Advice for pruning dwarf Hinoki Cypress

Nadkid

Seedling
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#1
Hi all,

This is my first post on this forum, though I expect to be much more active with the amount of questions I'm sure to have. Anyway, this is my first Bonsai, purchased from a seller for a clean $15. He said it was a "California Golden Cypress", though I think that may just be a misnomer for a Hinoki. The tree is supposedly 7 years old, and I lament the fact that I know very little about how it has been treated in the past. As of now, however, it seems to be rather shapeless and dense, and I can see that the inner leaves are browning from a lack of light. I'm at a loss for where I should even begin treating this tree, and I found little applicable information from rifling through past forum posts. Could anyone help point me in the right direction?

 

Nadkid

Seedling
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#3
Unless it is some sort of sawara cypress I’m not familiar with, it is a juniper.
Really? I was wondering about the cultivar when queries for "California Golden Cypress" didn't show any results (at least for similar looking trees). I just figured it was a Hinoki, so it is interesting to know that it's a juniper.
 
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#4
I'm kinda new here too, so what I am going to say may be terrible advice. I would cut all branches off at the base as low as you can, seal em, keep and work with only that one on the far right.
 
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#5
Hinoki throw out a distinctive whorl of foliage. To me it looks like a tiny topiary made from a juniper.

At 15 bucks I'd pop it in the ground or big pot and let it go for a few years
 
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#6
Yeah, juniper. That’s a good thing, trust me. Easier to grow and manage than any chamaecyparis. Unfortunately as Rambles says there isn’t a lot of wood to work with. Maybe plant in ground to grow out and look for something else. Hope that’s not too negative.
 
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#7
California cypress, what you have is one of the true cypress. There are several species native to California. The genus name is Cupressus, or true cypress. Hinoki is Chamaecyparis or the False Cypress. You do not have a Hinoki.

Wikipedia does not list any Cupressus species for California cypress, but there are Mendocino cypress, Arizona cypress, Santa Cruz cypress, Gowan cypress, and several others. Likely your tree is one of these. They are popular in the south as landscape plants and many cultivars with different leaf colors and leaf shapes have been selected, So go with the name you have. As juvenile plants the needles are like the needles on yours, mature fruiting and flowering age foliage will have scales more similar to juniper for leaves. Some select landscape cultivars keep juvenile foliage all their life, so I don't know if yours will change leaf shape as it ages.

General care - full sun or at least half day sun all year round. Most are subtropical, but one or two species are very cold hardy. I would protect from temperatures below 29 F, -2 C. until you figure out which species you really have. Most tolerate desert heat well. Golden foliage cultivars probably appreciate a little shade during the hottest part of the day.

Water - most come from sites in the desert southwest that do have water available - higher elevations, box canyons, streambanks, forest edge environments. I would shoot for a well draining soil mix that holds some water, son't let them get bone dry between watering. Letting them wilt will slow development.

Media - here I have no first hand info to add, I would use the same mix I use for Hinoki. Except that Hinoki are quite cold tolerant, and Hinoki don't like extreme desert heat, by and large care is pretty similar. So the same media as for hinoki, a pine mix with a little extra organics or akadama for water retention, I believe these should be repotted in spring, I personally would wait to later in spring or even early summer, as they do for Hinoki, but I don't have experience with Cupressus, so someone else should chime in.

Pruning, In autumn never prune more than 10 to 15% off, or you will reduce the winter hardiness of the tree. In late spring, or early summer you can prune more aggressively, but as with hinoki, spruce and others you don't ever want to cut off more than 25% to 35% of foliage at any given time, Once you are experienced enough to not be using the "New to Bonsai", When you are more experienced you will have an idea of what you can get away with. It is important before pruning and styling to make sure the tree has enough energy to spare, and to give it recovery time afterwards. Basically this is true for Hinoki and most other conifers.

Autumn and winter is a good time for wiring, this is not overly stressful of the bonsai techniques, usually you can wire no matter what else was done that year.

What to do now - we are past the autumnal equinox, it is autumn, I might prune just a few branches out that you are sure you will not need, then leave it alone, or maybe wire some lower branches down (to horizontal) to open up the ball of foliage and let light in.

Again - I have no first hand Cupressus experience - but if they are like Hinoki and Thuja - they do not back bud very easily on wood old enough to have bark, so keep some interior foliage, the short little buds coming off the trunk, Every long branch should have an eventual replacement branch in the interior of the tree. To keep a hinoki at a static size, you replace older branches maybe every 20 years with younger branches you kept alive in the interior of the tree. So don't just clean out all the interior branches, you will need some of them down the road to replace long leggy branches,

Think about what size tree you want, then measure the diameter of the trunk. You want the trunk diameter to be over 10% the total height of the finished tree. To beef up the trunk you might have to let this grow out in nursery pots or in the ground from several years. During this time it will get quite tall, that is okay, especially if you saved the young, small interior foliage. Later you will reduce the tree and the small branches will be come your main branches,
 
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#12
This is not Hinoki Cypress, it could be a Cbamecypress Pisifera or something closely related, probably Squarrosa which has needle like foliage.
 

Nadkid

Seedling
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#13
Wow Leo, thank you for that absolute trove of information. I've taken a screenshot of every part of your post. I was about ready to just give up on the thing, which is sad as I was looking forward to refining it from what you see here. I'll probably wire the lower branches as you say, right now the tree is too dense for me to really get a good feel for its structure. I am in Massachusetts for the year, after which I will be returning home to Texas. I think I'll repot it when I am back in the South, as it seems to be a more comfortable climate for a Cypress. I'm a little worried about putting this thing through a Massachusetts winter, as it was hanging around 19° Fahrenheit this past season.
 

M. Frary

Bonsai Godzilla
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#16
Honestly, I'm at a loss as to how any plant can make it through a northeastern winter. In Texas, I'm able to plant vegetables any time of year.
They love It!
We can't plant vegetables until after Mothers day.
 

Nadkid

Seedling
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#18
Some Cupressus species are very winter hardy, some are only zone 8 hardy, if you are not sure treat it as being tender if you really want to keep it alive.
What would your recommendation be in that case? Should I place the pot in the ground when winter comes around, or just cover the base in something to keep the roots insulated? I've wired some of the lower branches as you suggested, and found a spider's nest inside! Only did some light wiring on the outer pieces, hopefully come spring or summer I will have a little bit more to work with. It's a bit hard to manage at the moment as everything is so densely packed, but once the structure loosens up a bit I think I'll put more time into developing its future shape.
 
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#19
I had hoped you would have been able to get the species name from the label or the vendor. The not knowing the species name is a problem. Did you buy it from a California or Southern tier of states vendor? If yes treat it as a sub-tropical. If you bought it from a Massachusetts vendor, it is probably hardy.

Okay, assuming it is a California plant, and probably a lower elevation plant. After a light frost or two, I would bring it inside to the brightest window you have and keep it growing all winter. Return to outdoors when last freeze has past in spring.

If you think it is winter hardy, bury pot to rim on shady side of garden and hope you are right about it being hardy.

This conundrum is the reason scientific names are so important. In the future don't buy anything from a vendor that does not routinely supply scientific names on labels or in descriptions. Unless you enjoy not knowing what care your tree needs.

The reverse is collecting trees from your location, you can be certain that they can handle the local winter.
 

Nadkid

Seedling
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#20
I had hoped you would have been able to get the species name from the label or the vendor. The not knowing the species name is a problem.
Which, I suppose, bring me back to the quandary of what a "California Golden Cypress" is. The vendor was from Massachusetts, but I suppose he could have kept the plant protected in winter as well. For the time being, I'll bring it in after the first few freezes; I have a sunny window where the plant can stay over winter. Afterwards, I'll bring it down to Texas with me, as that seems to be a better climate for it, regardless. I guess we'll just have to see how it does! This is only my introductory plant, I'll certainly invest myself in future trees after I garner some more experience.
 

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