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A Quick And Easy BC Forest

A couple of years ago I planted some Bald cypress seeds in a cutoff 3-gallon nursery pot. I did nothing to them, just let them do their thing. I’ve had my eye on the dominant tree for a while now, figuring I’d split up the group and plant them separately into their own pots or the ground. But today I wondered if maybe I didn’t have a BC forest ready-made for me. After all, there are seven trees to start with and they’re actually spaced apart pretty nicely. You know how I love to slip-pot trees.
I’m sure you’ve already figured out that this BC planting is set apart by how tall the trees are. I love the way a tall-tree cypress forest looks, and this one is exaggerated beyond what you’d normally do on purpose.The tallest tree did need some trimming, so that was a quick chore (I’ll probably need to do more during the growing season).
The best way to really show off the height of this forest is to plant it in an undersized pot. I had this lovely Ashley Keller round sitting on the bench, and it’s just the ticket.
Here’s the group unpotted and with most of the soil removed. The roots are nicely grown together. They’ll only need some light trimming.
The trees are placed. They’ll need some wire to make them go in exactly the right spots.
And here we are, with the pot filled with soil and the trees wired and positioned. I think this makes a nice composition. The trees are budding now, so they should be in leaf in another couple of weeks.Let me know what you think.

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).

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.

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).