Oak Tree Starter Help

TJV

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I received a "memorial" tree for my mother who recently passed. Its an oak and I started growing it from seed about a month ago. I have a nice 2 - 3" seedling with 4 or 5 leaves growing strong.

My problem is that eventually this will have to go in the ground, and I have nowhere to put it (permanently). Considering the reason I received the tree I would really like to keep it. I figured my solution was to try my hand at Bonsai (I understand that this in itself is risky, which is why I am doing my best to study up)

My question is this: What are my first steps?

I have found forums suggesting: Let it grow completely unhindered for a couple years...

Others say: Prune the roots (cut the tap root to stimulate lateral root growth) and clip the seed leaves and replant...

Any help?

FYI: I am in North Carolina (Zone 7-8)

Thanks - TJ
 

Bonsai Nut

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Sorry for your loss :(

You have to determine your priorities:

(1) Priority is to increase odds of survival - let it grow unchecked for several years. It would be BEST if you could let it grow for several years in the ground, keeping it in good soil and protected from critters, trimming the tap root only and letting the rest of the tree grow wild to get strong quickly.

(2) Priority is to make it a nice small bonsai - trim the tap root only, and replant in a container and let it grow for a season (being careful not to damage ANY other roots). I would not defoliate this tree ever until it was larger and well-established, but you can pinch back growth that is too strong.

I am biased towards letting small trees grow fast for a while to get strong before you start working on them. If you push small trees too hard you will kill a fair number of them - though the survivors will have a leg up on development versus the trees that have not been worked. In this case, I think you may prefer the conservative route.
 

TJV

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I'm thinking option 1 is the way for me to go. I'm in no hurry to make it a bonsai...I can let it grow and in the mean time, practice bonsai techniques on some other plants.

If I understand you correctly...When I am ready to plant in the ground (another month or so) I will trim the tap root then. What do you think of putting it in a BIG pot outside? Maybe I would have better control over moisture, soil conditions, etc...?

Thanks
 

Bonsai Nut

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Before we make more specific recommendations, do you know the species of oak, and where do you live?
 

TJV

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Unfortunately I do not know the species, but I will snap a pic. I live in North Carolina (Raleigh).
 

TJV

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Here are a couple pics of the seedling. I got a close up of the leaf...I thought that would be the most useful in determining the species:
 

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Bonsai Nut

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Looks to me like a Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor).

I think it would be your choice whether to plant it in the ground, or in a large container. You live in a mild enough area that you need not worry about roots freezing in a large container, and you could keep a better eye on it until it gets larger.
 

TJV

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You are good! I looked at a million pics of leaves and never found anything as close as when you suggested Swamp White Oak.

Thanks. Well...I'll talk to you again in a few years. Just kidding, I think I will stick around and practice on some other trees with less sentimental value.

Thanks Again.
 

Bonsai Nut

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Glad to help! Get yourself some junipers or Chinese Elms to start with - you'll have a blast while you watch your oak grow :)
 

bonsainotwar

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I currently have three oaks,I have been working on for about five years,which I bought as a nursery trees.I have a Bur Oak,which is huge for a bonsai (40"),but considering these trees grow over 100' tall,and the tree has a 5" diameter base,I think I can eventually make it into a nice large bonsai.The tree is about 8" smaller than it was when I bought it.I'd post a picture,but it is a big Chinese pot,15" across,and 10" deep,that I have to keep in a shopping cart.I would call this tree about 50% styled.

My two big complaints with this tree,are the leaves do not get smaller,and the first branch starts 21" from the base,the latter seems to be a big problem with oaks you don't start from acorns.I have a Pin Oak,I bought at the same time,that looks ugly as hell,that I have been whacking at heavily to get lower growth,the leaves have gotten small,but again,I have no lower branches.The third,is a hybrid oak I have,that is just starting to look like a bonsai,this has a 4" base,is 31" tall,but needs to get a lot of growth on both sides.I have grown a whole new apex on the tree.This took three years. Again,the leaves are still pretty big.

These people have some interesting hybrid oaks I've been meaning to buy.
 

discusmike

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Glad to hear you guys discussing oaks,i have a scarlet oak in my backyard with a huge base and nice movement,i whacked it down last spring,then lower this spring,now i have a real nice leader(after doing away with all the unwanted branches)growing in the perfect spot,i let the leader grow to a certain height,now ive been pinching new growth,and to my amazement i have a good amount of buds all over the leader,i was worried this would be a problem,the leaves look to be a little smaller now,but not much,im hoping when the tree eventually is pulled from the ground,i can achieve somewhat smaller leaves,this species of oak is probalbly not the best,but i felt id give it a whirl,i love the bark,spring color and movement in the trunk.
 

rockm

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Eastern US oak species

The more common species of Eastern US oaks (White Oak, red oak, black oak, turkey, burr and just about every other species) aren't really readily or convincingly adaptable to bonsai culture, in my opinion.They're best used as landscape trees.

For the most part, their leaves don't reduce (some species actually INCREASE leaf size under typical bonsai training), growth is gangly and loose, and they can be very finicky about root work (time, amount, you name it).

In the last 15 years or so I've been collecting bonsai material in Va., I've worked with many of them. Haven't been impressed with any--with the exception of one. The best native oak to work with in the Eastern US is Willow Oak --quercus phellos, I think. It is naturally shallow rooted, leaves reduce consistently and it can take some root pruning. It is also very common.

Another eastern oak that's truly remarkable bonsai material--if you can get your hands on it--is Escarpment Live Oak (Quercus virginiana "fusiformis"). This is a subspecies of the common Southern live (Quercus virginiana) oak that grows along the SE coast, but is native to interior Texas. While the main species Quercus virginiana is finicky about soil and can't take freezing (or at least prolonged freezing), fusiformis is winter hardy in a cold frame here in Va.

I've had a very large old collected fusiformis for over a dozen years as a bonsai. It reacts well to hard pruning producing profuse backbudding from old wood and recovers quickly from root pruning. It is also hardy in full Va. summer sun.
 

discusmike

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Do you have any photos of this type of live oak Rockm?Love to see what your tree looks like.Ive heard the down sides of oak for bonsai,if it does not do well for me,ill just keep it in the ground for a landscape tree,just wanted to see what i could do with this tree,the roots might be a issue,when do you prune your oak roots?early spring,or just like other deciduous trees,when the buds swell?
 

TJV

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I'm going to give it my best on using this white oak, considering the reasons I received it. Maybe it won't win any contests but I'll be happy if I can keep it around for a good long time, in a nice healthy form.

I'm going to run out and get me a chinese elm, or juniper...but I also found a holly growing in my yard that I am going to dig up. Anyone have any experience there? Its out of place where it is, so I have to dig it up no matter what. Maybe I will grab a few pics once I do.
 

shohin kid

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TJV,
I am no expert, but I would consider not bare-rooting the seeding at all when you put it into a big container or into the ground. Since this tree is really special to you, you want to do everything possible to keep it alive. When you bare-root a tree, it is the biggest stress you can do to it, and since it is just a small seedling, I would not take that chance. I have never seen holly as bonsai, but do what you like. If you think that holly could be a nice bonsai and it makes you happy, then go for it. It would be good to practice on too since you are not paying anything for it.
 

bonsai barry

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Here is a tree (Quercus agrifolia) that might give you some idea of the progression. The first photo was taken in April of '05, the midphoto was 09/07 and the final photograph was 5/15/09. As you can see, I choose to plant it in the ground to beefen it up. I plan to pot in Spring of '10.
 

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TJV

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TJV,
I am no expert, but I would consider not bare-rooting the seeding at all when you put it into a big container or into the ground.
Do you mean just transplanting the root ball as is out of the first pot?
 

TJV

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Here is a tree (Quercus agrifolia) that might give you some idea of the progression. The first photo was taken in April of '05, the midphoto was 09/07 and the final photograph was 5/15/09. As you can see, I choose to plant it in the ground to beefen it up. I plan to pot in Spring of '10.
Are you doing any pruning? It looks like you are keeping the height in check.
 

shohin kid

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Do you mean just transplanting the root ball as is out of the first pot?
It looks like you have it in a plastic cylinder-shaped pot. I would, if it was my tree, just pull it out of the plastic thing and stick it into the ground or large container without removing any of the soil attached to the roots. The biggest stress one can do to a tree is bare-root it. If this tree means alot to you, why risk it when you dont have to. Let this seedling grow!
 
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