How “Wading Bird” Gets Carved To Make It Look Better

I don’t often name my trees but from time to time one comes along that just has to be named.  “Wading Bird” the Bald cypress is one of those trees.  For a little background, I collected this specimen back in February and placed it directly into this exquisite Chuck Iker pot.  It’s risky doing this sort of thing, but I have good success at it.  So the tree came out and proceeded to grow.  From the beginning I had planned a “tall-tree” style bonsai, a flat-top of course to further the impression of height and age.  So I began training the branches and new leader with that in mind.  Fast-forward to now.

As the caption says, things need to happen to “Wading Bird.”  The secondary trunk never showed any signs of life, and I’m pretty sure it was DOA.  But it looked so natural next to its big brother I never considered removing it.  I did shorten it, back to that neat-looking “beak” you can see in the photo.  But it can’t stay the way it is now.  In order for the wood to last, I’ll need to treat it with lime sulfur.  This will kill any vermin or pathogens that might decide to start working on that nice dead wood.  Before I treat with lime sulfur, however, the bark will need to come off.  It so happens that destructive insects tend to burrow under the bark of trees and eat away inside.  So by removing the bark, I also remove one of the pathways for the bad guys.  And since lime sulfur tastes super nasty (I imagine – no way I’d try it), I’m confident it will give me the result I want.


Here’s a closeup of the snag I planned to create from the beginning.  It was a side branch that budded out for me after collection.  I removed buds from it a few times, and then it finally stopped trying.  But it was still moist when I stripped off the bark.

Now, you can easily tell that this snag does not look natural.  So I have more work to do on it.



Using my concave cutters followed by a carving knife, I reduced the weight of the snag and gave it a sharp point.  This is much more natural looking.  Note also that this snag has a similar “beak-like” appearance to the snag on the dead secondary trunk.  (You might also consider the crown of the live trunk as plumage.)

Now on to the next problem.  Notice that the chop point features a dead stub.  This doesn’t look natural at all.  I have a couple of options, either remove the bark and attempt to do some carving on it, or just carve it down into the leader.  I don’t really need any dead wood to compete with the snag below it, so I resolved to just get rid of it.

Knob cutters, a carving knife and a few minutes was all it took.  Now the stub is gone.  As the leader thickens over the next growing season, the transition should look very nice.







I’m almost done.  All that’s left now is to remove the bark from the dead secondary trunk and treat with lime sulfur.  For the bark removal, I used my cordless Dremel® and a sanding drum.  This made quick work of it, less than 10 minutes.

By the way, notice how the two dead snags at the top of the trunks mirror each other.  Is that not way cool?











Whenever you do any carving work on your trees, you need to treat the dead wood with lime sulfur.  As I mentioned above, this helps preserve the wood by killing any pathogens present.  It also discourages new ones from setting up shop.

In 2018 I’ll turn my attention to developing the branch structure of this tree.  It’s far too “rangy” at present, and needs a tighter structure to enhance the image of height.  I gave it a light trim this go-round.  Next spring, after the first flush of growth, I’ll cut back hard and rewire the branches.  Given how quickly BC grow, I should have made a lot of progress by the end of the 2018 growing season.

So, whatcha think about “Wading Bird”?

4 Replies to “How “Wading Bird” Gets Carved To Make It Look Better”

  1. Luke Omohundro

    Zach, At one point you told me you use PC petrifier on the chop revisions. Is that the same as lime sulfur?

    • Zach Smith Post author

      No, Luke, lime sulfur is calcium polysulfide which is made by boiling lime with sulfur (don’t recommend you make it at home!). PC Petrifier is a water-based urethane polymer that dries good and hard. Home Depot carries it.

  2. tim

    Hope all is well with you, your loved ones, and your trees during the storm… Looking forward to seeing how you refine the crown on this. I’m having a tough time deciding on the layout of a flat top.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *