Hackberry (celtis occidentalis)

I think enough work has been done with this tree to warrant it’s own post!

I purchased this tree from Bob at Kimura Nursery in Northridge. There were 3 qualities I based this pick off of that distinguished it from other trees. First was decent nebari. Basal flare was evident and the potential for a good root base could be had without dramatic work like ground layering.  Second was the graceful trunk line. There’s very subtle movement and the framework for a feminine tree is there. Third was plenty of branch options. Although this is not as critical as we can use grafting to add or improve branch placement, it minimizes the amount of work I’d have to do to create a nice tree. With these 3 criteria strongly met and a good price to boot, it came home with me.

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The first task in order was to do a trunk chop and some branch selection. The goal is to do pruning without wasting or expending too much of the tree’s energy. With this in mind the big cuts are done in winter. At this time a lot of sugars and carbohydrates are stored in the roots, not so much in the branches. Should you remove large branches after budbreak in the spring the tree has already expended energy to produce leaves on a part you decided to cut off.

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By the same logic when you do root pruning and work, it should be done after the sugars have moved up towards the branches. Typically repotting is done when buds start swelling. But because I live in Southern California with a mild winter and long growing season and that a sizable part of the tree was chopped off (this means there are less branches and buds the roots will need to feed) I went ahead and did my rootwork the same day. Generally speaking it is more advisable to do heavy rootwork at the right time and had the tree been unhealthy, I could of killed it.

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Roots were combed out to a nice radial spread and any heavy taproots were cut. Next the base of the tree was screwed to a wooden board. This is to prevent downward root growth and encourage lateral root development. This will allow the surface roots to thick and create a nice flaring nebari you’ll see on a mature and older tree.

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The tree was potted up in a wooden grow box. About 3 weeks later (time is purely arbitrary based off my free time) I wired the tree and did thread grafts. No progress shots here unfortunately but basic wiring can be done before bud break. It’s easy to work around the branches without breaking new leaves. In thread grafting they have to be done prior to bud break. Since you are threading the branch through a hole in the tree any protrusions like new leaves would be broken off.

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The tree is growing well and will be allowed to grow freely for the next few weeks. Over the course of the growing season I will be repeatedly growing out, wiring, and cutting branches to build the structure. By the end of the growing season a basic structure with primary branches should be set. The shoot on the top will be allowed to grow as the leader which will eventually form the next segment of the trunk. The lowest shoots on the tree will be left to run freely as well. This will help thicken the base and introduce taper into the tree. All in all I am happy with the progress so far. The quality of this material is very good and it has high potential to become an excellent tree in the future.

7 thoughts on “Hackberry (celtis occidentalis)”

  1. So many people think that as a horticulturist, I automatically enjoy bonsai. How can they miss the artistic aspect of it? I sometimes try to explain that it is as much an art as it is horticulture. Sometimes, it seems to be more of one or the other. The difficulty that I have with it is that I enjoy the horticultural aspect of it much more than the artistic. I can enjoy growing bonsai stock for the bonsai artists, but that is about as far as I go.
    I happened to see this tree growing wild in Oklahoma. It was more interesting than the exotic ones in landscapes here.

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    1. They go hand in hand for sure. One without the other isn’t bonsai. Personally I enjoy all aspects of it. Health and horticulture is always first though and art second. Haven’t seen any of these in landscape down in socal.

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