I found this beauty at a southeast Florida bonsai nursery.

I think it’s Celtis Laevigata , sugarberry or southern hackberry. C. Laevigata is native to Florida whereas C. Occidentalis (common hackberry) is not. The leaves on this one are smaller than I would think but there is also an obvious nutritional deficiency.
The example on the top left is C. Laevigata. Fertilized and probably in a better USDA growing zone. 20120715-221359.jpg
The leaf shape is the same, the veining is the same. My best guess is this tree is a southern hackberry/sugarberry.
First, let’s get it growing. The soil it was in is just a commercial mix which is mostly organics. And it’s in a shallow bonsai pot. Which,if we combine the two,isn’t conducive to good pot culture. The tree didn’t look root bound and the soil was not compacted and there weren’t weeds. It must have been repotted recently so the only reason I can tell why it was in that soil was for moisture retention. I keep promising that the soil post is upcoming, it is. Promise.

I put it into a 10″ bulb pan. Which is a pot designed for raising bulbs I guess. Works great for bonsai too. Shallow, rigid and great drainage. More expensive ,though,than the black nursery cans,but superior.
I always tie them in so I don’t get damaging movement; the soil I am using is a recycled bonsai soil from my repotting this year. You can do this if the trees it came from were not diseased. It is also best to dry it and resift. Here I did not sift it because I am using the bulb pan and it is deep enough to facilitate rapid draining.

Let’s talk about the tree. I like it because of the rotting, hollow trunk. Most bonsai aestheticians would be horrified by this, obvious, flaw but not I, my friends, not I. The Japanese especially don’t like wounds in deciduous trees. But, I say, there is room for this in bonsai. Colin Lewis and Dan Robinson both agree. So stand alone I do not. I will hide behind them though.
I think it adds age to the tree.
The dead wood looks bad but it is not totally rotten. The heartwood is actually still hard. The carving will just entail removing the rot and protecting the remaining wood. I liken that carving to dentistry.
I’ll show that in an update post. I’m not going to carve it now.

I will remove some branches I don’t need so as to direct the growth into the ones I do. I won’t defoliate as one might think. The reason why not is keep the growing tips growing. Sometimes with a deciduous tree when we cut a branch, that cut will cause the tip to dry out and die back. This happens a bit more on a hackberry. So any big cut I am going to seal.
With this.
Like so. What I failed to get a picture of is how I treated the wound. It was smooth and the edges were cut with a razor. It’s the same principle as with a flesh wound. The sharper the knife, the cleaner the cut , the faster the healing. I don’t want an unhealed cut here because it will look like I just didn’t know what I was doing. The hackberry is not known for healing well so I am going that extra step. Plus there is the leader on the top and a side branch below that will help the healing process.

Some detail shots


The tree has a wonderfully craggy bark and a good callous at the wound. Nice basal flare and a good leader. And good branching.
I wasn’t going to wire it ( wire will sometimes “kink” the fluid carrying capacity of the branches) but in this case, since I’m trying for growth (which means thicker branches) and the branches on a hackberry are very hard to bend when too thick, I will.

There’s the front-ish

Right side


And left side.
The leader I will leave long

The tree will, in fact,only be 1/2 to 2/3 as tall as the leader is. I’m only leaving it that tall for the previous reason. Dieback is a real drawback to deal with on this tree. Which is why the trunk is hollow like it is,actually. But, I think (hope) I can provide the aftercare necessary to maximize the healing needed.
Here is my idea for the future (this one is for Felix)

That would be a good tattoo.
I will revisit this tree in a month or so. What I want is growth. I’ll remove the wire at that time. And probably just a light trim.
If you get a chance, follow my blog and share it.

8 thoughts

  1. Hello! Thanks for the step by step info and help on the celtis!! I have a similar one bit without the hollow rotting bit! But I want to create the hollow bit! Doing research on it to do nbest time and best way without losing tree!


    1. Remember that the tree will usually dieback to the next branch or latent bud. So, simply chopping the trunk will probably be sufficient to get that rotten bit. I would do it late winter to early spring. In order to get the hollow you shouldn’t seal the cut so if you cut when its growing the sap might all “bleed” out and you will kill it.
      Good luck! Send pictures


      1. Hello Adam!

        Thanks for that eextra info! We are already in 2nd month of spring now so should I wait then till next year end of winter to be safe? I just got the tree over a week ago ! The trunk has a bit of a bulge round shape almost like a baobab style , why I thought will look great hollowing out a bit to give depth and age !!!! Here some pics! Like your drawing for style you did and still doing your ceeltis! I guess I mist try and draw a idea as well of how I want it to be!
        Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!


      2. WordPress filtered out the pictures. My email is adamaskwhy@yahoo.com , send them there.
        If you cut a lot higher than you want to you might be able to at least do that and it survive. I would wait to carve and hollow until its dormant though. Just to be safe.


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