Zach’s Personal Collection

willow oak

from collection day to today


willow oak

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Willow Oak



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Updates are in date order beginning with the first date Zach began documenting the progression.


Willow oak, Quercus phellos, is one of the best oak species to grow as bonsai. It features willow-shaped leaves that reduce well in bonsai culture, to 1″ or less in length, it ramifies well and is very easy to maintain horticulturally.

This specimen was collected in the winter of 2012. This is the earliest photo I have, which was taken 3/17/12. The trunk is 4″ in diameter at the base, and it’s about 12″ to the chop.

What you can’t see in this photo is that the trunk base has been buried to protect the surface roots of the tree while they recover. But all in all, this is a tremendous specimen.


Two weeks later, it’s clear this tree is going to make it.

Look at the strong growth of the new shoots.


Here’s what a Willow oak can do in just over a year from lifting.

An amazing amount of growth, right?


I’m not sure of the exact date of this photograph, but 2014 was the year of bitter cold and a lot of my trees came out late. This specimen always comes out late each spring, but always makes up for it as the growing season progresses.


(1 of 3)

This is the beginning of year three for this specimen, and it’s time for the initial potting. Compare this photo with the first one above. We’ve come a long way!


(2 of 3)

Now you can see what I meant by burying the surface roots.

Here the tree has been removed from its nursery container, the roots combed out and trimmed for the bonsai pot. This is just what you can expect from a Willow oak, in terms of root growth. What began as simply large roots chopped back is now a dense fibrous root system, exactly what is needed to ensure the health of a fine bonsai.


(3 of 3)

And here’s the tree in its bonsai pot, a fine custom oval by Bryon Myrick.

The new leader needs to be reduced, and the branches need much further development. This can all be accomplished in a bonsai pot.



Later in the season, the apex was reduced and regrown and there’s been more development in the lower branches.



In spring of 2016 I decided to regrow the lowest right branch because I didn’t like the way it was designed. Sometimes you just have to start over. So I have two new branches emerging from the stump of the branch, which I think will make for a better design as it develops. Otherwise, this tree is coming along beautifully.


Showing some fall color. I gave this tree a trimming while leaving the leaders long on the lowest right branch. They will be allowed to grow untrimmed throughout spring of next year, after which time I’ll cut them back hard to continue redevelopment of the branch. But isn’t this tree looking fantastic?

Next year the ramification should move to the next level over most of the tree.


After repotting.

My plan is to continue developing the lower right-hand branch, plus improve ramification.


The tree had different plans from mine. It dropped the low right-hand branch, and the spring growing season saw the tree struggle quite a bit. I failed to recognize the growth of shade where this tree was sited, due to some willows that have been getting bigger for the past few years. So I moved this oak into more direct sun. That did the trick. You can see how nice the foliage looks by the end of the season. Now to deal with the missing branch.


Who’d’ve thought. The tree actually looks a lot better without that branch. It doesn’t comply with the standard bonsai “rules,” but frankly if the right-hand branch had survived in preference to the one across from it on the left, I’d have had a “compliant” bonsai that would have been much less dramatic. Notice how the additional carving has also added to the appearance of this specimen.


The growth has ended for 2020, and now I’m just waiting for (hopefully) some fall color before leaf drop. The tree has done well this year, despite a few lengthy droughts which are always hard on bonsai. It powered on through, and produced a lot more ramification.

Next spring will be repotting time once again. I’m considering a change of pots, but we’ll see.


This is the best fall color I’ve gotten on this tree since I’ve had it. I first started seeing some color last month, and I was convinced the leaves would all drop before more of them took on color. Pleasant surprise.

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