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.

Hibari Elm

In late 2016 I purchased a large variegated elm at a steal of a price. Within the thick canopy hid a region of significant inverse taper. Perhaps problematic but I immediately recognized the potential as a layer candidate. As a weaker ulmus parvifolia cultivar you don’t too many of em that has grown this big especially with such dramatic taper.

(missing progression pictures added)

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Can you see it in there?

Here’s a closer shot:

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My best find to date

The large mid trunk bulge was likely produced through many years of pruning at the same node site. You can actually see a few old pruning scars on the trunk. At the time of acquisition it was mid summer in Southern California. Our growing season extends all the way to September giving me more than enough time to begin an air layer.

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Cambium thoroughly removed with concave cutters

A common reason why airlayers fail is due to remaining cambium on the girdle. The brown exterior is the cambium while the immediate layers of wood underneath it is the xylem. When creating a girdle you forcibly prevent sugars in the cambium from returning to the roots. At the same time the wood underneath can still supply water and nutrients to the tree. Sugars and hormones build up at the cut site which over time generate new roots. If you mistakenly leave a strip of cambium the tree will actually heal or “bridge over” preventing the formation of roots. Airlayers always should be started after the leaves flush out and harden and take anywhere from 3 weeks to a year depending on species, age of wood, as well as the size of layer.

I neglected to take full progression shots but my layer medium is chopped spagnum and fine pumice. Chopping the spagnum in very small bits is important. It makes it a lot easier to remove the old spagnum in future repottings.

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Here is the tree in fall. Another desirable feature of the hibari elm is the fall color. I’ve consistently seen the weaker variegated varieties producing nice fall color while their hearty landscape counter parts turn green to brown. It’s possibly the smaller amount of chlorophyll present in the leaves allow fall colors to emerge better.

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The winter image. At this point I have not cut anything back. The more branches and growth I leave on the tree the faster it will grow new roots at the girdle site.

The layer was severed around May if I recall right. It took around 6 months to complete this layer. Another important note is that unless you live in a mild climate like me with no freezes do not layer if it won’t be finished before winter. Freezes will kill the new fleshy roots forcing you start over in the spring.

The tree was transplanted into a pond basket and had several primary branches cut back. It grew very well and was exceeding healthy in the spring.

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Unfortunately this summer I was unable to personally care for my trees when I moved near Chicago for work. From a watering issue, disease, or pest the tree dropped all of its leaves mid summer. Fortunately it rebounded back but I did lose some low primary branches.

I repotted the tree recently and was happy to find a lot of roots. I did some minor cleaning but did minimal pruning.


I screwed the tree to a piece of plywood prior to repotting. This encourages the tree to focus on lateral root growth producing a better nebari. Ideally I would want to clean the roots completely and put them flush against the board but given its weak state I do not want to risk the tree dying. As an older piece of material with high potential to be an excellent tree in the future health is the main concern.


Decent mat of roots. Black regions are actually some dead roots which correspond to the branches that died.


Some of the main trunk has died back but there is plenty enough green for new buds to rebuild lower branches from.


Repotted and rigged to my water system. Underneath the wooden board I used almost entirely 3/8ths lava. On the sides and top I used my standard bonsai mix with a little bark added. My soil is one part lava, one part pumice, and one part diatomaceous earth. I’d like to cut back but the tree is not strong enough. I will allow it to grow relatively unrestricted to rebuild strength before significant work.

Assuming a strong growing season next year I’ll really work the roots and begin building the nebari. There are actually many usable surface roots that in time will build the base of the tree.

On a different note I still have the lower half and will be using it to grow cuttings. Later this year I’ll he selling cuttings from the hibari elm and possibly other nice hard to find varieties. Be on the lookout.

Julian

Root Over Rock Chinese Elm Update

Happy New Years folks. Here’s the last project for the year. It’s a root over rock chinese elm I grown from seed. I thought I’d share more of it’s history before I describe the work I’ve done to it.

The tree began as a doner seedling from a mature elm tree in my neighbors yard. It grew freely for 1-2 years before I decided to dig it out. I gave it an additional season to grow in a pot and doubled the size.

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mother tree
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Identically aged elm but never dug out

It spend the entire growing season in the ground with the roots firmly braced with seram wrap and external anchors. Here is the tree from roughly 1 year ago:

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Neglected to take progression shots, but here is the tree prior to wrapping the roots

I dug it out today, slightly early but mind you chinese elms in Southern California leaf out in late January to early February. For most trees it would be ill advised to do heavy root work and pruning in early winter but given the vigor of elms as well as the mild socal temps I can get away with it. Given it grew freely in the ground it has more than enough stored sugars to recover.

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Leaders cut and some roots removed

I took off all the seram wrap and checked all the roots. I did some reduction and cut off the 4 foot leaders from the trunk. Everything was reanchored with wires tying down any major root to the rock.

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The intended front of the tree. The large root in the front may be split later but for now I’m leaving it alone as it’s one of the main anchor roots
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Union is not too bad but rock can still be pulled off roots
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Grew like gangbusters on the other side. Some reduction done here to expose more of the rock

I organized the roots evening the spread and cut back to where I could get some division or ramification. The nebari will need further refinement over the years but I need to wait until it’s firmly attached to the rock before additional work.

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Repotted, with the roots slightly exposed. Every year I will plant the tree a bit higher showing more of the nebari and rock

My intention with this planting is to have exposed roots hanging off the left side of the stone. Next year this should be achievable and will make for a interesting tree with character. I’ll begin primary branch development this season as well. Hope you enjoy the update and have a great 2018!

Julian

Nandina Bamboo and Summer Update

Last year I dug out an old nandina bamboo from a home undergoing construction. Nandina are seldom seen as bonsai. Trifoliate leaves and small trunks leave little to be desired. Atypical of most nandinas this specimen boasted thick corky bark and a sizable trunk. The reliable display of fall color in a Mediterranean climate SoCal was icing on the cake.

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Earlier in the year I brought the tree to a Will Baddeley workshop seen here. Over the summer the tree has grown extremely well. I thinned out unnecessary shoots only leaving ones to be developed as future primary branching. Branching is difficult to develop on nandinas due to their growth habit and trifoliate leaves.

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New growth is sent out as a stalk with leaf petioles wrapped around it. Internodes can easily run long here so I would not fertilize until growth has hardened. This stalk eventually lignifies and in time looks branch like.

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Trifoliate pattern of new growth

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I’m experimenting with branch development on this tree. My plan is to remove any lateral growth and base shoots and allow the stalks to grow out at least for 1-2 years. Without consistent pruning the tree will not prioritize branch growth and will continue to throw out new foliage near the base of all the shoots.

Before it completely lignifies I will cut it back and new growth should emerge from the petiole stubs. Updates to come in the future so subscribe to see it firsthand.

Interestingly this tree began throwing out a lot of mushrooms on the soil line. This is indicative of good soil and root health. When digging out the tree the root mass had a lot of mycelium so I can only assume these are the fruiting bodies from it. I took some macro photos of them you may find interesting:

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Summer has come to a close and autumn is upon us. I spent most of it by Chicago where I worked at Argonne National Lab. In that span I was afforded many professional opportunities, making great friends at it too. But more than just a job, working there presented me with an invaluable opportunity to reach out to the bonsai community. Living only 4 miles from the Hidden Gardens I commuted there by bike whenever I had the chance. Doing so enabled me to meet Jeff and talk to Owen providing me with insight and a sounding board for my professional bonsai ambitions.

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Hand carved Ben Oki repotting stick, parting gift from Jeff

Planning for the future is daunting and even more so intimidating with an “unconventional” career path in bonsai. I graduate in a year and will finish up my degree at UCR. In this time span I intend to find a foreign apprenticeship I can pursue after graduation. Bonsai means a lot to me. More than anything I just want to find a sustainable way so that I can practice and pursue this art for many years to come.

I will document my efforts on this blog in hopes that I’ll not only garner support but to provide something interesting for you to follow.

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My family cat, Sammy, recently passed away. At the age of 16 he’s been with me for over three quarters of my life. Although you can say he’s just a cat, it feels strange without him around and I miss him very much. It feels as if his passing marks the end of one stage of my life. I will respectfully move on and look ahead to the future.

 

Thanks for reading, Julian.

On a side note I have been getting into photography and now include a gallery section on my blog. Please check it out for high quality photographs.

 

Large Coast Live Oak and Labor Extortion at Kimura Nursery

I was recently offered a spot in a Will Baddeley workshop. Bob informed me that some space was open and in lieu of the workshop fee I could also trade in work. I didn’t have $200, but with the onset of spring break I did have time. With a few trees that could use carving as well as an opportunity to meet more members of the bonsai community I gladly accepted. I spent the last few days working at his nursery doing anything asked of me. If I could sum up the 15 or so hours of work in one word–deweeding.

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In seriousness it was good to spend some time outside and I enjoyed talking to Audrey and Bob. I will be attending the Sunday April 16th workshop and look forward to meeting those there.

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Great weather on the days I came

 

Updated picture, see rest of post for progression!

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Anyhow on to the tree. Winter of 2015 I picked up a large coast live oak from Barry Altshule. I visited his home and was able to get first pick before he brought the trees to that year’s GSBF Convention. It had good character, gnarly deadwood, and decent taper. All in all it looked like an interesting tree and I picked it up.

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As seen in the picture, the whole front of the tree died off at some point. The heath of the tree as purchased wasn’t the best either and lacked a lot of foliage. .This was caused by borers of which were still in the tree! In the successive growing season I had to treat the tree with a systemic as well as physically removing the borers and treating the points of entry. After a year and a half of strong growth I can confidently say that the borers are gone and the tree is healthy.

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Tons of character on the wood. These trees were collected and the slow growth with subsequent weathering produced gorgeous deadwood.

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There was also significant dieback at the top of the tree as seen by the “L” shaped line. Despite the tree’s character and nice deadwood there were many design challenges. For one the tree lacked good primary branching not to mention the awkward transition to the apex as well as random bulges on the back. The tree was fed well to prepare for the major repotting.

Oaks being a semi-evergreen tree hold their leaves year round. This makes repotting difficult and many have reported losing their trees post repot. I was advised to defoliate the tree prior to repotting as to avoid transpiration loss and presumably a weak or dead tree.

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The tree responded well and leafed out 1-2 weeks later. The top chop would be carved and and some preliminary wiring was done. In retrospect I should have cut back the front branch at this time to get better budding closer to the tree. But given that it was weak and had borers I feared the front of the tree dying and losing the bridge of live tissue between the top cut and the main deadwood.

Anyhow here is the tree several months later having pruned unnecessary branching as well as wiring some primary branching in place. As far as cut-backs for oaks the best time is mid-late winter right before the buds start swelling, and right after peak summer temperatures when (at least for coast live oaks) begin a second strong flush.

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Spring 2016

I missed the window to do cut backs on the larger primary branches due to my concerns of dieback. Due to my impatience I cut back the front branch with poor timing. It did throw out one tiny bud, but it was burned up in the heat. Fortunately I was able to get some side primary branching going.

Here is a shot of the branch structure developed at this time:

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Late spring 2016

With several months of strong growth primary branches thickened substantially.

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Summer 2016

From my brief experience, coast live oaks develop SUPER fast in Socal. All the branching in this photo was developed from scratch.

At this point development was done for the year and I fed the tree aggressively to prepare for the big cut-backs to be done

I cut the tree back some time in late January. Just before the tree starts sending up sugars so food would not be allocated to branches that would be thrown away.

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Exposed

A few weeks later

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Fast forward nearly 2 months later it it became a head of green.

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Yes leaves and outer nodes are monstrous, but the node length for the first few pairs are short and usable. I tried out these dried hard balls of composted chicken poo and turns out they had much more nitrogen than I anticipated. Thankfully it was slow release so my initial growth didn’t come out with poor internodal length.

Unfortunately I did not get buds directly on the big branches I cut back. I did however get plenty of buds near it and opted to approach graft branching in place. My top side branch was removed entirely and will allow an adjacent shoot to fill in the space.

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It’s a bit chaotic but I will be allowing the new growth to grow unrestricted until late summer when I do the cut backs. This will help me thicken my primary branches and give strong back budding when I do the cuts.

On the tree I did a total of 3 approach grafts. One in the front and 2 in the back. Unfortunately the front stub is dead but the cambium behind it bridging the gap between the top chop and front deadwood is alive and strong. Meaning graftable.

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Cut is probably too deep

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Few dormant buds on my branch that should wake up after cut backs

Not the cleanest grafts but I have confidence in them. As long the cambium underneath is alive and strong the branch should eventually fuse as it thickens up. Least I’m counting on it.

Here is the finished tree post spring styling. Extensions will be cut back and after a year the basic form of the tree will be set! Hard to believe it has developed this much in under 2 years. It’s hard to see the form with all the leaves but I will post an update when I do my cut back later this year.

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Syringe is for the tree, not me

A quick before and after showcasing the current progress:

Thanks for taking a look and I hope you’ve the read. Feel to leave me any comments. Have a great day! 🙂

 

Here is a more updated picture of the tree from April:

It is healthy and developing well.

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Fall 2017:

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Small Coast Live Oak

 

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Oak trees are characteristic of California. Abundant and easily found, they decorate the landscape from the highway shoulder to the beautiful canyons and hills. They’re long lived and stand with powerful trunks–it’s that same heft that weighs down their branches giving them qualities unique to themselves.

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Yet despite their seemingly rough appearance the grey bark and dense evergreen foliage lends some grace collectively producing an elegant, proud tree.

As a native tree they excel in my hot Mediterranean climate. Fed well and allowed to grow freely, it will even rival a trident maple in growth. Their foliage is easily reducible and branching can be highly ramified. Definitely one of my favorite trees, both in landscape and bonsai cultivation.

In 2015 I acquired a small coast live oak from Bob Pressler’s nursery (Kimura Nursery). It sat in a small nursery can and was nearly 5 feet tall. Although lacking good branching it had a nice trunk and rough grey barking.

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The tree was fed aggressively to prepare for the repotting and work to come in the following winter. At late winter/early spring I picked a line to do my trunk chop and cut away. Primary branches were left uncut so that they could undergo more thickening before developing secondary branching.

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As for the root mass I sawed the root ball in half and worked the outside. Being lazy I did not photograph this part.

The tree was allowed to recover and by early summer showed strong growth all over the tree. I did some preliminary cutbacks and guy wired all my primary branching into place.

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Early Summer 2016

As you see in the previous photos I had pretty good budding around my chop with buds occurring right up to the cut line. These shoots would become the future leader of my tree.

The tree was again allowed to recover, this time taking much longer considering that in a single season it had undergo 2 major traumas. Oaks typically have a second flush of growth by late summer but this tree had already expended its reserves and didn’t do much.

After removing excess shoots the top leader began growing very fast. I carved the top cut to allow for a smooth transition.

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By fall the tree began thickening a lot. All the carbohydrates and sugars produced by the foliage produce new wood as well as food for next year.

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Wound on top of tree is already halfway sealed–impressive given that the cut was made in the same year

Bark on the trunk began to split as a result of the strong growth. A good indicator that the tree was healthy.

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Several weeks ago I cut back all my primary branching and top leader halfway. I still need the top leader to thicken, but had I cut all my primary branching leaving the leader unchecked the tree would abandon the lower branches and put all the energy into the top growth.

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The wires there were propping up a plastic bag over the tree. I don’t know if it helps but I tend to think that the increased heat and humidity will give me better advantageous budding. In any case, advantageous budding indeed. Every single branch is covered in tiny buds–secondary branching no problem!

I came back from the 2017 bonsai-a-thon today (a post to come later) and purchased a pot from Dick Ryerson. The pot is a round with symmetrical groves. It features a cream glaze with some “dirty-ness” in the glaze. There is a spill of red with a hint of some blue on the side. Although slightly big for my tree it will work great as a beautiful pot to carry it through next several years.

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That’s the pot right in front of me!

I decided that the tree was healthy enough for a repot and given that the root mass in the colander was a similar size to the pot I would not have to do any major root pruning. To fit the tree I cleaned out the center core of the tree slightly–mostly dead roots, organics, and some live tap roots. The edges were very lightly trimmed and the gunky soil from the top of the root ball was raked off.

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The tree was then wired in with the bottom and edges with new soil. The tree is slightly mounded but it can’t be helped as I want to avoid overly working the root mass. As I continue development I will be able to sink it lower in the next year or two.

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As an added precaution the tree was bagged and will be covered for the next week or so to preserve humidity and ensure the new growth and buds aren’t overly affected by the repotting.

This growing season will be used to create secondary branching as well as to finish thickening the apex of the tree.

Here is a live oak developed by Eric Schrader that’s an extremely realistic representation of what my tree will look like in 5 years or so. His tree was inspiration for mine and I hope that in time it will look just as good if not better 😀

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Photo taken by Eric Schrader

I know its been awhile since my last post but I’ve been incredibly busy with school and other work. I hope you find my posts interesting and if so please leave a comment! A subscription is great too

Julian

Washington Hawthorne

Last year I picked up an unmarked tree from my local bonsai nursery. It was very cheap and potted in a 4 inch square. The root spread was interesting and it had a great display of fall colors, something not so common in Southern California. All things considered I decided it would be a fun tree to pick up.

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Fall colors, nice smooth grey bark

The fall colors were equally spectacular this year. Depending on sun exposure you get anything from a deep red to a vibrant yellow and everything in between.

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Nebari Shot

I decided to plant the bugger in the ground and let it grow freely the entire season

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Spring 2016

The tree grew extremely well. I’d say even faster than my trident which was planted in the ground too. Roots established quickly and as soon as runners began the tree took off. After a full season it was at least 5 feet tall. (no shots before cutting unfortunately) The tree put on over a quarter inch of thickness and started developing fissures in the bark.

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I dug out the tree, cut off all long shoots and did a major root pruning. Dug it out and put it in a box. I think this tree has really good potential as a shohin – kifu sized bonsai with a very elegant image. The foliage reduces well and ramification can be had easily. The fall color is a great treat too. The plan is to create primary branching from (hopefully) good back-budding and perhaps allowing the roots to escape in the ground for successive stages of thickening.

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Let me know what you think. I still don’t have an image for this tree would appreciate any suggestions or virts. Thanks for taking a look and have a great day!