This is Janice’s buttonwood. You’ve seen it before in the post Who doesn’t have a buttonwood in Florida from a few years ago. Since then, it was shown in the 2021 Bonsai Societies of Florida annual convention, and its just gotten better. Janice found a new pot for it at this year’s BSF convention (2022) and that’ll be the main work today.

Here it is now, in The Nook.

To begin the story, here are some progression pics.

Here it was in 2018.

Here it was in 2019 (at the end of this blogpost)

At the 2021 BSF Convention.

And, finally, back to today.

The tree was originally scheduled for the 2020 exhibit but, you know what happened that year. As a result, we didn’t repot it in 2020 or 2021, and this year I’ve been working on letting it gather sugars so I can do some work on it. Hence the big leaves.

It had a mild chili thrip infestation at the end of last year as well, and we treated it with imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide.

But the tree is strong now, and ready for some work.

I’ll also be cleaning and applying lime sulfur to the deadwood, which is, as you’ll see, sometimes easier when the tree is in the middle of a repot.

First step, defoliation. I know, oooooooohhhhh, controversial. It astounds me that so many professionals not only poo poo defoliation as a valid technique, but try to vilify those who use it. One of my catchphrases I use all the time is “horticulture is a science, but the practice of horticulture is an art”. That’s why two people can use two seemingly different techniques and still achieve success. Most of bonsai technique has more to do with the timing and seasonality of the technique and less to do with doing it. Here’s an example: there aren’t any arborists that suggest that removing a pine trees candles is ever a good idea. Yet, if one does it at the right time, the way we bonsai practitioners do, the tree responds with increased vigor and better growth.

There are prerequisites to de-candling a pine tree, one of them being the tree should be in good health, but the science of horticulture says “don’t do it”. Yet we do. Why? Because, the practice and timing of the technique works. As it does with defoliation.

Anyway, here’s my quick method for defoliating a buttonwood. They tend to grow like little rosettes, as below.

Take the branch…

…..move your hand to the end of the branch, holding the leaves…

…..take a sharp pair of scissors….

…..SNIP…, depending on whether you want to keep the grow tip intact, to continue the elongation of the branch, or you want to encourage backbudding, is what determines how close you snip the leaves off. I left the grow tip intact in this case, as you can see below.

On some, I’ll keep the tip, on others, I cut it.

Here’s something you don’t see everyday, flowers on a buttonwood. Yes they flower, everything flowers, but it’s only when you let it grow and it’s healthy do you see it.

You may notice some black sooty mold on some of the leaves.

Whenever you see it, always check for aphids or scale.

In this case, its not this tree that’s infested, it’s from a tree that was above it on the bench.

Snip, snip…

Snip, snip….

No, I didn’t count how many leaves. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Now it’s time to repot. I would normally repot a buttonwood, in Florida, every year. It’s been my observation that the tree can weather the winter weather better if you repot yearly.

But this tree had been selected for the 2020 BSF Convention exhibit. Unfortunately, that was the year of Covid lockdowns, so the convention was cancelled, and I lost several months due to my own health problems, so that year was skipped. And the tree was shown the next year, 2021. So I skipped that year too. Sometimes getting a tree ready for exhibition can really stress a tree out.

This year is the year though. And I’m not looking forward to it. It’s potted in a container with sides that bow outward (they call it a “bag pot”). It’s a pretty design, but the roots will fill up that space, making removal a bit difficult.

But, no worries, I have my “1980’s era” repotting tool, the ubiquitous black handled, serrated, steak knife.

Before I begin sawing the tree out, I’m going to save the moss. Janice loves moss, so I’ll put it back on the soil surface when I’m done.

I got a little.

Now, let’s see how difficult it’ll be getting the tree out.

Simply saw around the perimeter, and pry the tree up every few inches.

It’s actually going kinda easy.


Now we gently rake out the roots. For a buttonwood I prefer a single tined rake or just a chopstick. The American Bonsai Tools repotting tool works well here.

It definitely needed a repot.

Before we finish, let’s look at, and get ready, the new container Janice chose.

It was created by Doug Marcum, from Hippie Dad Bonsai.

I think it’ll be perfect for the style tree, and, most importantly, Janice loves it too. It is her tree, ultimately.

The details are amazing.

He even has bent over nails made from clay, to make it look like a wooden box thrown together.

I rake out the roots and trim some back, and check to see if it fits in the new pot (you can see the process better in the post Jorge’s Buttonwood, from a few articles back).

Before I put it into the new pot, I’m going to use a wire brush to clean the deadwood (“Wire brush?” You ask, because it works. You’ll have to say that part out loud to get the joke). It’s also easier to clean the deadwood while it’s out of the pot, better to get at all the surfaces if you can turn the tree upside down.

Scrub scrub scrub.

Brush it down to bare wood, really removing all the dirt, grime, and old lime sulfur.

Then put it into the pot. I fertilized, then placed some imidacloprid to keep the chili thrips at bay, and then added that saved moss.

Then, since I’m going to lime sulfur it, I water and make sure to get the deadwood wet.

Lime sulfur needs to go on wet wood to help it penetrate deeper.

I’ve had this bottle for a while. I don’t think it’s available from the Hi-Yield company anymore, but you can get a similar sized bottle for very little money from veterinary supply companies (here’s a link, and no, I don’t do any affiliate marketing links, so I’m not getting paid to promote it: Click here you’ll notice that a big bottle, in this case 16oz, costs about the same as a 4oz bottle from bonsai sources. And it’s the same chemical, that’s your tip of the day. You’re welcome)

Get yourself a glass or ceramic, non reactive vessel, a cheap paintbrush, and paint it on.

Yes, it goes on orange, but, don’t worry, it bleaches white.

It won’t hurt the soil but it could damage the glaze on the pot, so I cover them both with a towel or newspaper.

Then I paint. Since it will flow down, being as it’s a liquid and we live in the gravity well known as “the earth” I usually start at the top and work my way down.

This is the cool part, I coat the whole surface of the deadwood, full strength btw, and it’ll look like this:

And about a half hour later, it bleaches white, quite nicely.

Now, before I finish with some wiring, I’ll speak to those that don’t like the bleached white look. First, it’s important to use lime sulfur. It is technically a fungicide, and it slows the decay. If you don’t like the white, you can add a darkening pigment, like India ink or acrylic paint, but, in a few months, the color will fade anyway, so there’s no real need to add the color unless you are showing the tree soon. Me, I don’t mind it. I think it works artistically, and Janice likes the bleached look too. But you do you, it’s your tree.

Now for a little wire and some minor pruning….

And Bob’s yer uncle.

The tree is really developing well. The branches are thickening, and developing strong ramification.

I am liking it more and more.

5 thoughts

  1. Another tip for application of lime sulfur: to avoid that it flows over live bark, also paint on the water only to the deadwood areas. This creates a barrier for the free-flow of the sulfur and makes especially intricate areas of deadwood wedged between live veins easier to define.


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