Eastern Hemlock - Bonsai suitable?

Marc Wiehn

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I have often wondered why you hardly see any bonsai made from Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) or Tsuga caroliniana? I have seen plenty made with its western cousins, but very few with the eastern varieties. Are they not suitable for bonsai? Do they have flaws like sudden branch die-back or other traits that makes them unsuitable material to work with? What are your experiences with this species? Have you worked with it before? I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences (both good and bad) with the Eastern Hemlock.
 

rockm

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The primary reason I think these two aren't used for bonsai much is availability. They're not all that common in the nursery trade and when they are they're not cheap.

Additionally, their natural range is difficult in terrain and the places they grow tend to be protected areas of forest--at least in the Southern Appalachians. I also think both species are becoming rarer in the wild because of wooly adelgid attacks. The bugs have decimated old growth stands of Caroliniana in the highlands of Va. and W.Va over the last decade or so. Tsuga caroliniana is approaching threatened status in the wild, according to some forestry groups.

I've seen one or two eastern hemlock as bonsai. One was pretty nice (yamadori), the other had long lanky foliage and a pathetic, unimpressive trunk (nursery stock source).
 

Bill S

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Nick Lenz says he won't have one, to many issues, besides the western version is SOOO much nicer.

Good news rockm, todays paper here says that an insect (beetle) that has been found and introduced here is working to overtake the little Wolly buggers, ok adelgigs. So hopefully when the food is gone (adelgigs) there won't be nasty side effects from the new beetles. Especially good news since we now have a little asian bastard killing off maples now.

Here is a link to the story - http://www.masslive.com/newsflash/i...mlock-eating/512192b027dc4a038ab1349da04bd68f
 
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Marc Wiehn

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I don't think they are that scarce in the trade either. Most nurseries and Lowe's/Home Depots around here carry some each year. I realize that's not the most exciting material, but like others such as pines it can be good starter material.

So apart from the availability of exciting or promising raw material, what other issues are there? Does Nick Lenz give specifics?
 

Marc Wiehn

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Nick Lenz says he won't have one, to many issues, besides the western version is SOOO much nicer.

That makes me curious... what is it that makes the western variety so much nicer than the eastern type? I have seen the western types as full grown trees, and man, they are impressive, but so are many eastern hemlocks. Just curious what get's you excited about the western over the eastern type...:D
 

rockm

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Lenz says wild Canadensis tends to lack much character since the smaller ones grow in sheltered areas--which results in smooth immature bark and lanky growth. Addtionally, growth also tends to spring upright and is pretty diffuse. He does say that (like almost all trees) if you find one with a decent trunk and bark, it might be worth the trouble of collecting it. It does like acid soils and appears a bit finicky about it.

I'd add that "scarce" in nurseries depends alot on region and who's supplying the trees to the nursery. I've seen the species at Home Depot and other big box stores from time to time and at more expensive older nurseries. Neither place had trees worth making into bonsai.

I have seen spectacular, old growth Caroliniana in secluded areas of the Blue Ridge, but underneath those trees, the saplings that did grow were very much like Lenz says.

It all boils down to (like most species that can be less than ideal)--If you can find a decent trunk then all bets are off, Go for it...
 

cquinn

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Lenz says wild Canadensis tends to lack much character since the smaller ones grow in sheltered areas--which results in smooth immature bark and lanky growth. Addtionally, growth also tends to spring upright and is pretty diffuse. He does say that (like almost all trees) if you find one with a decent trunk and bark, it might be worth the trouble of collecting it. It does like acid soils and appears a bit finicky about it.

I'd add that "scarce" in nurseries depends alot on region and who's supplying the trees to the nursery. I've seen the species at Home Depot and other big box stores from time to time and at more expensive older nurseries. Neither place had trees worth making into bonsai.

I have seen spectacular, old growth Caroliniana in secluded areas of the Blue Ridge, but underneath those trees, the saplings that did grow were very much like Lenz says.

It all boils down to (like most species that can be less than ideal)--If you can find a decent trunk then all bets are off, Go for it...

They can be found, but don't look under old growth forests for them. Those hemlock get leggy looking for light. Go higher in the mountains (Southern Appalachians in my case), when you start seeing more rocks than dirt you'll find some good ones as long as its legal. Also, sides of rocky stream beds can contain some dwarfed ones. I've got a few (no pics right now sorry). you have to train them using the clip and grow method as the branches will break at the slightest bend. The best one I've gotten actually came from Warren Hill and I believe he got from a collector in NC. It's like Walter Pall says in his collecting videos, you have to find a pattern, then you'll find trees.
 

rockm

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"as long as its legal."

Well, see that's the problem. In Va. most of those rocky-topped mountains and sites with the spectacular bonsaiable trees are State or National lands. Collecting permits are scarce, if they exist at all. Unless you know the rangers for each station, it can be a big job to find out who can approve one.
 

mcpesq817

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I've seen mature Eastern Hemlocks in upstate NY that were absolutely gorgeous. I haven't spent enough time up there to see if I can find any suitable specimens for bonsai, but would love try one out.
 

Bill S

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Sorry I didn't remember the details at the time, but the guys have gotten it right, whatever it is if it has the right stuff it can be done, but how much effort do you put into something that doesn't really want to cooporate. There enough challanges that you need to deal with without banging your head on the wall.
 

treebeard55

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Marc, one more thought: maybe you can be the one to push the envelope on this species. We've been having an interesting discussion on another forum about testing "conventional wisdom" for ourselves, and learning new things. After all, somebody has to be pioneer! :)

I've seen some nice hemlock bonsai from time to time, and have tried the species a couple of times too. The failures were due to my mistakes or circumstances beyond human control, both times. But I like the tree, and it's not hard to find starter-size material here in IN. So I expect to try again.
 

Marc Wiehn

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That's what I had in mind...lol. I don't need a 200 year old yamadori to have fun with this species. Thanks for the encouragement treebeard, I will keep you posted.
 

Vance Wood

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That makes me curious... what is it that makes the western variety so much nicer than the eastern type? I have seen the western types as full grown trees, and man, they are impressive, but so are many eastern hemlocks. Just curious what get's you excited about the western over the eastern type...:D

The foliage and growth habit. Both Western Hemlock and Mountain Hemlock have compact growth where-as Eastern Hemlock has growth more like a Yews grown in the shade unclipped, and it tends to be fl acid.
 

discusmike

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The eastern can be very picky and will drop all its foilage very easily,when attempting to train in my experience.,.
 

HotAction

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I believe the big tree in the background is an Eastern hemlock. (the one I'm pointing at)

Dave
 

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bonsaiTOM

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Hey Dave, You got a big-boy pot ready for that monster ROR hemlock? :D

If you want to see some outrageous Eastern Hemlocks nearby check out Root Glen on the Hamilton College campus in Clinton, NY.
 

casey

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Collected Canadensis

Because of their availability to me, I too have become curious about the viability of
Eastern Hemlock for bonsai. I collect them from shady damp cliffs on a farm in central West Virginia. Many of them grow on a very shallow bed of leaf mold.

Most with reasonable trunks (2" +) have abandoned their lowest branches. Some of the smaller ones look to have budded back lower to the ground.

For the one pictured here, I guess I'll just keep chopping back the trunk till I get to that lowest branch (for a new leader). If I get really lucky, maybe a bud will break at the first bend for a number one branch.

I've had this one for two years. Immediately after digging, I put it in 1:1:1 granite/turface/pine bark mulch. I left some of the old soil on the roots. Don't know if that was a bad idea. Also, I don't have my notes handy, but I think that I collected this one sometime in autumn.

Because these guys grow on flat rocks, their root structures are wonderful. But they have a very stiff columnar habit and when i tilt them for trunk movement, the goreous natural nebaris get screwed up. Maybe I should do what the trees want and just try to make them formal uprights. They also might make interesting forest plantings - I'm thinking of a hillbilly version of Naka's Goshin.
 

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treebeard55

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Go for it! I've seen some great ROR hemlocks in southeastern Ohio myself. I'd love to see your "hillbilly Goshin" when you work it up! :)
 

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