Bonsai Guilt: Beginner seeking best strategy to avoid killing a larger nursery tree

Emanon

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I was hoping to get some basic, beginner's advice on how to transform a large nursery grown tree into a bonsai. I'm new to bonsai. Up to this point I've only had trees that I began growing as seedlings. Doing so, I've been able to go slow and develop the trunk and roots from scratch. I'm comfortable with this approach. But... I just bought a nursery tree. And it is big. And it is not the best bonsai material (it has two straight trunks and I haven't checked the surface roots yet). The tree is a Cuyamaca Cypress (Cupressus or Hesperocyparis stephensonii). It is currently 4.5 feet tall and the trunk is 3.5 inches wide at its base. I was thinking that I should:

(1) Immediately prune (de-clutter/thin) the tree so more light is able to reach branches and interior foliage down low on the trunk. So, shorting long branches, removing dead stuff inside. I'm operating under the assumption that this conifer will have a hard time back-budding -- so less like a bald cypress and more like a Monterey cypress -- and I'll want to preserve any low branches and interior foliage.
(2) This next spring, root prune and repot in a large training pot.
(3) The spring after next, do any trunk chopping (pollarding, coppicing, or whatever it should be called), in an attempt to create taper and movement.

Is now (late summer) an OK time to start with the first step?
 

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Emanon

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So, about the guilt. This being my first nursery tree, I'm not expecting the probability of survival to be high. This tree is in really good condition right now -- lush with no yellowing or browning. It is not great bonsai material to start with. And, it is a rare tree. According to Wikipedia (lol) "The entire native (world) population of the tree was reduced down to thirty to forty individual trees by [a fire in] 2003." Does anyone else, especially novices to the hobby, ever get second thoughts when removing a tree from circulation, as it were, for personal bonsai practice?

[I ended up getting this tree really cheap (15 gallon container for not much more than 50 USD) from a wholesale nursery that doesn't even have the tree currently available for wholesale. I honestly think they were just excited that someone else knew about the tree and was specifically seeking it out. Because the tree wasn't initially for sale I was hesitant to tell the employee at the nursery that I planned on taking the tree home to turn it into a bonsai tree. (Not a good sign!?) Honestly though, if not for the nurseyperson's zeal (I got the impression that they were excited to see the tree planted out and about in San Diego) I don't think there would be any hesitation on my part to start hacking away.]
 

Uncle Robo

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I would plant this tree instead of using it for Bonsai.
Endangered trees should be given the best chance for survival you can give it.
If you want to bonsai, air layer a branch or take cuttings from it next Spring.
 

Woocash

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If it is so rare and you feel you have distinct possibility of killing it could you not at least take a cutting or two to save for posterity? I maybe a complete novice but I wouldn’t really want to take risks with a potentially important specimen. Just my two penneth. Good luck regardless.
 

Forsoothe!

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You're already lying to people about your obsession and intentions. "We are all just prisoners, of our own device... Welcome to the Hotel California...💉
 

Emanon

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I would plant this tree instead of using it for Bonsai.
[...]
If you want to bonsai, air layer a branch or take cuttings from it next Spring.
I have already bought it though and don't have anywhere safe to plant it. Right now I'm just looking for the best way to successfully transform it into a bonsai tree (or, second best, a living stick-in-a-pot). Taking cuttings or air layering a branch is a great idea and I'll probably do that at some point. I would much prefer starting with a smaller tree or seedling and your suggestion would provide me this opportunity. Thanks.
 
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Uncle Robo

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Thanks. I've already bought it though and don't have anywhere safe to plant it. I'm just looking for the best way to successfully transform it into a bonsai tree (or, second best, a living stick-in-a-pot) .Taking cuttings or air layering a branch is a great idea and I'll probably do that at some point. I would much prefer starting with a smaller tree or seedling and your suggestion would provide me this opportunity. Thanks.
Good plan.
 
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Emanon

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Good plan.
I'm just curious now (lol), say I planted this tree in a backyard (private property) where only I can see it, are you saying that is better than, not just equal to, converting it into a small containerized tree? Is it just the difference in its chance of survival? Say, with the advice of people on here I could increase the chance that it survives to be close to or equal the chance of survival if I planted it in a backyard... would you still recommend planting it in a backyard? I've been growing bonsai trees for years --granted all from seedling -- without having any die yet but I've never actually planted a nursery tree in the ground or even researched how to do it. So, is there something "less than" about having a rare tree in a container (if we assume chances of survival are the same either way)?
 

Joe Dupre'

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I think you have the right idea. Just don’t rush it. A 2-3 year plan to get it into a pot with a big chop is reasonable.
Chance of survival has to do with proper care. No big secrets. Water, sun, fertilizer and doing things at the proper time is the “secret”.
 

Bonsai Nut

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So, about the guilt. This being my first nursery tree, I'm not expecting the probability of survival to be high. This tree is in really good condition right now -- lush with no yellowing or browning. It is not great bonsai material to start with. And, it is a rare tree. According to Wikipedia (lol) "The entire native (world) population of the tree was reduced down to thirty to forty individual trees by [a fire in] 2003." Does anyone else, especially novices to the hobby, ever get second thoughts when removing a tree from circulation, as it were, for personal bonsai practice?
Not I. I recognize that if a tree exists in quantities substantial enough for commercial circulation, it isn't about to go extinct. In fact, in many cases people propagate and sell trees to prevent the exact opposite. One of the biggest nurseries that sells sequoias states their goal as being to spread sequoias all around the world so they don't go extinct.
 

Emanon

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I think you have the right idea. Just don’t rush it. A 2-3 year plan to get it into a pot with a big chop is reasonable.
Chance of survival has to do with proper care. No big secrets. Water, sun, fertilizer and doing things at the proper time is the “secret”.
Thank you! So should I start cutting now (late summer)? If I do, I was thinking I should leave the two trunks untouched at the apex, start cutting off branches from the top down, then as I get lower, start cutting branches longer and longer (so it is more in the shape of a pyramid)? I'm definitely not concerned with adding any more girth to the trunk base. However, I'm thinking I should leave the two trunks untouched at the top just because of the time of year. Or, should I start shortening it now?
 

Joe Dupre'

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Only can say what I’d do. I would clean out dead and very weak shoots. I would cut the top quarter of both trunks off. This shouldn’t hurt the vigor of the tree and induce growth in what’s left.

Evergreens tend to react to fall as almost another, but shorter spring. You’ll unusually get a spurt of growth before the cold sets in.
 

Emanon

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Good plan.
Sorry! Please ignore my previous diatribe -- that now seems random or impertinent. I was replying to what you had originally wrote and, before submitting, hadn't yet noticed that you had edited it.
 

Forsoothe!

Omono
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Not I. I recognize that if a tree exists in quantities substantial enough for commercial circulation, it isn't about to go extinct. In fact, in many cases people propagate and sell trees to prevent the exact opposite. One of the biggest nurseries that sells sequoias states their goal as being to spread sequoias all around the world so they don't go extinct.
Exactly. And on top of that, they began a project 15 or so years ago to propagate the special very old trees of the world in Wisconsin or Minnesota to sell so they would be all over the world. It was a university program which disappeared into the ether. If it had been a for-profit operation it would have made money and accomplished that goal because there's plenty of people who would pay good money for "special" on every continent. Good deeds take more than just good intentions.
 

sorce

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Kinda stupid of a university to ship a plant and make it an invasive. Of course.

I don't ever recall anyone checking to see if a tree they didn't want in a yard was endangered. They just get killed. So that would happen to it in the future in the yard.

Sounds like a sales pitch, on some BS no one wants.
got the impression that they were excited to see the tree planted out and about in San Diego
Plus they "weren't available"?

For that, I'd make sure to kill it!

Sorce
 

Vance Wood

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I'm just curious now (lol), say I planted this tree in a backyard (private property) where only I can see it, are you saying that is better than, not just equal to, converting it into a small containerized tree? Is it just the difference in its chance of survival? Say, with the advice of people on here I could increase the chance that it survives to be close to or equal the chance of survival if I planted it in a backyard... would you still recommend planting it in a backyard? I've been growing bonsai trees for years --granted all from seedling -- without having any die yet but I've never actually planted a nursery tree in the ground or even researched how to do it. So, is there something "less than" about having a rare tree in a container (if we assume chances of survival are the same either way)?
These are the types of things you should have thought about and investigated before obtaining the tree.
 

Forsoothe!

Omono
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Not everybody has your superior wisdom and foresight.
 

Emanon

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These are the types of things you should have thought about and investigated before obtaining the tree.
Yeah I agree. Thanks. I was responding (mostly) rhetorically to a suggestion, that has since been edited/removed, that I return the tree to the nursery ASAP if I can't find somewhere to plant it in the ground. I have never considered not turning the tree into a bonsai tree, so I guess I did think about these types of things before obtaining. I just want to make sure I give it the best chance at surviving when doing so.
 

Smoke

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San Diego has some of the best clubs and groups in the state. Seek them out....

San Diego Shohin Study Group
Meeting Day: 3rd Sunday
Time: 1:00PM
Location: Various Members’ Homes
Second Meeting Day:
Second Time:
Second Location:
Club Contact: Abe Far, Correspondence, 619-234-3434, 619-384-6004, PO Box 131312, San Diego, CA 92113
Email: abefar@yahoo.com

San Pu Kai
www.sanpukai.org
Meeting Day: 2nd Tuesday
Time: 7:00PM
Location: Brengle Terrace Senior Center, 1400 Vale Terrace, Vista, CA 92109
Second Meeting Day:
Second Time:
Second Location:
Club Contact: Carrie Valentine-Sullivan, President, 760-445-2548, 1010 Phillips St, Vista, CA 92083
Email: caryme2@yahoo.com

San Diego Bonsai Club
www.sandiegobonsaiclub.com
Meeting Day: 2nd Sunday
Time: 10:00AM
Location: Balboa Park, Casa Del Prado, Rm 101, 2125 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Second Meeting Day:
Second Time:
Second Location:
Club Contact: Dan Sola, President, 858-693-8534, 9854 Tomcat Pl, San Diego, CA 92126
Email: dsola1@san.rr.com

Bonsai & Beyond
Meeting Day: 3rd Tuesday
Time: 6:00PM
Location: San Diego Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024
Second Meeting Day: 1st Sun (every other month) Workshop
Second Time: 10:00AM
Second Location: Balboa Park, Casa Del Prado, Rm 101, 2125 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA
Club Contact: Philip Tacktill, President, 858-959-8259, 465 Glencrest Dr, Solana Beach, CA 92075
Email: juisanbonsai@adelphia.net
 

Emanon

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San Diego has some of the best clubs and groups in the state. Seek them out....
Thank you! I will for sure. I had come across the San Diego Bonsai Club after seeing the display at the Safari Park but it just slipped my mind. Thanks for reminding me. The other two I had no idea about. So, thank you again! Bonsai and Beyond meets pretty close to me.
 

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