I’m writing about this Huckleberry, Vaccinium species, for two reasons: one, it’s a prime example of a bonsai to be that has misbehaved on its way from wild specimen to styled specimen; and two, from being lifted in Winter 2018 and direct-potted, then left to grow out through the season, in year two it has decided to bloom quite nicely.

Now, it’s worth noting that Huckleberry does not root vigorously when taken from the wild, so you have to give the tree time and good support in order to get it properly established. As with some other species, it is acid-loving. Even with frequent rain, assuming yours is slightly acidic as ours is, it helps to add soil acidifier to your feeding regimen during each growing season. It’s just good practice, and if your municipal water has a pH of 8.3 as mine has, you really don’t want to not treat from time to time if you get in a dry spell.

Here’s what I was talking about. You can see the flowers are just about to open, and there are plenty of them on the way. It remains to be seen if the tree will set fruit, but I’ll certainly keep you posted.

Now to the more serious issue with this specimen. If you’ll study the first photo for a bit, it’s apparent that the main trunk is really sparsely branched. In fact, it suffered some dieback and so really needs to be nursed along. This is one of my main goals for 2019 for this specimen. It’s also a key principle of developing bonsai. Your trees must be healthy to reach their full potential. When they don’t respond the way you expect them to, meaning sluggish growth or sparse branching, this is a problem that must be corrected before you dive into whacking on the tree. For example, it’s clear that I have to chop this trunk again. Trying to do so now, with the root system insufficiently strong, could very well damage the roots it has and possibly kill the tree altogether.

So what can be done today?

A surprising amount of work, as it turns out. When I collected this specimen, it was a twin-trunk. True to the fact that it didn’t thrive in a shallow container with little soil, the smaller trunk died. But lots of new shoots came up from the base (this is typical growth for Blueberries, which are multi-trunk bushes by nature). Today I selected the best one and wired a structure for it. Not too shabby looking.

I also wired the shoot on the main trunk closest to the top of the tree and redirected it upward. I need this shoot to grow unrestrained for a while, to thicken and thereby increase the vigor of the main trunk. I’m also in hopes that with improved vigor I’ll get more adventitious buds to sprout. I only need them from about halfway up the trunk into the apex. Then I can create a structure for the main trunk and continue the development of this Blueberry bonsai.

So to answer the original question, What do you do when your bonsai misbehave? you have to nurse them along to ensure vigor, then step by step make a design happen. Sometimes the tree gives you more to work with, sometimes you have to graft branches. The main thing is to take this process one step at a time and not get impatient. It may take years more than you originally planned, but the effort usually pays off.

One more thing: I’m also thinking that an oval pot would better suit this specimen. What do you think?