This is a beast of a tree.
I collected it last year from a friends yard. It’s a crepe myrtle that probably started out as a multi-trunk that fused as it grew. Which is a pretty common landscape practice here in Orlando. They root so easily a grower only has to stick 4 or five, inch-thick branches in a pot and let it grow. That’s a good business (Only if the housing market is good, I should add, so start growing them now to be ready for the rebound) to be in to supply housing contractors. (Maybe I’ll do that..hhmmnn)

These four photos above (courtesy of Nick Alpin, photog extraordinaire)
Are the official “before” pics. (I entered this in a contest. I didn’t win)
The crepe is a deciduous tree that grows very quickly. It heals over wounds very well (it won’t heal this one though.)

This is the date that I started training it.
It almost looks like I’m holding the tree hostage.
The initial styling went a bit like this

I ground out most of the rotten wood
Putting some rough detail in.
I don’t do the finish carving until months later. Or for you, just a scroll down the page. Lucky devils.
So, as this is being done at the end of June, I can’t repot. But I can add more soil. So I do. And change the angle to a slightly more cascading one.
And I do the first styling
Which wasn’t much. The branches were in full growth, which means they were full of sap. Making them very brittle. It’s easier to bend a deciduous trees’ branches in the fall or late winter.
So then I let it grow
As you see, the leaves are pretty small for a full size crepe. I’ve never seen it flower but my guess, it will be purple. We shall see.
The one tough thing about developing a crepe; the new growth is always very “succulent” for a long time. Which means the action of lignifying (getting woody) could take a month. It’s very hard to detail wire a shoot that’s basically mostly juice. Like trying to wire lettuce.
So it’s a clip and grow process mostly.
At this point I took all the wire off and trimmed it. I was trying for some more growth to thicken the branches.
I cut the heavier branches in the crown out.
This was around the same time I wrote the “Lazy Sunday ” post.
Fast forward some more

It is now autumn. Which is December for me. The tree has suffered with a fungus (its because I pushed the growth so much. When you over fertilize, it might grow a lot, but it will be weaker growth; more susceptible to disease and bugs) and this, I believe, has slowed the growth.
I defoliate it. Wait a few more weeks.
Now it’s time to carve.
The controversy of using this tree is the appearance of so much deadwood on a deciduous tree. I absolutely knew that this would detract from my chances of winning (One of the judges is an old school Bonsai guy) but I’m just enough of an iconoclast that I couldn’t resist.
One of my purposes in entering was to challenge the current paradigm; to present a tree in an international forum that, one, was not traditionally designed for its species (I mean,really, a cascading deciduous tree with half the trunk a deadwood feature, what an arrogant ass. I could just imagine the judges shaking their heads and thinking “this will not do”) and, two, show that any trees, regardless of what kind they are, could have deadwood.

Lime sulfur. To answer the inevitable question from the peanut gallery; I applied the lime sulphur when I was done carving. This time.
The lime sulfur goes on kinda orangey and dark and can take a few days to whiten up.
None of these pictures made it into the final contest. Hope you enjoy them.
I did go back, after applying the lime sulfur, and used a wire brush to polish the wood a bit and cause there to be areas of lighter and darker colors (basically, more lime sulfur and less lime sulfur)
Now, the toughest part of the tree to make natural, the crown.
Which is not quite right yet.
One final wiring and wait a few days for the deadwood to cure.
And these are the final contest photos.

I thought it was cool looking. But it needs about one more year (or two) of development to be ready to show. And that was my mistake. I should have used a juniper that is faster in development and is easier to hide poor branch structure. That’s why most demos you go to use junipers. The artists (and organizers, who want to maximize auction prices or raffle ticket sales) want material that will make them look good and make the artist look like a “Magician”.
Which is a half truth at best. In this blog, it is my aim to show you the steps in achieving a bonsai. Often from raw material to finished material. And to be honest in telling you how long it really takes.
A full scale, professional demo is usually done on material in the last stages of development. Truth.

Some more detail shots for your bonsai porn gallery.
So the lesson I learned from this contest; if you want to win, have a tree that is more ready to win. I once participated in a timed contest and lost that one too. The mistake I made was the same one here. The winners had trees that were grown for bonsai and just about ready. I had raw stock and trained them in a manner that would be better for the future growth of the tree.
Since the final pictures were taken I’ve had the tree fill in some


And also a return of the fungus. Damn it.
It is the middle of February.
I’ll post some more updates this year and hopefully it will give you an idea of the time it takes to actually grow the tree well instead of quick.
Now I have to put my tropicals in the greenhouse. There might be a freeze tonight.
TTFN my friends.


15 thoughts

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m looking forward to seeing the updates. I harvested a crepe in Nov but did not do the “big chop”. I’m in coastal SC. Do think I can get away with doing it now? It’s already started budding. Kinda new to the Bonsai thing (2 years) and always looking for tips. Also, My name is Adam I have a 12 year old sulcata and I do art for a living…. So yea.


  2. Great post, thanks very much. I have some kind of dwarf Lagerstroemia that I recently did a hard chop on, and this has got me very excited to wire it up in autumn this year (March for us in South Africa). Thanks for the inspiration, especially about the deadwood. I think it looks great


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