It’s been two years ago that this Crape myrtle, Lagerstoemia indica, got a new pot and some much-needed design work. The tree has been happily growing (and blooming in summer) in its Byron Myrick custom pot. But as with all bonsai, sooner or later you’ve got to repot. Crape myrtles in particular are going to need this to be done more frequently than most species. Why? They grow roots more vigorously than just about any other species. So in order to keep them healthy, they need attention every couple of years.

But first, the tree has gotten rangy on me and it’s got to be taken back in. This is one of those chores that many bonsai enthusiasts either fail to do or don’t do to the degree it’s needed. For those of you who’ve been at it for a long time, you know what I mean! It’s hard to make yourself prune back hard. But it must be done.

Next step: pull the tree from the pot. You can see how successful this Crape has been in filling its pot. We’ve got the telltale circling roots. They grow to the edge of the pot, then they circle. Happens every time, which is another reason we have to root-prune periodically.

Notice the new white roots that are growing. This means the tree is going to be pushing buds very soon.

How much root should you take off? I like to remove roughly half the volume of root. Here’s what that looks like.

Another view. In addition to removing root around the edges of the mass, I’ve also removed some from beneath. The tree also needs some fresh soil in the bottom of the pot.

I cleaned the pot and replaced the drain hole screens, then put a layer of fresh soil in the bottom.

Now the tree is placed in the pot. You may notice that I’ve turned the tree slightly. This helps fill a gap between the first right-hand branch and the apex, which I actually created by pruning a sub-branch off the first left-hand branch that had been used to fill in behind the tree. I decided this branch looked funny and needed to go.

I’ll come back and wire that right-side branch (which I had coaxed from a bud this past year), then pull it down and into position.

The tree placed on top of the layer of soil I put in the pot. I’ve made sure it sits at the proper level in the pot.

The final step of the repotting, filling in with soil.

I like the tree with this front, so until next repotting time this is the composition.

Now, you may have recognized that this tree does not exhibit the ideal design. There’s a slight curve to the trunk, taking it from left to right. If we’re following the standard design principles, the first branch should appear on the left side of the tree. Then second branch right, third branch in back, and so on. However … there’s also nothing saying you can’t break rules. I think this is most true when you’re maintaining a venerable old bonsai. This tree has been in training for about 30 years now. Should I remove that lowest branch because it’s on the wrong side of the tree? Not on your life! It can take a very long time to get your branches to the right thickness, and that right-hand branch is right at half the thickness of the trunk where it emerges. The relative proportions make it look very natural. Also notice that as you move up the tree, the branches get progressively less thick but remain proportionate with the trunk thickness. From this standpoint, the tree certainly complies with the rules. So to me, this is a very pleasing bonsai and looks its age.

Let me know your thoughts on this one.