There are just too many jokes that can be made in bonsai. Example, you see a pretty girl and you say to your bonsai pal “I’d like to show her my formal upright, if ya know what I mean…” Or the female bonsai enthusiast sees a cascade and declares “Reminds me of my last husband, I traded him in on a younger model…” 

You get my meaning? I’d never make those jokes myself, too crass. I’m way above that lowbrow type of humor.  I’m here for the noble study of bonsai trees. Anyway, I like trimmed bushes myself….da da dum crash! Speaking of which, this one needs a little trim (don’t we all?) 

It needs to be weeded desperately too. 

This weed is a specifically noxious one called oxalis. It looks like clover but it ain’t. Clover in a bonsai pot might just be useful. There are studies using clover (trifolium species) as a “green mulch”, which means using a living plant (as opposed to dead plant matter) to keep weeds down, keep soil cooler, reduce water needs and, in the case of clover, add nitrogen to the soil. Clover is a plant that can remove nitrogen from the air and release it to the soil, making it available to anything planted near it (called nitrogen fixing). If you’ve heard of crop rotation, clover is usually one of the plants involved in that process for these reasons. This might actually be a solution to those who practice bonsai in arid, desert climates like Arizona.  If you try it, let me know. 

But this isn’t clover. It’s oxalis, a weed that will form bulb-like root bodies that make it difficult to remove or even kill with herbicides like glyphosate. 


And if you let them flower (such pretty purple or yellow flowers though!)….

 ….you get these evil seed pods. 

Just full of seeds waiting to explode. 

Indeed, the seed pod will explode, broadcasting the seed everywhere. Like a rockstar. Oxalis is the rockstar of the weeds. 

That’s better. Weeded, and it looks like someone’s used the Boon method of tying the tree into the pot. 

Let’s get a look at today’s subject. 

An ilex vomitoria “schillings”, dwarf yaupon holly. 

I’ve been babysitting 28 trees for a client named Steve, who is moving from Orlando to Braden, but is without a house for about a month. He gave me, as the New Orleans people say, carte blanche, with his trees. I’m not going to abuse that trust he has in me by restyling all his trees and billing him for them but this one just called to me. It kept saying “Hey! PSSSSSST! Adam! You need to work on me!”. I couldn’t figure out why, except it’s a favorite bonsai subject of mine. But I figured it out. I’ll let you know why later. 

It’s very full and thick. 1970’s thick. 

Where does one even start? 

At the top maybe. 


I can thin it a bit….


Let’s go left to right. 

Some are asking “why trim it at all it’s so full?” And then some are thinking that it’s not bonsai to just topiary trim the branches.

 To the first I say, the tree will begin to decline keeping it full. Without proper airflow, it’ll get fungus. Without a good balance between roots and foliage, one dry day could cause serious dieback. 

Which is what happened here. Not serious yet but the new growth got damaged. 

To those who don’t think a topiary trim (or, as Walter Pall says, hedge trim) is a good technique, I say, it’s very valid, with certain species. With this one especially, since it’s used primarily as a hedge. You’ll have plenty of branches to work with after a season or so. Just go in and practice your basic trimming tactics. 

Anything growing down. Anything growing in the branch crotches. Anything crossing or any multiple shoots in one spot. Remove all these and that’s how you figure out a super full branch trim. 


You’ll usually hear me say to trim branches growing up (along with the downward ones), but at this point, it’s time we can start developing the second layer of ramification. 

This shoot can be wired over. 

Next verse, same as the first. 

Getting there. 

It’s really straight on top there. Let’s see what we can get done with wiring. 

The problem lies with how old the apical branch is. It’s gone all woody on us. Let me explain. As new branches form, they tend to be very flexible. Not much wood and more fluid. 

The older a branch gets, it looks like this. 

It doesn’t matter how thick a branch is. Just how old. Here’s a thicker but younger branch on the lower right of the tree. 

It’s very bendable. 

A lot more flexible than the apex. 

I’m going to have to perform the Warren/Robinson branch protection wiring manuver. 

That is to say, split the difference between the wires instead of stacking them all neat and pretty right next to each other. You’ll see me do this often and the reason why is the wire gives more support when bending, reducing the possibility of snapping the branch. 

A tad more wire. 

The branch I said would be the beginning of the next level. 

And the thick flexy branch too. 

A few more…..

Hmmmnmm. This is where the tree should be. Very familiar. Let’s change the potting front. 

I’m thinking maybe 45 degrees clockwise. 

It was at this point that I started wondering what was so familiar with this tree. Then it dawned on me. I did the initial styling! Click here for the post. I did it for the CFBC as a program on yaupon holly. This is what it looked like after that massacre. 

I’m almost done, I just need to get rid of this knob. 

And that’s that. 

That was fun. And I get paid too. I mean, just wait ’til Steve gets the bill. I’ll be eating steak for a month! 

6 thoughts

  1. Boon method of tying tree in pot is a lot better than the Mike Rodgers Method……Didn’t you have to get one of his from Epcot one year?


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