Newly acquired Souther or Texas live oak

jbogard

Mame
Messages
229
Reaction score
317
Location
Abilene , Tx
USDA Zone
8a
So I took a trip down to the Austin area this weekend and came across what I consider a nice oak prebonsai. Given the fact that it’s been in a pot a few years after collection and was showing good growth I decided to give it a go because I’ve been on the hunt for a nice live oak to work on. It’s a bit of a taller tree at the moment but I think it has nice movement and taper and pretty good branch placement so I figured it would at the very least be a nice piece to learn on. I had to trim it a bit to get it to fit in the car but the man I bought it from said he was going to give it a hard cut back this winter anyway. Given the bones it has and health of the tree I thought the $95 price tag was not bad. Now to find a front and decide if I want to cut the leader back quite a bit to get some more movement and taper as well as shortening the apex. Proposed chop back lines in picture below. The tree is about 2 ft tall at this moment 32B13685-F16D-43B4-850C-8F10CCE188D4.jpeg5DDCA2D7-63E3-483A-9F78-57DF71064E6F.jpegFA88DD7B-3F16-4CDC-A66B-25A39598ABE1.jpeg7B490F32-E4DB-4349-B294-DADF1BBCA68D.jpeg9F740685-2BC3-432D-93A9-6B52664F3F76.jpeg5C10A0E9-4F4E-41F1-AADC-1330761B1F2B.jpeg32B13685-F16D-43B4-850C-8F10CCE188D4.jpeg
 
Messages
271
Reaction score
322
Location
Katy, TX
USDA Zone
9A
Nice tree but am sure they would have let you have it for 50 or less if you haggle with them. That is definitely not a landscape tree.
 

jbogard

Mame
Messages
229
Reaction score
317
Location
Abilene , Tx
USDA Zone
8a
Nice tree but am sure they would have let you have it for 50 or less if you haggle with them. That is definitely not a landscape tree.
It was at a bonsai nursery so it wasn’t marketed as landscape material.
 

0soyoung

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
6,453
Reaction score
10,448
Location
Anacortes, WA (AHS heat zone 1)
USDA Zone
8b
I remember those live oaks around Austin. I loved how their trunks and major branches so expressively snaked around hither and thither. I would be cutting this tree back to one of those two lower branches and, if it doesn't pop buds lower down on the trunk, work with it to make that branch the next trunk section. A new shoot from it could be wired into a pleasing lower trajectory next summer. I would prefer a new shoot lower on the trunk however - thread grafting might be possible. On the other hand, I have some cork oaks that are also broad leafed evergreens. They will bud all over when cut back at the time of bud burst, which of course is when the old leaves start to pop off, so maybe daring is needed more than grafting.

I realize that all of this is just a personal issue. Regardless of what you decide to do, remember that you can always start over and make something else of it as long as you keep it alive and healthy (as well as yourself) @jbogard.
 

jbogard

Mame
Messages
229
Reaction score
317
Location
Abilene , Tx
USDA Zone
8a
I remember those live oaks around Austin. I loved how their trunks and major branches so expressively snaked around hither and thither. I would be cutting this tree back to one of those two lower branches and, if it doesn't pop buds lower down on the trunk, work with it to make that branch the next trunk section. A new shoot from it could be wired into a pleasing lower trajectory next summer. I would prefer a new shoot lower on the trunk however - thread grafting might be possible. On the other hand, I have some cork oaks that are also broad leafed evergreens. They will bud all over when cut back at the time of bud burst, which of course is when the old leaves start to pop off, so maybe daring is needed more than grafting.

I realize that all of this is just a personal issue. Regardless of what you decide to do, remember that you can always start over and make something else of it as long as you keep it alive and healthy (as well as yourself) @jbogard.
I know you have more experience and most likely better vision than my amateur eyes. Just want to fully understand what you are saying. Chop back to the lowest or possibly second branch and wait for lower buds to pop and use one of the new buds as a new leader or are you saying to use one of the lower branches as a new leader? By lower trajectory do you mean downward arcing branches? Thanks for all of the help!
 

0soyoung

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
6,453
Reaction score
10,448
Location
Anacortes, WA (AHS heat zone 1)
USDA Zone
8b
I know you have more experience and most likely better vision than my amateur eyes. Just want to fully understand what you are saying. Chop back to the lowest or possibly second branch and wait for lower buds to pop and use one of the new buds as a new leader or are you saying to use one of the lower branches as a new leader? By lower trajectory do you mean downward arcing branches?
I was kind of rambling, wasn't I? Nevertheless, I think you've gotten the idea of what I think I would do. I lived there years ago in a house on a lot covered with live oaks that went hither and thither. Recreating/invoking those memories is what would interest me with this tree. To that end, the trunk seems too long/tall, so I'm thinking about ways to lower the canopy as well as make the eventual trunk line wander hither and thither like I remember those trees. Yes, I would wire a new shoot in a loopy downward trajectory to get this tree moving in that direction were this the plan. But it is your tree. Two (2) mm to 4 mm aluminum wire works pretty well for this, but one must be careful as young branches are easily damaged and, on many species, easily dislodged from the tree. Trying to do it is the only way to learn or 'get a feel' to do it.
 

0soyoung

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
6,453
Reaction score
10,448
Location
Anacortes, WA (AHS heat zone 1)
USDA Zone
8b
Maybe you'll be gifted some advice to the effect of 'ignore all this crap, just do this, then that, and you'll have it'. I'm just not to that level.

As I mentioned before @jbogard, I might need to graft to get a branch where I would like one to be. A thread graft requires a long shoot that can be bent around in a loop that intersects the trunk. So, I will explore whether I get shoots next year that will be long enough to do this. If there is, I might proceed with creating a thread graft before fall and after removing the leaves on it. If I don't get one suitable long shoot, I would need a separate sapling on its own roots to be the thread. Prospectively, now that I think about it, I might have tried to root cuttings (aha! the stuff exploratively cut off spring 2020) to be that sapling on its own roots. That might not be easily done so maybe I punt on this notion and accept that I'm trying to put a square peg into a round hole meaning this tree really ought to be made into a different image. Nevertheless, I will have learned a few things and will not have done anything to impair the health of this tree

You also need to work on getting it out of the nursery soil and into an inorganic substrate, and you need to clearly see the nebari. I've repotted cork oaks in spring (about the time old leaves start to drop) and after the summer solstice, around Aug/Sep. Either time works well. I am reasonably certain that live oaks will cope similarly, so choose your poison, so to speak. I also haven't had any trouble with bare rooting cork oaks in the process, but you may want to be more prudent and only remove the nursery soil from the roots on one side of the trunk (HBR = half bare root) placing it in a container of inorganic substrate and then finish the job late in the summer or in spring 2021.

That is a lot of stuff to do next year (2020). Maybe it is very unsatisfying for you, in the sense that almost nothing has been done toward styling this tree. I can also imagine other images that are maybe better suited to your tree. The classic oak image is a thick stout trunk with long wandering heavy branches that are so heavy that they sometimes rest on the ground. Your tree's trunk is far to tall for this. Of course, you could also choose to make the image of a younger oak. Still the trunk seems too tall to me - that is the core problem for me. A literati-like image wouldn't require doing anything that effectively shortens that trunk, but it would become a rather arty thing that honestly doesn't interest me. So, I'm stuck in my thinking right now - I keep coming back to need to shorten the tree somehow.

Maybe if the trunk was slanted instead of going straight up out of the ground, it wouldn't be such a problem. I've seen many trees that seem to arc up out of the ground. This might be cool if this tree has a really crappy nebari and doesn't flare. Trees I see like this almost always smoothly bend upward from almost parallel to the ground and the vertical end of the trunk tends to look very much like an ordinary tree. Even though this is a common juniper/pine image, it may be a sensible solution for your tree and one of those two lowest branches becomes the vertical part of the trunk. You will be creating that top over time, wiring and clip and growing to make the trunk top and all its branches 'bend to your will'. This, of course, you basically will have already learned to do, next year.


You see, I'm also a rank amateur, not certain what kind of tree I would eventually have. But I have a list of things to do in 2020 and some questions that I can possibly answer by observing, imagining, and thinking in the meantime. I've done lots of things that turned out to be stupid in hind sight. I've still got most of my original trees. Many were butt-ugly and hopeless, but they are healthy. So, I've started them anew (in a sense) and am doing something different with them. I now better understand what it takes to make a decent bonsai that I did back then. I keep my trees healthy and I keep trying to make them into decent bonsai. Yes, I've killed a few.

Find a vision, make a plan and decide what you'll need to know and be able to do to pull it off. Try it and rethink when it doesn't work out. Try again. Aside from an enjoyable and entertaining waste of my time, this is what I've gotten from my roughly decade's worth of experience. This and two or three trees my wife doesn't call "cute". 😬


... just sharing, though I am fully aware, belaboring the point.
 

jbogard

Mame
Messages
229
Reaction score
317
Location
Abilene , Tx
USDA Zone
8a
Maybe you'll be gifted some advice to the effect of 'ignore all this crap, just do this, then that, and you'll have it'. I'm just not to that level.

As I mentioned before @jbogard, I might need to graft to get a branch where I would like one to be. A thread graft requires a long shoot that can be bent around in a loop that intersects the trunk. So, I will explore whether I get shoots next year that will be long enough to do this. If there is, I might proceed with creating a thread graft before fall and after removing the leaves on it. If I don't get one suitable long shoot, I would need a separate sapling on its own roots to be the thread. Prospectively, now that I think about it, I might have tried to root cuttings (aha! the stuff exploratively cut off spring 2020) to be that sapling on its own roots. That might not be easily done so maybe I punt on this notion and accept that I'm trying to put a square peg into a round hole meaning this tree really ought to be made into a different image. Nevertheless, I will have learned a few things and will not have done anything to impair the health of this tree

You also need to work on getting it out of the nursery soil and into an inorganic substrate, and you need to clearly see the nebari. I've repotted cork oaks in spring (about the time old leaves start to drop) and after the summer solstice, around Aug/Sep. Either time works well. I am reasonably certain that live oaks will cope similarly, so choose your poison, so to speak. I also haven't had any trouble with bare rooting cork oaks in the process, but you may want to be more prudent and only remove the nursery soil from the roots on one side of the trunk (HBR = half bare root) placing it in a container of inorganic substrate and then finish the job late in the summer or in spring 2021.

That is a lot of stuff to do next year (2020). Maybe it is very unsatisfying for you, in the sense that almost nothing has been done toward styling this tree. I can also imagine other images that are maybe better suited to your tree. The classic oak image is a thick stout trunk with long wandering heavy branches that are so heavy that they sometimes rest on the ground. Your tree's trunk is far to tall for this. Of course, you could also choose to make the image of a younger oak. Still the trunk seems too tall to me - that is the core problem for me. A literati-like image wouldn't require doing anything that effectively shortens that trunk, but it would become a rather arty thing that honestly doesn't interest me. So, I'm stuck in my thinking right now - I keep coming back to need to shorten the tree somehow.

Maybe if the trunk was slanted instead of going straight up out of the ground, it wouldn't be such a problem. I've seen many trees that seem to arc up out of the ground. This might be cool if this tree has a really crappy nebari and doesn't flare. Trees I see like this almost always smoothly bend upward from almost parallel to the ground and the vertical end of the trunk tends to look very much like an ordinary tree. Even though this is a common juniper/pine image, it may be a sensible solution for your tree and one of those two lowest branches becomes the vertical part of the trunk. You will be creating that top over time, wiring and clip and growing to make the trunk top and all its branches 'bend to your will'. This, of course, you basically will have already learned to do, next year.


You see, I'm also a rank amateur, not certain what kind of tree I would eventually have. But I have a list of things to do in 2020 and some questions that I can possibly answer by observing, imagining, and thinking in the meantime. I've done lots of things that turned out to be stupid in hind sight. I've still got most of my original trees. Many were butt-ugly and hopeless, but they are healthy. So, I've started them anew (in a sense) and am doing something different with them. I now better understand what it takes to make a decent bonsai that I did back then. I keep my trees healthy and I keep trying to make them into decent bonsai. Yes, I've killed a few.

Find a vision, make a plan and decide what you'll need to know and be able to do to pull it off. Try it and rethink when it doesn't work out. Try again. Aside from an enjoyable and entertaining waste of my time, this is what I've gotten from my roughly decade's worth of experience. This and two or three trees my wife doesn't call "cute". 😬


... just sharing, though I am fully aware, belaboring the point.
Wonderful points you’ve presented for me to study and work off of! I agree that the tree is a bit tall so shortening the tree overall is the plan. From what I understand these trees have the capability to bud back pretty well so I’ll see what that gets me and if that doesn’t go as planned I have some acorns that I plan on starting seedling from to use as thread grafts if needed. I’ll keep you posted on the journey.
 

0soyoung

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
6,453
Reaction score
10,448
Location
Anacortes, WA (AHS heat zone 1)
USDA Zone
8b
Just a note: A branch made from the tree will match the tree. A branch grafted onto the tree as an acorn seedling might not match. It might have different sized, slight different colored leaves, and/or noticeably different bark as it ages. This could become a problem. On the other hand, few, if any, of these characteristics would be noticeable as root grafts.

Carry on. 👍
 

rockm

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
9,610
Reaction score
12,184
Location
Fairfax Va.
USDA Zone
7
Nice tree for $95. I'd keep that guy in mind for additional stock. This tree is worth twice that. Not many around. If this was collected in Austin, it is an Escarpment Live oak (quercus fusiformis). It used to be categorized as an upland subspecies of the southern live oak (quercus virginiana). It is more cold and drought hardy. This species is tough.

I have had one as a bonsai for 25 years. It was collected near Salado back in the early 90's.

First off, I would NOT chop that trunk. Live oaks with some movement in the trunk are not common. Eliminating some of that movement, even at the top of the tree, cuts its interest. I wouldn't cut anything on the trunk lower than the topmost mark you have made.

Second, forget grafting, you won't need it. Quercus fusiformis backbuds profusely when hard pruned--cutting back those thicker lower limbs by half should push new buds to start making branches.

Third, how long has the tree been in that container? If it's less than two years, and its trunk can be shifted by hand even a bit, wait another year to do anything to it. If it is solidly rooted in the pot, you can work it pretty hard top wise. Establishing decent root system in a container is THE thing you want to do at this point. Once established in a pot with a decent root mass underneath, I have found over the years that this species is pretty tough.

Root pruning, if you have a thick root mass established can be fairly aggressive. I have barerooted mine, blasting old soil out with a garden hose and completely replaced the soil many times over the last couple of decades. I typically saw off the bottom third of the root mass, comb out the roots a bit to give them some room. Tree recovers quickly.

You will find that top growth responds VERY well to hard pruning into old wood. New buds will sprout easily from the trunk near hard pruning wounds and back down the trunk. Grafting anything on this would be silly and mostly counterproductive. New shoots will also appear often in the summer and spring from the root crown at soil level, or even from roots just under the soil. This is how these reproduce in the wild--those sprouts become trees and the subsequent groups of them grow into groves called "Motts."

I would NOT listen to people who have a romantic notion of what this species "should" look like. This trunk IS NOT amenable to the short, spreading, twisty limbed style as most people envision southern live oaks. Don't chop it to force it into that mold. Work with the trunk you have. This species grows in all manner of forms in Texas, including upright like this one. Use the natural bends the trunk offers.

live oak.jpg
 
Last edited:

jbogard

Mame
Messages
229
Reaction score
317
Location
Abilene , Tx
USDA Zone
8a
Just a note: A branch made from the tree will match the tree. A branch grafted onto the tree as an acorn seedling might not match. It might have different sized, slight different colored leaves, and/or noticeably different bark as it ages. This could become a problem. On the other hand, few, if any, of these characteristics would be noticeable as root grafts.

Carry on. 👍
Good point! I didn't think about the high variability that is present among oak trees!
 

jbogard

Mame
Messages
229
Reaction score
317
Location
Abilene , Tx
USDA Zone
8a
Nice tree for $95. I'd keep that guy in mind for additional stock. This tree is worth twice that. Not many around. If this was collected in Austin, it is an Escarpment Live oak (quercus fusiformis). It used to be categorized as an upland subspecies of the southern live oak (quercus virginiana). It is more cold and drought hardy. This species is tough.

I have had one as a bonsai for 25 years. It was collected near Salado back in the early 90's.

First off, I would NOT chop that trunk. Live oaks with some movement in the trunk are not common. Eliminating some of that movement, even at the top of the tree, cuts its interest. I wouldn't cut anything on the trunk lower than the topmost mark you have made.

Second, forget grafting, you won't need it. Quercus fusiformis backbuds profusely when hard pruned--cutting back those thicker lower limbs by half should push new buds to start making branches.

Third, how long has the tree been in that container? If it's less than two years, and its trunk can be shifted by hand even a bit, wait another year to do anything to it. If it is solidly rooted in the pot, you can work it pretty hard top wise. Establishing decent root system in a container is THE thing you want to do at this point. Once established in a pot with a decent root mass underneath, I have found over the years that this species is pretty tough.

Root pruning, if you have a thick root mass established can be fairly aggressive. I have barerooted mine, blasting old soil out with a garden hose and completely replaced the soil many times over the last couple of decades. I typically saw off the bottom third of the root mass, comb out the roots a bit to give them some room. Tree recovers quickly.

You will find that top growth responds VERY well to hard pruning into old wood. New buds will sprout easily from the trunk near hard pruning wounds and back down the trunk. Grafting anything on this would be silly and mostly counterproductive. New shoots will also appear often in the summer and spring from the root crown at soil level, or even from roots just under the soil. This is how these reproduce in the wild--those sprouts become trees and the subsequent groups of them grow into groves called "Motts."

I would NOT listen to people who have a romantic notion of what this species "should" look like. This trunk IS NOT amenable to the short, spreading, twisty limbed style as most people envision southern live oaks. Don't chop it to force it into that mold. Work with the trunk you have. This species grows in all manner of forms in Texas, including upright like this one. Use the natural bends the trunk offers.

View attachment 274861
Wonderful to have advice from someone with working experience with an escarpment live oak! I will give the tree a little time to see how it responds to the pruning that has been done to this point and allow myself to really develop a picture of where I want the tree to go in my mind. I have heard that these oaks are quite resilient so its good to hear it first hand! thanks for all of the help @rockm! I look forward to maybe one day having an oak as nice as yours.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
7,631
Reaction score
13,945
Location
on the IL-WI border, a mile from ''da Lake''
USDA Zone
5b
I think RockM covered it well. Before you chop, do the "wiggle the trunk test", if the tree is loose in the pot, do nothing, let it grow. Too many times I neglected to double check current state of health of the tree in front of me, not the "image in my head or on the internet". Give it more time if it is not solidly rooted into that pot.

I like the idea of using as much of the existing trunk as possible. Oaks in general look better as medium to larger size bonsai. Go big. I envision this tree finishing possibly as much as 33% taller than it is right now. And equally wide. Oak leaves don't reduce enough for tiny bonsai.
 

rockm

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
9,610
Reaction score
12,184
Location
Fairfax Va.
USDA Zone
7
Wonderful to have advice from someone with working experience with an escarpment live oak! I will give the tree a little time to see how it responds to the pruning that has been done to this point and allow myself to really develop a picture of where I want the tree to go in my mind. I have heard that these oaks are quite resilient so its good to hear it first hand! thanks for all of the help @rockm! I look forward to maybe one day having an oak as nice as yours.
Your trunk has great potential IF you don't get stuck wanting a low, spreading stereotypical live oak.
I think RockM covered it well. Before you chop, do the "wiggle the trunk test", if the tree is loose in the pot, do nothing, let it grow. Too many times I neglected to double check current state of health of the tree in front of me, not the "image in my head or on the internet". Give it more time if it is not solidly rooted into that pot.

I like the idea of using as much of the existing trunk as possible. Oaks in general look better as medium to larger size bonsai. Go big. I envision this tree finishing possibly as much as 33% taller than it is right now. And equally wide. Oak leaves don't reduce enough for tiny bonsai.
The leaves on this species reduce. Typically after the first flush of growth extends, my oak pushes a second flush that are less than half the size of the first. This happens mid summer. The trick is to keep the first flush from extending too much, wait for the second and eliminate the largest of the leaves when the second flush comes in.
 
Top Bottom