A Little Bit of Cypress in the Sun

Ironically enough, I titled this post forgetting that I actually did most of the work at night. When the temperature often hits 95 F (35 C) by 10:30 in the morning, one tends to do these things. Sorry for some of the photos in advance.

Today I’m going to walk through some of the work I did on a cypress I’ve had for about 4 years now.

It’s been through its fair share of trauma. When I first got it, I did a trunk chop right above the base. I did it because that’s what people told me I should do. I didn’t know enough to say otherwise. The year after, however, I had gotten enough of seeking advice before every choice I made. I decided to just mess around and see what would happen.

I proceeded to blowtorch the same area I had cut just a year before. I don’t know why I did, I just know that I did.

Much to my surprise (and excitement), not only did the tree survive, but pushed more growth than ever the next year. Obviously, the only conclusion I can draw from this is that, like a brush fire clearing old growth to make room for the new, torching your trees is beneficial for their health, and you should immediately set every tree in your collection alight.

Because this is the internet, I feel I must reluctantly point out that my previous statement was, in fact, a lie. My tree did really put out more growth than ever, but this is likely due to it finally recovering from the past two years of torture. Stored energy and whatnot. If there is anything to be learned from this at all, it’s that trees are much hardier than we often give them credit for.

Please don’t torch your trees unless you’re a professional.

Anyways, on to the meat of it.

I bought this tree from a nursery solely because of the buttress roots. I quite like them, and two of the largest even have some exposed deadwood.

The tree had been in a nursery pot for the entirety of my time with it, and it’s finally time for a repot to begin training it.

Before anyone calls me out for doing a repot so “late” in the year, let me make two things perfectly clear.

First, I am a student, on a students schedule. I will continue to be a student for many years and (hopefully) multiple degrees. Getting a degree in any major is a long and arduous process, and (I think most will agree) a physics major is even more so than most. As much as I adore my trees, school comes first. You may disagree, but that’s your opinion, not mine, and this is how I choose to do my bonsai, not how you choose to do yours.

Second, I live in Florida. The normal rules just don’t apply here like they do everywhere else. It’s not uncommon for our growing season to extend from the last third of February to the tail end of October.

That’s why it’s okay for me to do something like this:

I also took the time to wash off a good portion of the potting soil it was being kept in.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you potting soil isn’t good for anything. Nursery pots are big, and quality bonsai soil is expensive. I find 1 part perlite to 2 parts potting soil a good mix for trees in really hefty nursery pots.

After the root work, I was left with this:

Now it’s time for some pruning. Some people will tell you that you should do all the cutting, styling, and refinement before doing any rootwork, as any unnecessary motion will hurt the roots. You (and I) should listen to those people. I just forgot. What’s done is done.

Here’s some shots of the tree without the pot in the way.

I love the red in the bark. Anyone who tells you cypress aren’t gorgeous is a dirty rotten liar.

As you can see, I had no shortage of material to work with.

I got to work thinning out to better see the shape of the tree. Getting rid of branches I thought were too long on the trunk, reducing to one branch when multiple came from the same spot, general high level stuff like that. I did, however, leave a generous amount of material, including anything I was remotely unsure about removing. A mistake I have often made, and will surely continue to make, is to remove material earlier on, only to wish I hadn’t later on down the road.

Here’s an example of some easy material to remove. These branches here are just too close to the crotch of where this trunk splits.

Now that I’d thinned things out, it was time to decide what I wanted to do about the height of the tree. Currently, it was just too tall for my liking, and so the decision to cut must be made.

After much deliberation, I decided on here:

You’ll notice I left some room above the top branches. I did this solely for aesthetic purposes; I intend to carve the tops of the trees into a point as deadwood.

At this point, it was about 1 a.m., time to call it a night. I took some soil mix and potted it up and watered it, so the roots wouldn’t be exposed all night.

I picked up here the next morning, thankfully with better lighting and a nicer background.

Fun fact: my white background is actually the underside of a decommissioned battlebot arena.

Anyways, the next thing I did was mix up some proper soil to replace what was thrown on the night before. Currently, I was using American Bonsai’s Supermix. It’s a fantastic soil, and I highly recommend it. For a cypress though, I like a bit more water retention. For that, there’s nothing like diatomaceous earth. As long as you’re willing to rinse out the dust.

Here’s the tray I made specifically to rinse out soil. Cost me all of 3 dollars.

When rinsing DE, wash it until the water is clear, and then twice more for good measure. The amount of dust in this stuff cannot be understated.

Once that’s done, I mix in soil…

…fertilizer (I just use whatever’s cheapest at home depot)…

…and a mycorrhizal inoculant.

Chopstick all of it in and your done.

Finally, the wiring. This was a pretty standard wiring job, and the only thing I really want to share is the way I manipulated one branch in particular. This one branch was the thickest on the tree, but it was coming out at just too sharp of an angle for my liking. Simply wiring it down might leave a bit of an odd bend where the branch connects to the tree.

So of course, I moved where the branch connects to the tree.

The branch is still connected on the underside, and should heal up nicely in time. The tree will grow to fill in the gap.

I finished up the rest of the wiring, and voila. Ignore some of the branches that aren’t wired; most of them haven’t ligotomized yet (that is to say, gotten hard, have wood, etc). I don’t like to wire those because I’m inexperienced and tend to damage or break them.

It’s far from being a finished tree, but I quite like the direction it’s heading in. Hit me up with any thoughts or critiques, I’ll happily respond, if not agree, to all that I can.

Thank you for wanting to know more today than you did yesterday.

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