ILEX CRENATA ‘DWARF PAGODA’

amatbrewer

Shohin
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I picked up a ILEX CRENATA ‘DWARF PAGODA’ from a local nursery. I am sure I payed way too much but I like the compact leaves, thick trunk, and roots. Worst case I figure it will make a nice accent plant.
It was very root bound so I re-potted it into a colander and cleaned it up a bit so I could get a better view of what I had purchased. I sealed some of the cuts and left some of the others to see how well it heals cuts first hand. Obvious I will be doing nothing more to it until spring.

I know it is slow growing (2-4" a year), hardened branches are difficult to bend, and it is plenty hearty for my climate. I also read "Softwood cuttings from the current year's growth will root fairly easily when taken in late summer or early fall." and I tried starting a few of the branches I removed during cleaning and the soft wood cuttings seem to be OK, but the one hardwood cutting started dyeing soon after removal. So that seems accurate.

Beyond needing to cut it way back (spring), reduce the number of branches (not sure which yet) and probably address the reverse taper (kind of visible in the last image), I am not sure what to do with it. Any suggestions as to what I might be able to do with it would be appreciated (I really suck at seeing the potential in raw material).

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Leo in N E Illinois

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Nice tree, it has a lot going on. Needs a bit of "fixing", it has a few issues. I would enjoy having it on my bench, so don't get me wrong when I critique.

I would have worked on fixing the root structure before putting it in the colander. The roots that circle above the nebari are a detraction to my tastes. If you want to work on them right away, repot early spring and start by removing a couple. A different way to fix, 2 years down the road, when you repot, do a ground layer to create an entirely new root system. If you like the surface roots as is, don't do anything.

Second, don't prune the branches short until you have a plan. You are correct you need to reduce the number of branches, first figure out which of them have to go. Only after you have thinned out the branches, you identify the structure, and according to that, only then do you shorten what you have left. Otherwise if you shorten first, you may discover you needed length to create an apex, or to build primary branches.
So first reduce the number of branches coming out of the knot of branches.

I suggest a broom style, maybe keep 5 branches. Or reduce to just 2, then have those 2 branches branch to make 4, then again to have 8 and then 16 branches making a broom structure.

There's other possible styles in this tree, you could make a fairly classic informal upright.

So don't rush, let it settle in, ponder what you want to do, begin working on it next spring.
 

just.wing.it

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Love that tight growth these get...
I had one very similar once, killed it by over working it...definitely dont rush it like I did.
 

amatbrewer

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Nice tree, it has a lot going on. Needs a bit of "fixing", it has a few issues. I would enjoy having it on my bench, so don't get me wrong when I critique.

I would have worked on fixing the root structure before putting it in the colander. The roots that circle above the nebari are a detraction to my tastes. If you want to work on them right away, repot early spring and start by removing a couple. A different way to fix, 2 years down the road, when you repot, do a ground layer to create an entirely new root system. If you like the surface roots as is, don't do anything.

Second, don't prune the branches short until you have a plan. You are correct you need to reduce the number of branches, first figure out which of them have to go. Only after you have thinned out the branches, you identify the structure, and according to that, only then do you shorten what you have left. Otherwise if you shorten first, you may discover you needed length to create an apex, or to build primary branches.
So first reduce the number of branches coming out of the knot of branches.

I suggest a broom style, maybe keep 5 branches. Or reduce to just 2, then have those 2 branches branch to make 4, then again to have 8 and then 16 branches making a broom structure.

There's other possible styles in this tree, you could make a fairly classic informal upright.

So don't rush, let it settle in, ponder what you want to do, begin working on it next spring.


Thanks for the reply/info!
I am on the fence about the roots. They are one of the things that attracted me to it, but I am not sure I will be able to work them into the final design. I will look at them closer when it comes time to re-pot, so I should have lots of time to ponder it. As I understand it these are very slow growers so I plan to take my time with it.
Ground layering is a great idea if I cant get the existing roots to work...I just doubt I have the guts to try it...yet. Maybe after I build up my collection more I will be willing to take more risks.

Seeing the potential in raw material is probably my biggest weakness. I can't tell you how many time I did one thing only to find I should have gone another direction. I do have two directions I have been thinking about for this so far and will put them in separate posts after this. Luckily I have months before I have to commit to anything.
Any suggestions/critique are welcome.

Couple of things. I prefer my plants to not be "over stylized" and retain at least a little of the imperfect beauty of a natural tree, and I favor ascetics over strict adherence to rules. [If it looks good I don't care if it breaks a rule or two, as I have no intention of ever entering my plants into competitions.]
 

amatbrewer

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I will start with my more conservative idea. The two branches in the middle are arrow straight and either need to be removed or at least cut all the way back to their lowest node and rebuilt. So for this I am thinking remove them as well as the one pointing directly forward and the arrow straight branch next to it (cut at 3 red lines). And work it back to a much more compact form as indicated by red arch.
Also, it seems once hardened, these branches do not bend easy (they seem quite hard and likely to break if I try to bend them much), which kind of limits what I can do with the existing material (probably should have considered that before shelling out my $$ on this). This tree seems to back bud easily, so I suspect I should be able to fill in any gaps over time. My idea was to try to do most of my styling by clip/grow. Being such a slow grower, this could be a very long process. What have I got if not time? Not looks, talent or $, that's for sure. ;-P

Note this plan does not resolve the budge (base of the lowest right branch in this pix), but being towards the back is not very visible so I might be able to live with it. And the exposed roots don't work very well with this as the front, so I will have to do something about them.
1536597258440.png

Now the other extreme. A major hack back down to the one branch for a wind swept style. I don't know if this kind of tree can handle that drastic a cut (and not sure I have the guts to try), and I also don't know if it would be able to heal that large of a cut (there is evidence of some older cuts quite well healed, but others totally unhealed). Any suggestions or comments on this would be appreciated.
1536597821081.png

These are just two options I have come up with so far, I am sure there are many more directions this tree could go (probably much better than what can conceive).
 

amatbrewer

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Love that tight growth these get...
I had one very similar once, killed it by over working it...definitely dont rush it like I did.

Thanks, good to know. I am a very impulsive person and I hope this tree will help me overcome that. Or I will be out $90.
 

amatbrewer

Shohin
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The roots that circle above the nebari are a detraction to my tastes. If you want to work on them right away, repot early spring and start by removing a couple. A different way to fix, 2 years down the road, when you repot, do a ground layer to create an entirely new root system. If you like the surface roots as is, don't do anything.

Second, don't prune the branches short until you have a plan. You are correct you need to reduce the number of branches, first figure out which of them have to go. Only after you have thinned out the branches, you identify the structure, and according to that, only then do you shorten what you have left. Otherwise if you shorten first, you may discover you needed length to create an apex, or to build primary branches.
So first reduce the number of branches coming out of the knot of branches.

I suggest a broom style, maybe keep 5 branches. Or reduce to just 2, then have those 2 branches branch to make 4, then again to have 8 and then 16 branches making a broom structure.

So don't rush, let it settle in, ponder what you want to do, begin working on it next spring.

After reading another thread regarding Ilex crenata I figured I should update this, even if only to say a belated "You were absolutely right. Thanks!"
I spent a LOT of time staring at this tree but was unable to see a path forward. Then one day I realized the thing that most caught my attention was the problem. As much as I was attracted to those roots, they were the limiting factor. So I worked up the courage and removed them quick before I could change my mind...the result was like magic. I could now see a direction forward. Again you were right, broom style is the way to go.
But the time was not wasted. I did get a chance to experience the painfully slow growth as well as its prolific back budding. It seems slow to heal large (and even moderate) cuts but is quite tolerant of root work and foliage reductions. As I expected the wood can be quite brittle, so unless I am really on top of things (unlikely) most of the development is probably going to have to be via clip-n-grow. If noting else this will be a good (and much needed) lesson in patience for me. It did not seem to respond to a stepped up fertilizer application, but that could just be its naturally slow growth, so next year I plan to continue the monthly organic fertilizer and weekly fish emulsion applications.

I placed it into a training pot. I know this will slow its development but I find it helps me better visualize the trees potential.

Next step will be to see how it does in the spring. If it continues to be hearty and strong, remove some of the problematic arrow straight branches so I can begin work on the basic structure of the branches. And at some point need to adjust the angle it is planted.

I also have a request in with a local nursery to pick up a second one of these this spring.

Sorry I don’t have a better pic. And I already removed that pesky bit of Irish moss.
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