What to do with a dead tree?

I had collected what I was hoping would eventually be an awesome bonsai many moons from now. It was a beautiful Bald Cypress taken during my Swampathon 2014 post.


Long story short, it kicked the bucket.  I had hopes it would pull through but I never saw any buds when the rest of the collected trees were firing on all cylinders. I wasn’t sure why it happened and assumed it was just overstressed from collection. I felt really bad about losing it because it had a killer base with great potential.  On top of that I went in and removed it from the swamp causing its demise.  It may sound corny, but I felt bad about it.  I wanted to do something cool with it and not just throw it on the burn pile.  That would just be rude. Then a light bulb went off!

A lamp.  I could make a lamp…I think.

I went and pulled it from the container and looked it over.



I wanted to use as much of the width as possible.  I had envisioned sawing it off right above the root flare but it was just too damn wide.  It would have been too difficult to make a completely flat cut with a handsaw.



I decided to use my table saw like any self respecting Tim Taylor fan would…more power!! The blade height game me limitations on just how low I could cut it. It wasn’t ideal since I was losing a lot of the width, but it was the easiest way to do it. To be honest, a lot of planning didn’t go into this.  I just rolled with the punches.



Once I cut it, I could see it had a large interior wound most likely from some type of boring insect.  It went about 2-3 feet through the tree.  I’m not 100% sure if that was the cause of death but it sure made me feel a lot better about losing it.




Now I just need to drill out a channel through the whole trunk section to allow me to run wire through it.  The size of my bit (which I borrowed…Thanks Rick!) also limited the height of my finished lamp.  This was no problem as I wanted a small desktop size lamp anyway.




The next few pictures are pretty self explanatory. I screwed some adjustable feet on the bottom, taped the wiring to a piece of wire, and shoved it through.

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Once I had the wiring through, I connected it to a lamp kit and used gorilla glue to secure the bulb socket to the top.  I would do this a bit differently next time as it foams up and looks messy.  Since this was just a prototype I didn’t worry about it very much.  Since it would be covered by the shade I just scraped off the excess and carried on.12 13 14


We’re pretty much done at this point.  Now to just get a shade and a bulb.


Ah, there we go! I was glad I was able to save a piece of this tree as a memory of the awesome trip.


30 Day Collection Update

It has been exactly one month since I collected 3 Bald Cypress and 1 Water Elm from the shores of Lake Marion here in South Carolina (see post here http://wp.me/p3pRJl-6g). Since that was my first adventure collecting quality trees, I have been more anxious than my 3 & 5 year old on Christmas Eve.

It took about 2 weeks to see new growth on my first cypress. As I predicted, the first signs of life came from the tree with the most dense fine roots. It also happens to be my favorite with the large knee on the side so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw it pushing new buds.





You can see that most of the new shoots are near the top of the tree but the first noticeable growth was seen at the base. These trees are very apical with their growing habits so no surprise there. In another month or two I will have lots of bright green new foliage. My plan for this fine gentlemen will be a formal upright styling. The chop will be made lower and a new leader chosen next Spring. Right now I just want it to gain strength and continue recovering.

I also have some good action on the second tree with the smaller knee at the base. It produced new buds about 5 or 6 days later than the first and has been also doing very well. I have some different ideas for styling this one. The more I look at it, the more I dislike the roots on each side of the base.


The roots separate from the trunk higher up than what I like and just generally don’t appeal to me. I haven’t decided exactly what to do yet, but I will most likely do some carving at the base to fix the roots. Maybe a small cave like opening or something….we’ll see. I have a lot of time to decide and I still haven’t decided on the front.

Well…unfortunately…the third tree is most likely dead. Maybe not completely dead yet, but the lack of new foliage doesn’t give me any hope.


It’s a damn shame too because I love the killer base of this tree/dead stump.  I will continue to care for it for another month or so and keep my fingers crossed. It was chopped and worked in the same manner as the other two so my only guess is that the tree didn’t have as much initial strength built up as the others. You win some and you lose some. I still have a cool idea for the dead trunk though. It involves a saw, shellac, lamp parts, and a nice ambiance. Pics to come if that happens.

The Water Elm is doing extremely well and showed growth as early as the first cypress. One note on the water elm, it isn’t actually an elm but a close relative.  Everybody just calls it a water elm because somebody decided to do that….who am I to argue?

I wasn’t expecting it to do as well as it has considering the condition of the roots when I got it home. It proves to be a tough species that I wish I had more of. If I had room, I would head back and collect a few more. Everything I have now will be packed in a U-Haul for a move to Indiana this November so I have to be pretty selective.




I plan to chop this guy again as well next Spring to a leader about half way up the tree. I really like the movement to the left and will continue building my tree in that direction and developing taper. Give it about 5 years and this tree will be a real looker.

I also received a beautiful Arakawa Maple from Martin Sweeney a couple of weeks ago. I may make a small post about it in a couple of weeks to brag about how awesome I think it is.

Swampathon 2014

So I decided to take a day off work and go snatch some awesome trees.  Any day off work is a good day, right?  I was lucky enough to have a friend give me access to some of their property bordering a freshwater lake here in South Carolina.  I decided today was the day and off I went.

Anytime you are planning to do a lot of repotting, collecting, styling, etc., it’s always a good idea to prepare your tools or whatever else you may need or use in advance.  Yesterday evening I went out to pick up some large containers because I knew I would need some much larger than what I already had.  I came home with these mortar mixing containers from Lowes.  They were only $5 and were 20x26x6 inches which are perfect for collecting larger trees.  I would have liked something a bit deeper but hey, you can’t win them all.


Since I want to plant my trees in these guys, I have to drill plenty of holes for drainage and cover them up with some plastic canvas.  You can pick this up really cheap too.  I buy it in sheets and can cut them to whatever size I need.



Unfortunately, I only have one picture of the swamp or the digging process.  I was afraid to take my phone out and drop it.  You can see the conditions I was digging in…knee high water with nothing except bugs and trees but it was beautiful out there and very peaceful.


Once you have picked out your tree, getting it out of the ground is extremely easy compared to other trees in solid ground.  A circle around the tree with a hand saw and you’re ready to haul it out in 5 minutes. 

I picked out 3 Bald Cypress and 1 Water Elm.  I bagged them up and threw them in the truck.


Keeping them in the cab gave them the best chance to survive.  Since I had to drive over an hour on the interstate, the wind and heat could have stressed them out too much.  Better to be safe than sorry!

I got home and set them out in the driveway to admire my haul.  I was hot, sweaty, and worn out, but I had a lot of work ahead of me. 


I started with the Water Elm and it went pretty quickly.  This tree has great movement and pretty good taper halfway up the tree.  I left it much longer than my final design calls for.  Sometimes your tree will die back from the chop so I want to give it plenty of room.  I also needed the extra room to secure a screw to the tree and pot to help hold it upright.  The screw won’t hurt the tree at all and will be in an area that will be removed later on.  I could have wired it in to the container but it would have taken a hell of a lot more wire and a lot more time.  This way took less than 5 minutes.




Once I had my elm all potted up and watered, I started on my Bald Cypress.  The process is the same for all of them so I don’t have a lot of progress pics on each tree.  The flare on the base of these trees is why they are so loved for bonsai.  They backbud like wildfire and are pretty tough.  The three I chose had very large bases and good taper.  They are also very tall but will likely stay that way.  I may end up taking off a bit more later on with a tapered cut, but I can’t remove too much more or the ratio will start to look all funky and I will lose my taper.  Anyway, on to the trees!

The first one is an average well aged tree.


The second one has a very small knee formed on the left side in this picture.  Knees are highly desirable and a unique feature.  They only form on older, mature trees and are the only tree I know of to form this growth.


The third one, and my favorite one, has a huge knee on the side.  This tree will be a real showstopper in a few years.  Not only was it the best looking tree, it also had the healthiest fine rooting of any of the ones I collected.  The top 2-3 inches were all very fine roots.  I was shocked to see these were all roots and not just caked mud around the top of the root ball.  It should bounce back very quickly with these fine feeder roots.  It will take a few years to get rooting anywhere near this good on the other 2 I collected.





Once I started getting them in pots, I was so glad I hoarded up all the soil components I could find earlier this year.  I went through 3 totes of pine bark, turface, and pumice!  You can see in the group shot below that I even had to resort to using the sifted fines I had for saved for starting seeds.  I was getting nervous that I would run out but I barely had enough to finish.



I will update on these guys in about a month or two and see how well they have responded.

Chinese Elm Update and Styling

I decided to work on my Chinese Elm today. After looking at it during my update post last week, I had to get my hands dirty. It has been growing like a weed and put on a lot of leggy growth this year. It has been in training for some time, but I dont know a lot of the specifics on the tree’s background.

You can see my first post about it here: http://wp.me/p3pRJl-4

Here it is today. The beer is for scale…kinda. It’s mighty hot here in Beaufort. You can see that it is very healthy and vigorous despite a repot at the beginning of the year. Since I didn’t do a real root trim and only removed a couple of the thick roots, it still had plenty of energy to blow up this year.


I decided to defoliate this tree for a couple of reasons. First, defoliating helps to induce new growth and create more ramification. Second, it’s hard to wire with the foliage on the branches. I could have waited to style it in the fall, but I wanted to take advantage of the tree’s current energy.


Ah! I'm nekkid!

Here’s a quick shot of the base.


There were several branches that had died back that I had to remove. I also removed a few of the longer thicker branches so they can even up as the tree matures. Another consideration is to match your styling to mature trees. Lower branches are thicker than upper branches in mature trees so you need to style your tree accordingly. To do this, trim your apical branches shorter and leave lower ones longer to thicken.


I stopped here to reevaluate and could easily tell that I needed to remove more.  You can see that my uppermost left branch is almost as thick as the lower left branch. The proportion would be way off in another 5 years. I will end up taking quite a bit off but I feel it is necessary when considering bonsai is a long term plan.


This was my final product after more trimming and wiring some of the final branches I want to keep. You can see the bulk of my tree will be on the left side of the trunk. I brought one of my upper right branches down to try to even out the tree and get some branching on the right to even it up. The wiring isn’t perfect, but I’m still learning and practicing. I’ll feed heavily and give another update towards the end of the year when the new growth hardens off.

Stay tuned!

Summer Update

I haven’t been very active with this blog so I thought it was time for an update. Most of my trees are in the growing out stages anyway so there isn’t a whole lot going on right now. I’m watering twice a day already due to the heat and wind here. I also fertilize every Sunday as well as add some fresh osmocote at the beginning of each month. I get plenty of good sunshine and the trees do the rest!

Here is my Japanese Maple that I chopped fall and repotted early this Spring. It’s firing on all cylinders and throwing out a lot of new branches that will be great for grafts and cuttings next Spring.



Pretty big difference from just a few short months ago, huh?


Next up is a large Procumbens Juniper that I picked up from a box nursery last fall. I reduced a lot of foliage in small increments through the fall and winter. I also repotted it this Spring which was a bit risky,  but luckily, it is doing quite well considering how much I have worked it in that short amount of time.


The deadwood will be carved at some point (when I learn how to do it). I will wire it next year and try to build an apex not much taller than what it is now. I see it filling in and looking decent in a few years.

Here’s a Chinese Elm I picked up from a friend on Bonsai Nut last year. It was slow early this Spring and exploded with growth in the last month or so.


I am satisfied with the trunk and will wire it this fall and start building some ramification with the branching.

I’m probably most excited about the Japanese Black Pine seedlings I started this year. This is my first time working with pines so I wanted to start from scratch and learn the basics before I acquire a more mature tree. I started with 40 seeds and had about 30 sprouts. I learned my lesson about maintaining proper moisture levels and lost most of them due to damping off. Next time I will be sure to use a fungal preventative from the start. These 7 survived and I am experimenting with the seedling cutting technique. I cut them back in mid May and have just now noticed the new growth in the center of the seedlings. Looks like I didn’t screw up too much (so far).


I have a few other projects going on but not much to show off right now. Look for an update later this month. I have a Bald Cypress dig planned with a friend on the 12th. I’m super excited and will post some pics to brag about what I come back with! Stay tuned!

Air Layering With Another Bald Cypress

Another nice Saturday means that I am finding something I can do with my trees in training.  That can be a good thing if the attention is applied properly.  Too much fidgeting with the trees themselves can be a negative thing. Remember, they grow nice and healthy completely by themselves in nature.  We can have a lot of input on how they grow and progress, but just remember to apply that in the right way.


You may recognize the one on the left from my post when I prepped it for an upcoming raft. (Raft post – http://wp.me/p3pRJl-2f)

I should preface this with my knowledge that the Bald Cypress is an extremely tough tree and can take a lot of punishment.  Other species of trees need an entire growing season, sometimes two, before doing more significant work like this.  You need to know what you are working with and plan accordingly.  I know that has been mentioned in my previous posts, but it is worth repeating.

I decided that since the tree is obviously very healthy and responding well to the recent work and heavy feeding, I could go ahead and prep the top to be removed later this year by air layering.  Air layering is a simple (relatively) process to propagate new material from existing material.  You can apply the technique for many reasons, but for me, I just want an extra tree and my future plans for the bottom half (raft) doesn’t include the top.

First step is to gather your materials.  This seems like a simple idea, but it rather important. Once you start working on your tree, you don’t want to scramble around finding what you need.  Have it all handy so you can work quickly and limit the stress on your tree. I have pictured below everything I used for this process.  I am using my soil mixture of turface, pumice, and pine bark in equal parts.  I have already prepared the small plastic pot by cutting a hole in the bottom, making a single cut from the top rim to the bottom hole I cut, and drilling two holes on each side of the slit.  The small jar is rooting hormone in powder form. The two small wires are used to hold the pot together and the grafting knife was used to prep the tree.  I also used a small piece of Vet Wrap under my pot, but I forgot to get it in the family photo. Last but least was my speaker for tunes.  Metal and the heaviest of sorts.

Bear with me, if you are not familiar with this technique, it will make sense in a few minutes.


Select where you want to layer your tree.  I chose the area right around the center of the picture where you can see three small nubs where small branches were growing.  This area has subtle movement that will become exaggerated as the tree grows larger.  You can also notice that the tree begins to taper off into a smaller diameter as you go up the trunk.  Air layering is a great tool that allows you to create a larger tree instead of starting from seed or a much smaller seedling.  


We are skipping forward a bit with the pictures, but it is a bit difficult to do the work and take pictures at the same time.  I need to grow a new hand or ask the boys to give me hand.  They would rather play in the mud and chase bugs.  I can’t fault them for that.  You need to make two deep cuts completely around the tree.  Don’t be shy with the cuts as you need to go through the bark, cambium, and into the hardwood.  Make sure the knife is very sharp and you are precise, especially with the top.  If your cuts are not clean the roots will not develop as easily.  Once you make your circular cuts, remove all the bark and cambium in between.  The distance between the bark is about 2-3″.  If you don’t remove enough or don’t go deep enough, the tree can heal over and won’t push roots.



I just dumped some hormone powder in a plastic tub and added some water to create a paste.  This is simply to make it adhere to the tree better.  If you just dust it on the tree, it can wash off after watering the tree a few times.  A good consistency is similar to glue.  If you decide to use the gel hormone, you can skip this step as it is thicker.


Smear it on heavily.  There is actually a bit more on there than this picture shows.


Again, I skip ahead a bit here.  That third arm never grew.  Spread the pot out and wrap it around the tree.  I used the piece of Vet Wrap directly below the base of the pot to keep it from falling down.  Thread your wire through the holes you drill and close the pot.  Once it is tightly closed, fill your pot with soil.  Water it very well and make sure to keep it moist.  This soil is fast draining so I water at least twice a day to make sure it is damp.  In a few months, I should see roots poking through the holes in the bottom of the pot.  Once I see that, I will probably wait a couple more weeks to make sure there are plenty of roots to support the top of the tree when it is removed.  Pot your new tree and enjoy your scientific material.  


I will update with a new post once I open it up and repot the top.  My plans are to use this new top as a part of forest planting.  The other tree pictured in my first photo will endure this same process so I will have a total of 3 trees.  Wish me luck!

Nursery Japanese Maple

I saw this tree a few months ago in the above condition. It had an awesome base and a pretty decent price tag so I picked it up. I couldn’t wait for warmer weather to come around so I could work on it. As far as raw nursery stock, this guy has the best potential of any in my small collection. The base is the most important feature in bonsai and this type of base on a Japanese Maple is rare for your average nursery.

I initially started with a chop (a significant reduction in trunk height/length) during the dormant winter season. (Micah is making a guest appearance in his PJs for this post.)

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I had stopped here and had planned to keep all 4 of these trunks to rebuild my canopy. After I chopped it, I realized that the damage on the back side wasn’t just superficial, and wouldn’t likely heal over since most of the rear trunks were dead.


I decided it would be better to completely remove them and go with a twin-trunk design.


Fast forward to yesterday and after a lot of staring and chin rubbing, I decided that when I repotted the tree, I would have to remove that lateral root on the right side. It is elevated from the soil line and just doesn’t fit. There is also a smaller root directly below the problematic one that will fatten up nicely in a few years and fill up the gap left by removing the one in question.

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I have a hard time throwing anything away so I decided to try a little experiment with this root. It had smaller roots going into the rootball so…..


This might turn into a cool little tree just to play with. It might also die. Oh well…I just couldn’t throw it out when I had a perfectly good mac and cheese bowl (thanks to my boys) to put it in. Anyhoo, back to the tree.

The rootball was more like a concrete block than roots. They were completely compacted. About 2 hours later, I finally made it to this point:

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It was an insane amount of work getting the roots reduced down to this point. Think I’m exaggerating?


Those are carbon steel knob cutters. Or I should say they were. I removed A LOT of thick and hardened roots. It will take a year or two for this tree to fully recover from that much being removed. It is better to just get it out of the way now instead of dealing with it a little at a time. Maples are pretty tough and it should be fine. If it were a pine, it would be a 5 year project to get to this point.


I placed a flat piece of wood in my grow box to pot the tree on top of. This will prevent any roots from growing downward and will encourage lateral growth.


I removed the Oil Dri mixture from my soil blend because it tends to break down too fast. This is potted in equal parts pumice, turface, and pine bark fines. Hopefully, I will have many fresh shoots to wire at the end of the growing season!