This specific southern hackberry is a common subject of the blog. I could write a book on it there’s so many posts.

It was in this post where the tree made its humble debut.

To get you up to date on what happened this spring, I repotted it after about three years of no repot, and I just let it grow.


Here’s how it looked on January 22, 4:43pm, after the repot. (timestamp on my iPhone pic…..I’m not that organized. Used to be we had to put our pics in an actual physical, paper-leather-plastic-and-glue picture album, and use a pen to write out the day and place the pic was taken. Actual printed out Polaroids or 110 Kodak film. The smart phones do it all nowadays. Here’s how many pics in my phone at the moment …All those pics and videos in my back pocket. Computers are so advanced these days that, soon enough, the AI’s are going to introduce nanobots so we won’t have to even brush our teeth ever again, they’ll scour our mouths for all that nasty, harmful bacteria and the green bits of leftover spinach from our teeth after that lunchtime calzone. No more onion breath, lady dragon breath, or gingivitis. PROGRESS!)

It’s been an unusually wet spring but this last week in Orlando it has been dry and brutally hot.

Like, Africa hot, totally (as my sister, a child of the 80’s, says).

So the leaves are showing a little heat stress. Deciduous trees in Florida (and around the world, really) tend to go dormant in the heat. That’s one reason they’re ragged looking. And there’s a bug or something that ate some holes in a few leaves. That’s ok, we all need some salad every once in a while. And I have a feeling the remaining leaves will not survive this post.

But the rains have spurred some new growth. Which means…time for work!

First, some pruning. There are a few dead branches left over from the end of winter work.

Which is typical of deciduous trees. The sap retreats in the autumn and the tree has to endure the freezing temps, so it’s pretty common for a tree to abort a branch or three. Sometimes it’s just a windy day that dries out a thin twig, sometimes a branch will freeze, or sometimes we just don’t know why it happens.

I have an idea with this one above, it is in an incredibly shady spot, and those branches tend to be weak anyway. One reason we try not to grow them there in the first place.

Here are a few establishing shots. To give you a before.

As I said, the tree has been allowed to grow.

There needs to be time for your trees to do this. Especially on a deciduous. But even on tropicals, which can make sugar like there’s no tomorrow.

The only way a plant feeds itself is with this amazing process called photosynthesis (contrary to what the popular fertilizer advertisers say when they constantly barrage us with the “FEED YOUR LAWN!!!” commercials, there is nothing we can do to give sugar or carbohydrate to a tree. Think of fertilizers as energy drinks. Energy drinks are not as bad for you as you may think, they are full of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, which a body needs, granted, but they also have caffeine and sugar, should you go for the fully sugared varieties. Caffeine is an artificial energy source, but it’s not what our body uses as fuel. Too much caffeine eventually weakens us and opens up our bodies for some types of disease. This happens with fertilizers. Too much nitrogen causes weak growth, sapping the tree of carbohydrate that should be in reserve. Where my energy drink analogy falls apart is the sugar aspect…..maybe. Our bodies are adapted to convert complex food into fuel for us to use. When we give our bodies too much sugar, we get sick too.)

Anyhow, enough of my ranting, let’s give some examples of pruning choices.

We have three branches …..

We need only two. (Why? That’s easy. Three branches cause a swelling of the branch union, interrupting taper. Taper is important in the illusion of making a small bonsai look like a big bonsai. It’s also an important artistic aspect when we are trying to design a tree. An interruption in taper disrupts the composition of the design, stopping the eye from moving over the tree)

Which branch should go?

The middle?

The left?

Or the right?

I’m going with the middle.

In this case I chose to remove the middle for movement. It was pretty straight, and the two outer branches both have changes in direction.

And those are the two artistic reasons for pruning: taper, and movement.

After going through the tree and cutting it back (except the top, saving that for the dramatic cut……)

I’ve made a mess it seems.

Yes, I am practicing my bonsai Art in a parking lot. My children are in taekwondo class and I’m utilizing my wait time by playing with trees, instead of surfing social media posts about politics, foodie pics, clickbait articles, and those phishing survey thingies. Don’t ever do those last things, they try to steal your identity….or define it.

Now for the big choice…….

How low should I go? I’ve been thinking of doing this for two years now. It’s time.


And look, I have a new top to replace it!

Do we need to call emergency services for anyone? Smelling salts handy?

I know it was a big chop, and I was cutting about 4 or 5 years growth off, but it was a necessity.

Remember me talking about taper earlier? You thought I was just rambling. Without taper, we have bushes, not trees.

The illusion is lost.

The dream is over.

I don’t believe in Beatles…….sorry, got lost in the prose for a moment.

It seems a tad short. Maybe, but if I want it taller, I’ll let it grow taller.

Now it’s time to defoliate.

To make it easier for you to compare how much I cut off, here’s that January defoliated pic

Does it take guts to do this to a tree you’ve been working for as many years as I’ve been working on this one? Maybe. Not as much as running into a burning building or strapping on some boots to go to a foreign country to protect your freedom.

They’re just little trees. They grow back. Trees are kinda like painting a picture. If you mess up a painting, you can paint over it until you get it right. If you prune off a branch, by mistake, on a tree, it’ll grow back.

And here is the tree 12 days later.

All growed back, with tiny leaves (4-5 sets!)

And look! There’s even three new buds where I made the chop.

I haven’t wired it as yet this year (when you start following its progress through the blog posts you’ll see how much wire has shaped the tree, though). Most of the branches are where they need to be, but some are beginning to rise again.

I’ll update later in the year, after it’s grown out a bit more and it’ll get some wire on it that should last it through the winter without serious wire scars.

5 thoughts

  1. Thanks for this blog. I really liked how you explained the fertilizer stuff. Nice to see pictures of what it looked like before you started, the actual work and explanations of why, pictures while working and the finished work. It really helps us bonsai fiddlers get our bearings with our trees.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Great job and vision. I’ve learned more from you in the past 6 years than in any 6 year period in my 37 years in Bonsai. However, don’t ever reference the Beatles in a negative way again or let the chips fall where they may. Pardon the euphemism versus total vulgarity, that would have been too easy (but in poor taste)!

    Liked by 1 person

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