Eastern Red Cedar to Practice On

CapeCodBonsai

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I have no experience with bonsai but, have always appreciated the art. I recently decided to start learning about bonsai in the hope of picking up a new hobby. I’ve read enough posts on this forum to know that ERC makes for poor bonsai material but, figured since I needed some trees to practice on anyway . . . Why not.

My buddy was going to bulldoze an Eastern Red Cedar on his property and I talked him into taking a coffee break just long enough for me to hastily dig it up. I had to be quick about it but, managed to save a lot of the rootball. I stuck it in a large pot (I had sitting around) that was already 3/4’s full of some potting soil from last summer. If it survives a Cape Cod winter, I’d like to try some shaping and styling in the future. I was hoping for some instructive advice. I’m already anticipating the advice that I should’ve just let my buddy’s tractor wheels do the shaping for me so, if we could skip all the “just throw it out” advice, I’d appreciate it.

As is typical for ERC, this tree wanted to grow into a fence post. However, since it was located on a windy bluff, nature kept it somewhat short and shrubby with a fairly thick trunk (for it’s height). The trunk has some taper and a little (. . . very little) movement.

For those of you that don’t completely despise this native species, can you please tell me what my next steps should be regarding this tree? Also suggestions on styling/shaping would be appreciated.

P.S. I plan on purchasing additional (more acceptable) species of trees to work with simultaneously. 16EBDFFC-09AB-44C8-9284-970385DC7133.jpeg77B86CA3-62A3-4E8A-871D-F877254F1BB8.jpeg
 

Wires_Guy_wires

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That is one gnarly juniper, nice! I haven't played around with junipers of that age, so I have nothing to offer.
ERC is hard, but it can be done. I hope you continue this project.
 

Silentrunning

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Welcome to the forum. You are probably going to get beat up about your choice of trees, but have fun with it. I have several in the ground that I am working towards shaping for Christmas trees. If I am not successful they will make good firewood.
 

Joe Dupre'

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I think you have a great specimen to start with. ERC is maybe not one of the best species, but you definitely have something there. No, not "show quality", but much better than most beginners start with. Just concentrate on keeping it alive. Really, that's the hardest part of this hobby. Actually, you need to get it to thrive. A really happy, thriving ERC will give some decent new growth to work with. If I were to find one like it down in this swamp country of Louisiana, I'd consider myself fortunate indeed.
My advice.........don't try to go too small with it. If it makes it to spring, trim back the longer branches just a few inches, keep it watered and fertilized and don't try to repot or put it into a smaller pot the first growing season.
 

Joe Dupre'

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One more suggestion. I wouldn't worry too much about the potting soil. It's not the best medium, but it should get the tree off to a good start. Just don't water too much. You don't want soggy soil. There is time down the road to get the tree into proper bonsai soil.
 

CapeCodBonsai

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Welcome to the forum. You are probably going to get beat up about your choice of trees, but have fun with it. I have several in the ground that I am working towards shaping for Christmas trees. If I am not successful they will make good firewood.
Hello, Silentrunning. Thank you for the welcome. Yes, I’ve seen the never-ending abuse that rookies take over asking about these trees for use as bonsai material . . . and I am anticipating the onslaught. It’s not like this is “my choice” as my one and only bonsai tree. I have purchased another “beginner type” tree from a reputable bonsai grower on which to learn and I intend to buy more. Seems like it wouldn’t be much of a hobby if I only had one (poor quality) tree.
 

rockm

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Jeez, yeah all that "abuse" for telling folks that mostly ERC is a waste of time. That fact remains for the most part. The saving grace for yours is that it has a pretty decent trunk on it (highly unusual for ERC).

If you're serious about keeping this tree to work on, I would leave it alone for the next couple of years--no "design work" pinching, pruning bending, etc. for at least a year. More time would be better.

I would also be careful making assumptions that it will be around to work on. Winter collection in Mass. (even on the Cape) is not a great thing to do. Long, long winter ahead. The potting soil isn't not going to help things, especially if you get a lot of moisture this winter. Too wet... I would consider simply heeling the root ball into the ground or large mulch pile and leave the pot and potting soil out of the equation--.

You won't really know if it's going to live until late spring--

FWIW, I do hope you have success. It's a pretty good start.
 

Microscopic

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This is like getting the best house on a crappy block, I mean a great specimen from a poor species IMO.

This is a very natural looking tree and I like it lot, and would be pretty damn good if you can manage to chase the foliage back.

Good luck man!
 

CapeCodBonsai

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I think you have a great specimen to start with. ERC is maybe not one of the best species, but you definitely have something there. No, not "show quality", but much better than most beginners start with. Just concentrate on keeping it alive. Really, that's the hardest part of this hobby. Actually, you need to get it to thrive. A really happy, thriving ERC will give some decent new growth to work with. If I were to find one like it down in this swamp country of Louisiana, I'd consider myself fortunate indeed.
My advice.........don't try to go too small with it. If it makes it to spring, trim back the longer branches just a few inches, keep it watered and fertilized and don't try to repot or put it into a smaller pot the first growing season.
Thank you, Joe. It’s informative suggestions like yours that I was holding out hope for.

There are several whorls of branches that I have been fighting the urge to thin out but, through reading (and confirmed by your comments) I realize that the tree is going to need time to recover before I start hacking away. Should I be concerned about those whorl’d sections becoming larger anytime soon and contributing to reverse taper in the trunk?
 

CapeCodBonsai

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Jeez, yeah all that "abuse" for telling folks that mostly ERC is a waste of time. That fact remains for the most part. The saving grace for yours is that it has a pretty decent trunk on it (highly unusual for ERC).

If you're serious about keeping this tree to work on, I would leave it alone for the next couple of years--no "design work" pinching, pruning bending, etc. for at least a year. More time would be better.

I would also be careful making assumptions that it will be around to work on. Winter collection in Mass. (even on the Cape) is not a great thing to do. Long, long winter ahead. The potting soil isn't not going to help things, especially if you get a lot of moisture this winter. Too wet... I would consider simply heeling the root ball into the ground or large mulch pile and leave the pot and potting soil out of the equation--.

You won't really know if it's going to live until late spring--

FWIW, I do hope you have success. It's a pretty good start.
Thanks rockm . . . and trust me, I understand all the reasons they suck but, like you said, the trunk on this tree (coupled with the fact that it was going to be firewood anyway) made me want to play around with it. I honestly don’t hold out much hope for it surviving the winter but *knock on wood* it’s been a relatively mild start so far. I actually dug this tree up back in October (I just got around to taking a couple of bad photographs and asking about it now). Do you think I should risk pulling it back out of the pot now to heel it in? Are you suggesting getting it out of the pot solely for better drainage purposes or also to protect the root ball from freezing? I may be able to dig a large enough hole during the next warm-up to drop the entire pot into (but that won’t really correct drainage if that is the primary concern).
 

CapeCodBonsai

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This is like getting the best house on a crappy block, I mean a great specimen from a poor species IMO.

This is a very natural looking tree and I like it lot, and would be pretty damn good if you can manage to chase the foliage back.

Good luck man!
Microscopic . . . I love the analogy! I don’t have unrealistic expectations but, despite my ignorance, I thought this tree’s trunk was a little unusual (for the species). It’ll never be a show tree but, I was hoping some experienced folks could help me keep it alive and guide me towards bringing out its best attributes.
 

Vance Wood

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There is always the option of saving the trunk and growing it out and grafting in Shimpaku foliage at some point and there you will have a premo bonsai. For now you use the tree to experiment and develop an eye for bonsai design and by the time you consider yourself ready to try some grafting you will have a decent trunk worth of the effort---or not.
 

CapeCodBonsai

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There is always the option of saving the trunk and growing it out and grafting in Shimpaku foliage at some point and there you will have a premo bonsai. For now you use the tree to experiment and develop an eye for bonsai design and by the time you consider yourself ready to try some grafting you will have a decent trunk worth of the effort---or not.
Thanks Vance . . . I don’t really know enough to know but, I suspect that the trunk is not even exceptional enough to bother with grafting onto. I just thought, I wonder if I can put “a bow on a pig” of a species? I just want to try to maximize the tree for what it actually is . . . an Eastern Red Cedar.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Actually, as @rockm said, that is an unusually good ERC trunk.

But as he said, leave it alone for a minimum of 2 years to recover.

I would be tempted in late spring, to repot again, this time into nothing but pumice. Or a mix that is 90% pumice and lava combined. Or pumice and crushed granite, or quartzite (poultry grit for laying chickens, do not use the one for pigeons) (Turkey grit is a nice coarse quartzite gravel). Then just settle it in to grow for 2 years. No pruning, no nothing. You want to see it add a foot of growth before you start working the tree.

I see a powerful, tapering straight trunk for an formal upright. When it was finally ready to work on, I would graft shimpaku where you will need branches. Either single point scion grafts (best) or approach grafts (leaves less than desirable scars)

Once grafts have taken, then all the original branches, every one would be removed, or rather leave a short jin. But that would be the way I would roll just from a cursory glance at the photos. You have plenty of time to decide.
 

rockm

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Thanks rockm . . . and trust me, I understand all the reasons they suck but, like you said, the trunk on this tree (coupled with the fact that it was going to be firewood anyway) made me want to play around with it. I honestly don’t hold out much hope for it surviving the winter but *knock on wood* it’s been a relatively mild start so far. I actually dug this tree up back in October (I just got around to taking a couple of bad photographs and asking about it now). Do you think I should risk pulling it back out of the pot now to heel it in? Are you suggesting getting it out of the pot solely for better drainage purposes or also to protect the root ball from freezing? I may be able to dig a large enough hole during the next warm-up to drop the entire pot into (but that won’t really correct drainage if that is the primary concern).
Should be OK to pull it GENTLY out of the container. Since the tree is probably dormant, or at least mostly inactive, it probably isn't regenerating roots that might be damaged.

I would get it out of that pot because the root ball will drain better without and additional impervious barrier. Pots can stay far wetter than soil. They inhibit drainage. That's a bad thing in the winter. Root ball should be healed into a very large mulch pile--like five times the size of the rootball, or sunk into the ground in a WELL DRAINED location in a wind-protected location (very important), then mulched up the trunk and four feet out--also important---I would NOT drop the pot into the hole. That would be very bad, as said before, a pot inhibits drainage.

Hope for snow, ALOT of snow. Snow is your friend and will insulate the roots from the worst cold. I'd also place a burlap bag (no plastic) over the foliage on windy days. Dry winter wind is a killer and the tree has no roots to replace moisture that wind will suck out.
 

CapeCodBonsai

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Actually, as @rockm said, that is an unusually good ERC trunk.

But as he said, leave it alone for a minimum of 2 years to recover.

I would be tempted in late spring, to repot again, this time into nothing but pumice. Or a mix that is 90% pumice and lava combined. Or pumice and crushed granite, or quartzite (poultry grit for laying chickens, do not use the one for pigeons) (Turkey grit is a nice coarse quartzite gravel). Then just settle it in to grow for 2 years. No pruning, no nothing. You want to see it add a foot of growth before you start working the tree.

I see a powerful, tapering straight trunk for an formal upright. When it was finally ready to work on, I would graft shimpaku where you will need branches. Either single point scion grafts (best) or approach grafts (leaves less than desirable scars)

Once grafts have taken, then all the original branches, every one would be removed, or rather leave a short jin. But that would be the way I would roll just from a cursory glance at the photos. You have plenty of time to decide.
Alright . . . Now you guys are making me think that, since this isn’t your everyday ERC, I should hand this thing off to someone who won’t kill it and who has enough experience to make something nice out of this tree.
 

CapeCodBonsai

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Should be OK to pull it GENTLY out of the container. Since the tree is probably dormant, or at least mostly inactive, it probably isn't regenerating roots that might be damaged.

I would get it out of that pot because the root ball will drain better without and additional impervious barrier. Pots can stay far wetter than soil. They inhibit drainage. That's a bad thing in the winter. Root ball should be healed into a very large mulch pile--like five times the size of the rootball, or sunk into the ground in a WELL DRAINED location in a wind-protected location (very important), then mulched up the trunk and four feet out--also important---I would NOT drop the pot into the hole. That would be very bad, as said before, a pot inhibits drainage.

Hope for snow, ALOT of snow. Snow is your friend and will insulate the roots from the worst cold. I'd also place a burlap bag (no plastic) over the foliage on windy days. Dry winter wind is a killer and the tree has no roots to replace moisture that wind will suck out.
I’ll work on getting the tree heeled in this weekend. We’re supposed to get our first arctic blast of air Sunday night/Monday.

Thank you for all the advice and especially the explanations as to “why it’s done”.
 

Potawatomi13

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Start with keeping alive. Replanting/additional root damage seems most unwise and if tree dies is likely reason;).
 

CapeCodBonsai

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Actually, as @rockm said, that is an unusually good ERC trunk.

But as he said, leave it alone for a minimum of 2 years to recover.

I would be tempted in late spring, to repot again, this time into nothing but pumice. Or a mix that is 90% pumice and lava combined. Or pumice and crushed granite, or quartzite (poultry grit for laying chickens, do not use the one for pigeons) (Turkey grit is a nice coarse quartzite gravel). Then just settle it in to grow for 2 years. No pruning, no nothing. You want to see it add a foot of growth before you start working the tree.

I see a powerful, tapering straight trunk for an formal upright. When it was finally ready to work on, I would graft shimpaku where you will need branches. Either single point scion grafts (best) or approach grafts (leaves less than desirable scars)

Once grafts have taken, then all the original branches, every one would be removed, or rather leave a short jin. But that would be the way I would roll just from a cursory glance at the photos. You have plenty of time to decide.
Leo in N E Illinois,
Thank you for the suggestions. If you find yourself sitting around with nothing else to do, could you show me an example or two of the tree styling you’re envisioning? I know it’s WAY early but, (since I’ve brought it home) I’ve already taken quite a few beer-breaks staring at this tree wondering how it might look someday. I’m sure there will be many more.
 

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