roughleaf dogwood ugly duckling update

Sneak Peek

I got this Roughleaf dogwood in May and first styled it in July. It’s got some unique challenges, but part of our gaining mastery in bonsai is to be able to tackle and overcome such challenges. Here’s a step in that direction.

Roughleaf Dogwood Ugly Duckling Update

This is where we left off with this Rougleaf dogwood back in July. It’s a challenging specimen, to be sure; you might even call it an ugly duckling. But hey, if bonsai were easy would it really be any fun?




I love working with species that grow like weeds. Truth be told, unlike its cousin the Flowering dogwood, the Roughleaf can almost be thought of as a weed since it’s so prolific in the wild. But once you work with them and learn their characteristics, you’ll be more than happy to have this weed on your bench.

So check out the growth and thickening of the leader in this photo compared with the one above. That’s just two months ago!

Okay, down to business. Our ugly duckling has done its part by keepin’ on keepin’ on; time for me to step in and make it look better. There are a few chores today: one, carve down some of that dead wood near the leader, to make the taper seamless; two, wire and position branches to get the design closer to something that looks tree-like; and three, see if I can correct the biggest issue this tree came with.




Here’s the issue that third chore is designed to start correcting. Back in July, when I first tackled this guy, the total lack of foliar depth made for a very difficult bonsai subject. There just wasn’t any way to make it look like a balanced specimen (I’m not a windswept fan to begin with, and I didn’t think this tree had any business being one).

Now I’ve got a tiny shoot that co-exists in the spot where the low branch emerges from the trunk. It naturally wants to go toward the back, so I’ll take advantage of that.

This view shows the tree after I carved off some of that dead wood near the leader. Notice how smoothly the trunk line now continues on up into the apex. Two things are at work here: one, the leader is a lot thicker now and looks much more natural; and two, by carving down that stub in the transition point I was able to literally create a smoothly tapering trunk line all the way into what will ultimately be the crown of the tree.


Here I’ve positioned that low shoot into the back of the tree. It’s a start on some visual depth.

The last chore for today was to trim back the branches in the lower part of the tree (with less trimming on that left-hand branch near the transition – it needs more thickening). I didn’t touch the leader. Next spring I’ll prune it back to a couple of nodes and continue the crown-building process. Given the growth rate of this species, I’m betting I can finish out the crown by Summer 2021 and have this ugly duckling in a bonsai pot!

I’d love to hear what you think of this tree.