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.


Fun Fast Bonsai Development

I love fast-developing trees. Some species and styles naturally lend themselves to rapid progress. The flat-top Bald cypress is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

This specimen was collected in Winter 2019, and here’s how it looked after the initial styling in early June. Not much to look at, but you can see where I’m going.

This is where you can take a flat-top BC in two summer months. The basic structure was established at the initial styling. From that point, there are two main chores that must be done. They aren’t hard to do, but sometimes they conflict with one another. Chore number one is vigilant control of the crown structure of the flat-top. What does this mean? BC is powerfully top-dominant. If you don’t keep a tight rein on the growth in the apex of the tree, the leaders will quickly overthicken and ruin your desired proportions. Following that initial wiring, if you don’t step in and wire the secondary branches while pruning (“cooling off”) the leaders, you won’t be happy with what happens next. The second chore is somewhat more passive: you let the lower branches run, and encourage any strong shoots that grow straight up (you can see this on the two lowest branches). These branches need to get thicker, but the top-dominance saps energy from them and there’s little you can (or should) do about it. All you can do is manage what’s going on. In year two, it gets easier to balance energy as the crown gets more finely developed and its growth rate slows.
This is the Dwarf yaupon I styled just last month. You probably remember where I started with it – essentially a hedge shrub that had been cut to some lines. So it got a big haircut and some wiring.
Yaupons grow very well in summer, so I knew this specimen would fill in quickly. This is just over a month later, and I had to trim away a lot of extra shoots before I snapped this photo. One thing to keep in mind about Yaupon, you need to wire the branches while they’re relatively tender. Once they get stiff, wiring and bending tends to produce broken rather than shaped branches. Not what you want. Summer can be one of the best times to make great strides with certain species. I hope this has given you a reason to brave the heat!

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Things To Come

I wasn’t able to blog last week, so I’m going to try to make up for it this weekend. For a start, here’s the Chinese elm forest that I’ll be developing this coming year. As you can see, the growth is already lush. All that needs to happen with this specimen for the remainder of the year is to grow and get strong. In 2020, I’ll create the basic design and move it to a bonsai tray. I have a feeling this specimen is going to end up being really nice.
I’ll bet you remember this Dwarf yaupon from a few weeks ago. This is a variety that just loves to grow in summer. I knew I could take advantage of this feature when I first did the styling. By the end of the growing season, I’m going to have a nicely filled out specimen on its way to becoming a fine bonsai.
This is another Chinese privet I had off in a corner of the nursery for a few years. It had originally been part of a larger, multi-trunk specimen. I finally figured out that this trunk was better by itself, so I separated it from the rest and potted it up. This tree will go from “stick with shoots” to bonsai in 2020. Stay tuned for updates.

A Dwarf Yaupon Gets Styled

Last year I had the hedge in front of my house taken out. It had been planted when the house was built in 1982, so simple math says this specimen is at least 40 years old. The base is 6″ across, and I knew there was bonsai potential when it came out of the ground. I’ve left it alone since the landscapers dug it up, and it’s done just you’d expect a hedging shrub to do.
The first order of business is to remove all of the shoots emerging from the base of the plant. Boy, were there a lot of them!
Here’s a back view, after a lot more clean up. I’ve got a triple-trunk specimen in the making. Lots of potential.
I started with the stout trunk in front. After reducing it to exactly three shoots (all I need to start), a little wire gave me the structure I’m after.
Same thing for the slender trunk on the left-hand side. Also reduced to three shoots, wired and shaped.
The main trunk took a little longer, but the key as always is to find the essence of the tree. There are about a dozen shoots altogether, and from them I’ve got the complete structure of a bonsai in the making. This specimen will end up about 18″ tall. Once it fills out, it should make quite an impressive Dwarf yaupon bonsai. I’d love to hear what you think about this one. Leave me a comment below.

Hornbeam Collecting & More

Today we hunted hornbeam. The native species is American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana. It ranges from Canada all the way to the Deep South, and west a little past the Mississippi River. I rate it as one of the best bonsai trees for beginners, because it takes readily to pot culture, it grows all season long, and ramifies easily with good leaf reduction. If you don’t have one and you love deciduous trees, you need one.

This specimen has nice trunk movement and taper. There’s also trunk “muscling,” that’s not readily apparent in this photo. The root base is very nice, but it’s buried to protect it. Assuming it survives collecting, I expect to have a good start on a bonsai by summer.

The trunk base on this specimen is 2.5″ across, and it’s chopped at 13″.

Here’s another nice one I brought home today. When you’re collecting hornbeam, look for specimens with low forking of the trunk. This will often allow you to chop to a tapering trunkline with good movement, as is the case here. I’ll be able to go a long way toward completing a branch structure, including the crown, by the end of the growing season. Nothing like shortening the timeframe.

The trunk base on this one is 2″, and it’s 11″ to the chop. Very very nice.

Native Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, is tough to find with decent taper and trunk movement. This twin-trunk specimen was a treat to run across – not to mention the fact that it’s a female. So I had to bring it home. Yaupon is easy to collect successfully – just hard to find.

The trunk base of the larger trunk is 1.5″ across, and it’s 17.5″ to the chop.

This isn’t something you’ll often see at Bonsai South. It’s an American beech, Fagus grandifolia. American beech is a very challenging bonsai subject. Why? Because it only wants to grow in one flush, which happens in spring. Any pinching of foliage you plan to do, you do it when the shoots extend. But don’t expect anything else to happen. Occasionally I’ve seen some additional growth in late spring, but it’s just not enough to move your design along. So everything you plan for an American beech must be done before budburst, with a little pinching after. Slooooooow to make into a nice bonsai.

With that said, don’t you just love the light gray bark and persistent golden leaves? These features do make you want to try your hand at them, even if you’ve been frustrated a bunch of times. So here I go.

The base of this one is 2″, and it’s chopped at 18″. I was encouraged by the nice branches already in place (another reason I went for it).

That’s a good overview of today’s work. Let me know what you think.

Bonsai South News + Odds & Ends

In the next two weeks we will be launching our updated website. Cathy has created a wonderful new design, which will be much more functional and easier for you to use. We’ll send out an announcement when we launch.

Meanwhile, here are a few odds and ends that you might find interesting. For example, we just removed the Dwarf yaupon hedge (Ilex vomitoria ‘nana’) from in front of the house. The house was built in 1985. We’ve lived here since 1995. Considering the size of the individual plants in the hedge, each must be 40 years old or older. Some looked like worthwhile bonsai candidates. Here’s one.

You can get an idea of how much material I had to remove to find this potential clump-style bonsai to be. But it’s got a lot of potential. Next we wait to see if it comes back all right.








So I had to have another part of my yard dug up recently, and this Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), which I mentioned in a previous blog, had to be lifted or it wasn’t going to survive. I went ahead and put it in this Chuck Iker round, and it seems to be recovering.













Speaking of pots, a long-time and very good client of mine, Lary Howard, also makes custom pieces. You’ll be seeing more of his outstanding work on this site in the near future. Meanwhile, here are a few I just received to give you an idea. This one is a rustic piece. Very well-crafted.

Another unique example of Lary’s work.



And this one is going into my personal collection. I don’t even know if I have a tree for it yet.



And now, the final and odd end for this episode of odds and ends. This close up is of a Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) I collected in Winter 2017. The foliage is coming out now, as you can see. But what’s that big fat bud in the center, and why isn’t it opening? This bud set last fall. Just a month or so ago, leaf buds began to form around this center bud. Could it be a flower bud? This and a few others appear at the ends of the branches that formed last year. I’m not familiar with the growth habit of this species, so I can only speculate. If it is a flower bud, then you’ll see a follow-up when it and the others open up. For now, it remains a mystery.

This will probably be my last blog until the new website launches. See you then!