this one was taken today. It shows pretty typical recovery strength for Bald cypress specimens, with the standard apical dominance showing prominently. One thing to keep in mind with BC is that this apical dominance is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember, the tree when lifted has no feeder roots or much left above ground, and “wants” to regrow itself as quickly and efficiently as possible. Part of that process is pushing multiple leaders that grow up toward the sun, and that allows the tree to collect as much light as possible. This in turn feeds those new roots, and the cycle of foliar and root growth reestablishes itself. My point in saying this is, don’t be tempted in the beginning to control the apical dominance; there’s time for that when the training begins. The first priority for a newly collected tree is to get strong, and its natural growth habit is designed just for this purpose.

The first step is always to remove superfluous growth. Here I only have left what I’m going to use for my design.


Now I’ve done almost all the wiring that needs doing today. There are exactly five branches in the whole starting design scheme, one of which is a secondary branch. I also carved down the trunk chop area to start the process of blending it into the trunk line.


And now we have the whole start for this specimen. Two vestigial branches, and a beginning for the crown. Notice that I’ve taken it in quite a bit. The tree will regrow everything I took off today, and my job will be to control that growth into the design. Those leaders, incidentally, will thicken a lot faster than you think.

I did not trim the vestigial branches. They need a lot of thickening, and that will only come if I leave them alone to grow.

I’d love to hear what all you flat-top BC fans out there think.