picture day: hawthorn, oak, crape myrtle

Sneak Peak

We’re wonderfully in the depths of spring, with warms days, cool nights and a nice breeze each day. Most everything is responding very well, so I thought it a good time to update photos of three trees in our collection. Two have been on the bench for almost a decade now, while the third has been in training for over 30 years. Nothing to sneeze at! But don’t be misled: just as it is for us, every tree you ever care for will have its ups and downs along the way. This used to frustrate me, but I finally came to understand that bonsai is not about perfect trees, it’s about working to perfect our trees while they work hard at growing the way they were created to grow. These two intentions are often at odds, but that’s the fun of bonsai, right?

Hawthorn, Oak, Crape Myrtle

picture day

This Riverflat hawthorn has just about reached full maturity as a bonsai. The biggest challenge it has posed in recent times was last fall, when an early freeze caught the tree with its still-green foliage on display. The result was an attractive though concerning bronzing of the leaves, which happened despite the tree being placed on the ground in a sheltered location. I was a little concerned, but once spring arrived the tree seemed to shake off the event. The good news is, I’m a year or two away from a repotting so the tree shouldn’t experience any new shock any time soon.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an oak bonsai with a more attractive base than this one. I’m just always amazed whenever I look at it. Now entering its 10th year of training, this one has seen its share of challenging times but always bounces back. A couple of years ago I named it “Rip van Winkle,” for the simple reason that it’s one of the last of my trees to come out each and every spring. I don’t mind, though it would be nice if it came to the show sooner.

This year I expect to continue building ramification on this specimen. That’s one thing about any tree you develop. Trunk, branch structure, ramification. It pretty much always has to go this way. I had the trunk I needed when the tree came home in 2011. The branch structure took the past several years of painstaking work. Now it’s time to move into refinement. Notice the relatively large leaves. They need to be smaller, obviously. That’s a process I can start to work on this year, with the next step being to prune the new growth back pretty hard in about two more weeks. I’ll then get another flush of growth, along with the back-budding that will increase twig density and reduce leaf size. We’ll see how it goes.

This is the old Crape myrtle I’ve written about on a number of occasions. In checking Allen’s hand-written notes, training was begun on this specimen in 1986 after he and I collected it before that growing season began. It sure has come a long way.

This one had its most recent challenge in Winter 2019. We had had a warm snap, which is not unusual for late winter down here, and this tree decided it was time to start pushing buds. With a light freeze on the way, I thought nothing of leaving the tree on the bench. I’ve had plenty of experience with Crape myrtles, enough to know they are surprisingly cold-hardy. I expected this to extend to the new growth, especially considering that the sap in the emerging foliage should have enough sugar to lower its freeze point. Well, the sap did not.

So the new buds withered and dropped off, meaning the tree had to push a second round of first-round growth. That’s a setback, of course, but Crapes are pretty tough customers so I figured it would recover given time and not pushing it. I let it grow out last year, with only minor trimming and adding a little wire where needed. This year, I should be able to do some reshaping work toward summer. I’ll also remove any flowers buds, to ensure the tree doesn’t suffer any undue stress.