We’re “enjoying” our second rainy day in a row. As bad as this might sound, there is some positive to it. If I had to pick the ideal conditions for collecting trees during late fall/winter it would be cool but not cold temperatures and a light drizzle. With these conditions, I know any tree I collect is not going to be moving sap. This almost guarantees I won’t lose the tree from drying out through a chop point. I also know the root zone is going to be moist if not outright wet. The soil is easier to penetrate, and once the tree is lifted the roots are not going to dry out before I can water them. So the bottom line is, though I may not be as comfortable as I’d like the trees will be much more so during their transition from the ground to my benches.

blackgum12-4-16-1Blackgum, aka Tupelo, aka Black Tupelo, aka Pepperidge (Nyssa sylvatica) is a primary tree that can reach heights up to 100 feet. It has a very broad range, from the Deep South all the way to Ontario, Canada. It features furrowed bark similar to Sweetgum, elliptical or oblong leaves that turn a fiery red even way down here, and blue-black berries. Blackgum belongs to the Dogwood family, Cornaceae.

I’ve been wanting to grow Blackgum for bonsai for many years. Though we do have the cousin Swamp Tupelo down here, they aren’t easy to collect. About four years ago I got hold of a handful of seedlings so I could try my hand at the species. I potted up one, which didn’t survive its first winter, and planted out the others in order to thicken them up. At this point in time, I have two left. So the challenge is pretty obvious.

Today I decided to push the envelope again, and lift one of these specimens. Why not? We learn by doing.

blackgum12-4-16-2Here’s the tree after it was lifted and the roots washed. The growth has been excellent. The trunk base is 2.5″ just above the root crown, and I chopped it at 20″.














Now, there was no way to keep all that root base – the tree wouldn’t fit right in a bonsai pot – so I sawed away most of it.















And the final two steps: the tree is direct-potted into this unglazed Chuck Iker round; and I chopped the trunk back to make the tree about 16″ tall. I envision a final height of about 26″ or so, and the tree may actually end up being a formal upright specimen. Formal upright is possibly the most difficult style of bonsai to get right – so keep your fingers crossed for me.

Finally, I have no idea how well this is going to work. I haven’t worked with Blackgum before, though I’ve wanted to for years. I don’t know how well they take to pot culture. But I figure it’s worth a try, given the positive qualities of the species.

How about you? Have you ever grown Blackgum? I’d love to hear of any experiences out there.