formal upright bald cypress – development 101

Sneak Peek

To begin with the beginning of a formal upright BC (or most every style), you must do one thing….

Formal Upright Bald Cypress – Development 101

I have found that the collected formal upright Bald cypress is much less common than the informal upright. I suspect this is because the smaller specimens we collect tend to struggle somewhat in their competition with the very large trees they grow beneath. There’s certainly nothing wrong with trunk movement – in fact, it’s a lot easier to make a good informal upright bonsai than a formal upright. The trunk movement imparts a sense of age and persistence.

That doesn’t mean we shun the formal upright. We just recognize the extra challenge of making the bonsai look like a tree.

So this guy is a member of the Class of ’21. I knew from the get-go that I was going to hang onto it to train, for some obvious reasons. The trunk character and taper are outstanding. Add to that a terrific root base, and there’s no doubt this is going to be a great bonsai in a few years.

Here’s a closeup of the base. Those flaring roots are present all around the trunk, and they give a strong impression of age and stability. Notice that they are also buttressing roots, meaning they flow naturally from the trunk and terminate in the flaring pattern. This is ideal, and is uncommon in a tree this small (trunk base 3.5″).


The first chore for today – and today’s work is simply to rebalance energy – is to thin out the shoots in the lower part of the tree. They aren’t all necessary, and I want to be sure I give the more suitable choices as much room to run as possible.

Here’s where we address BC development 101. You can’t help but notice the incredible number of shoots that have emerged in the top of this tree. For those of you familiar with Bald cypress, the term “apically dominant” is well understood. There are few species (none I can think of offhand) as apically dominant as BC. It’s hard-wired into them to want to get as tall as possible, as quickly as possible. When we collect these specimens, we’re removing the top 80% or more of the trunk and all the branching that does with it. Despite the fact that we’re also removing 80% or more of the root, the tree wants to get tall again. I didn’t count them, but I’m guessing there are 20-30 shoots within the top two inches of trunk. Almost all of them must go! This is one of the key secrets to developing BC bonsai.


This is the end result of today’s work. I now have a leader selected. It will continue the trunk line below it, and I’ll let it run until it has thickened sufficiently to then be cut back again to repeat the process. That is likely to happen by summer – we’ll see. After that will come an angle chop at the transition point, carving and eventually a nice tapering transition that isn’t noticeable.

In addition to having a single leader to focus all of the tree’s apical dominance, I have also forced energy into every shoot that wasn’t cut away. This energy will be naturally distributed by the tree, from the top down. That’s the battle that we always have to fight when making a formal (or informal) upright Bald cypress bonsai. Eventually, when the tree has been fully developed, the apical dominance will be much less pronounced and much easier to control. But it never completely goes away.

When does the tree get its first wiring? Most likely I can start by the end of next month, for those branches sufficiently hardened off.

Let me know what you think of today’s work. Do you have experience making BC bonsai from bare trunks?