Okay, I haven’t made it through winter yet nor have my trees. In fact, it’s just going to actually cool off a little tonight for the first time this fall. But that hasn’t stopped me from starting to think about (and plan for) 2018. I collected and grew more trees this year, but still pretty much sold out. I need a lot more next year. And it’s not too soon at all to start thinking of the design work on individual trees in the next growing season. Trees progress more or less on their own time schedule. You can hurry them along to a degree, but in the end they call the shots.

I got to looking at some oaks today. I’ve been field-growing oaks for several years now. Live oaks in particular hold a special interest for me (I’m referring to Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana). They are truly unique in their growth habit, and downright peculiar about being collected which means they don’t like it so much. Growing from seed seems to be a good choice for developing bonsai.


Here’s a specimen that I planted out a few years ago. I grew it from an acorn collected in 2010. It really took off this year, and the trunk base is right at 1″.

What’s interesting about this one is the neat curves in the trunk.

As I studied it today, I thought a literati style might be in order. I just need to cut to the smaller trunk line, lift and start training.


Oaks have an upright growth habit, which is true of all primary trees, so it’s normal to have a straight trunk out of the soil for much longer than you want it to go. This compels you to chop the trunk. Nothing wrong with that, but you also want to cut down on the potential boredom a straight trunk can give you.

This one has a nice curve in the trunk not to far from the soil surface. I’ll cut to it in the spring, and let it keep on growing to thicken up some more. the base is about 1.5″, and I’d like it to be at least 2″.


Here’s one I chopped earlier this year, because it was not that interesting.

I’m not sure it’s gotten too much more interesting, but at least now there’s some potential.

Should it be two trunks or three? I suppose I’ll figure that out down the road.


Now this guy is interesting for one simple reason: It’s the same age as the first three shown above. The difference is it’s been container-grown since it first sprouted.

The normal thought process for a tree like this to plant it out and make it bigger. But I’ve got more than enough of those already. Why not keep this one smaller? What’s wrong with a shohin Live oak bonsai? The trunk base is just about 3/4″, so it’s suited to life in a small pot. Next spring I plan to get that going.


So here’s how we take the next step along that road. I pruned back the two leaders. Some spring, I’ll get some branching in the apex of the tree, but more importantly I should get continued growth in the two branches along the trunk.

I believe encouraging these branches to grow will allow me to create a typical Live oak design.

Time will tell.


Finally, here’s a Water oak (Quercus nigra) I started training early this year (see below for the humble beginning). It’s already reached the stage where you can see the finished bonsai structure. By the end of the 2018 growing season, I predict this will be a first-class Oak bonsai. It’ll have nice ramification going, and much smaller leaves than it does now. All in two growing seasons. Skeptical? Below is this same tree in early April of this year.


So in just over six months, this “stick” has gone from newly collected specimen to a bonsai-in-training. Quite a transformation.

This one is available at our Oak Bonsai page.

I hope your collection features some oak specimens. If not, you’re really missing out.