Here’s my specimen Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca. I repotted this tree two years ago, and knew it had since filled its pot with roots. Certain hawthorn species do not root all that vigorously, but Riverflat is not one of them.

At the same time, I’ve been faced from the beginning with a root problem. So today I wanted to take advantage of the normal repotting time for this specimen in order to address the problem and make it better. Sometimes this requires drastic action, for example layering, but in many cases you don’t have to take such steps.

Here’s the problem, namely that great big thick surface root. This root isn’t going anywhere, at least not while the tree is in my care. And since the remainder of the nebari is good, all I have to do is focus on this one root and see if I can make it better. The answer? Why carving, of course.



This work took about 10 minutes using a couple of hand tools. What I’ve done here is to carve a wedge down into the root. Beginning up near the trunk, I started carving a wedge-shaped section out of the single large root (which has produced smaller roots on either side, by the way). As I carved farther down the length of the root, I made the cut deeper. The ultimate plan will be to actually bring soil up into the wedge area, which will complete the illusion that this once-large root splits into two smaller sub-roots. I’m confident this will reduce the appearance of “heaviness” in this root.

Back to business. Here’s the tree out of its bonsai container. As I knew it would, the root mass is thick and long roots are winding around the outer edge. It’s definitely time for a root-pruning.








It’s common to be fearful of cutting off a lot of the old root mass. This should give you an idea of just how far you can go, for species that root vigorously. Everything I cut off will grow back this year, and in 2019 I’ll need to repeat this process.








Now this guy is back in his home. The pot is a custom piece by Paul Katich, and I believe it complements the tree just perfectly. The oval shape goes well with the graceful, curving trunk of this feminine hawthorn bonsai. The trunk base is 3″ above the root crown, and it’s 30″ to the tip of the apex.






Here’s a final look at the problem root. Once the exposed wood has dried, I’ll treat this area with lime sulfur just to be on the safe side, after which I’ll add some soil into the gap.

I’d love to hear what you think of this post. Was it helpful to you?