Seeking Inspiration: Styles (plural) of a Giant Sequoia?

Emanon

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Hi! I was hoping to get some advice on where to cut a trunk (or how to style a tree) and overcome an initial, ugly, cut that I made before I had even the slightest idea what I was doing. (Just to clarify: I still don't have the slightest idea :)...) The tree is a giant sequoia or Sequoiadendron giganteum (SG).

And/or more urgently, I was hoping someone might be able to share pictures (from "nature" or of bonsai, but preferably from nature) of a SG tree that is NOT in the formal upright style. I was really hoping to find pictures of a SG (i.e. not Dawn or Coast redwood), even though I realize pictures of other trees might be helpful to others reading this thread.

More info: This is the first tree I ever had custody of. Because it was my first -- and because I moved outside of its natural range -- I think I've been more hesitant or conservative with it. It is obviously a "stick in a pot" and I've done little to it other than try to keep it alive. I've never wired it. When I chopped off the top half of the tree almost 3 years ago, I cut back to a branch that had already lignified and I made no attempt to turn the branch/new apex any further vertical.

This tree is now just under 8 years old. It has been slow growing but I've always kept it in smaller bonsai pots until last year, when I moved it to this larger training pot. And I've root pruned it every year, significantly... For the first time, in an attempt to thicken it up, I plan on letting it sit for at least this year and next before repotting.

I could obviously cut below my initial cut and just start over with creating a formal upright. There is little taper to the trunk right now below the initial cut, so the tree would definitely benefit from this. (Then again, SG's in nature don't show much taper in my opinion.) However, I have only a dozen or so trees right now and one of my other trees is a SG that has already been styled as a formal upright. For this reason, and the fact that this tree has already been butchered as it has, I've been considering turning this into something else. But what is possible with a SG?

I no longer live near any, so I can't easily go out looking specifically for a SG tree that is not straight up and down. I've also been unsuccessful finding anything other than formal upright SG's via a Google image search (I'm actually more familiar with Bing and use this). I would really appreciate any help or advice or pictures from nature (of bent SG trees) for inspiration. Thank you!

The first picture is of the front as I always imagined it. When I first received the tree years ago it had a pseudo or faux "goosepen" at the base. However, after I fixed the roots the trunk has fused, leaving just a cleft. It is still the best side at the base. After where I cut the tree there is a whorl with three extending branches. (I tried to highlight this in the second picture.) If I don't chop below the initial cut, and I continue to let it grow this year and next, I was thinking I should at least cut two of the three branches off here. Which one I leave as the new leader would be influenced by how far from a formal upright I think I can go with a SG. I also included a picture of the tree from another angle to that highlights the initial cut and whorl differently.
 

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Emanon

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Oh, one more thing, just because it was interesting to me... this tree's first seed cone just recently browned! Wikipedia tells me that SG seed cones "typically" remain green and closed for "as long as" 20 years -- this one, the tree's first, stayed green for only ~ 1.5 years. Such small seed cones, such big trees!
 

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Leo in N E Illinois

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Don't know what to say. Pretty much the only "natural style" I have ever seen a Sequoia do is "formal upright". Never saw anything different, even hiking through Kings Canyon. Young trees remind me of young Juniper virginiana, all bolt upright. Sequoiadendron gigantea is not usually used for bonsai because it is difficult to work with. I have killed a few in a few attempts. So with that said, I will suggest you make no changes in the way you are growing it. You have kept yours alive lo get than I kept mine alive.

Eventually you need the trunk to increase in diameter. And you need to shorten, and shape your branches. If you want to make your Sequoia look like a natural giant tree.
 

Emanon

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Don't know what to say. Pretty much the only "natural style" I have ever seen a Sequoia do is "formal upright". Never saw anything different, even hiking through Kings Canyon. Young trees remind me of young Juniper virginiana, all bolt upright. Sequoiadendron gigantea is not usually used for bonsai because it is difficult to work with. I have killed a few in a few attempts. So with that said, I will suggest you make no changes in the way you are growing it. You have kept yours alive lo get than I kept mine alive.

Eventually you need the trunk to increase in diameter. And you need to shorten, and shape your branches. If you want to make your Sequoia look like a natural giant tree.
Thank you! This definitely makes sense and that's the immediate plan -- to thicken the trunk up! I have been able to increase the diameter near the base by an inch in the last three years (as mentioned, in smaller bonsai pots and with heavy root pruning every year) and hopefully, over the next few years, I can get it to pick up the pace some.

What actually originally got me thinking about the possibilities of other styles was the General Grant tree in Kings Canyon. At the very, very top it's the usual phenomenon where the original apex has died back, with the closest branches turning up, competing to take over... I attached a picture of its newer apex (found on the Internet). Obviously General Grant is still a formal upright tree! But, in theory, couldn't this happen lower down, on a younger tree, creating some sort of movement in its trunk? I guess this just doesn't happen (ever in history?) with SG's... But what happens when lightening, for example, destroys the apex on a youngish SG? And I guess they never need to slant or bend to get around or past things in the forest canopy...

[I lifted the pictures from here: https://fusionbonsai.wordpress.com/tag/sequoiadendron-giganteum/ ]
 

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hemmy

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But what happens when lightening, for example, destroys the apex on a youngish SG?
The problem is that the younger trees aren’t tall enough to get hit by lightening surrounded by the giants. If you want to stay true to the species then tall, straight and thick are your characteristics. But I guess you could always go rogue and shoot for literati!

I think Craig Coussins had the best bonsai Giant Sequoia that I have seen online. It would also be amazing if you had a massive enough trunk to create a burnt out trunk with multiple snags like the image on this site.

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/seqgig/all.html
 

Ali Raza

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I love to have this specie in my collection, but my growing zone is not suitable for this type. Although I will try General Sherman Style on my Juniper. I think juniper resembles in shape to sequoia.
 

hemmy

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I love to have this specie in my collection, but my growing zone is not suitable for this type. Although I will try General Sherman Style on my Juniper. I think juniper resembles in shape to sequoia.

You might be surprised where they have been grown around the world!
https://www.monumentaltrees.com/en/trees/giantsequoia/elsewhere/

But you are probably right, your summer average highs 34-38C (92-101F) (from Google) are probably too high. But your winter average low of 4C (49F) is acceptable and matches other outside range areas it is currently being grown. You may be able to do it with a complicated shade, fan and misting system. You probably need a micro-climate with highs less than 30C (86F). Apparently they have trouble with fungus and slow growth over the hot, humid summers of the NE USA. So you probably also need cooler, drier summer nights. Maybe you could plant some in your surrounding mountain ranges!
 

Ali Raza

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You might be surprised where they have been grown around the world!
https://www.monumentaltrees.com/en/trees/giantsequoia/elsewhere/

But you are probably right, your summer average highs 34-38C (92-101F) (from Google) are probably too high. But your winter average low of 4C (49F) is acceptable and matches other outside range areas it is currently being grown. You may be able to do it with a complicated shade, fan and misting system. You probably need a micro-climate with highs less than 30C (86F). Apparently they have trouble with fungus and slow growth over the hot, humid summers of the NE USA. So you probably also need cooler, drier summer nights. Maybe you could plant some in your surrounding mountain ranges!
Hope to relocate to the zone where these species thrives naturally.
 

rockm

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Thank you! This definitely makes sense and that's the immediate plan -- to thicken the trunk up! I have been able to increase the diameter near the base by an inch in the last three years (as mentioned, in smaller bonsai pots and with heavy root pruning every year) and hopefully, over the next few years, I can get it to pick up the pace some.

What actually originally got me thinking about the possibilities of other styles was the General Grant tree in Kings Canyon. At the very, very top it's the usual phenomenon where the original apex has died back, with the closest branches turning up, competing to take over... I attached a picture of its newer apex (found on the Internet). Obviously General Grant is still a formal upright tree! But, in theory, couldn't this happen lower down, on a younger tree, creating some sort of movement in its trunk? I guess this just doesn't happen (ever in history?) with SG's... But what happens when lightening, for example, destroys the apex on a youngish SG? And I guess they never need to slant or bend to get around or past things in the forest canopy...

[I lifted the pictures from here: https://fusionbonsai.wordpress.com/tag/sequoiadendron-giganteum/ ]
You're working at cross purposes here. Root pruning every year, chopping the trunk and removing branches SLOW development of the trunk. If you want a substantial trunk, you grow it. That means, basically letting the tree alone for a few years, allowing it to put on as much growth as possible. ALL growth (roots included) adds to trunk thickening, the more the faster things go.

Worrying about what happens with branching on this now is mostly a futile exercise. Branch development don't matter until the trunk is the size you want. Trying to develop both branching and trunk at the same time results in poor results for both...
 

Emanon

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You're working at cross purposes here. Root pruning every year, chopping the trunk and removing branches SLOW development of the trunk. If you want a substantial trunk, you grow it. That means, basically letting the tree alone for a few years, allowing it to put on as much growth as possible. ALL growth (roots included) adds to trunk thickening, the more the faster things go.

Worrying about what happens with branching on this now is mostly a futile exercise. Branch development don't matter until the trunk is the size you want. Trying to develop both branching and trunk at the same time results in poor results for both...
Thank you! I really appreciate your advice here (and elsewhere on the forum!). You're absolutely right. Based on the tree's level of development, I'm very far from where or when it would be appropriate to be concerned with the branches... And, for that reason, I haven't yet begun to think about branch development. Over the years I have just let the branches grow without wiring and I only prune back slightly, every once in a while, so that the tree doesn't get too out of control horizontally. I also prune the branches slightly in an attempt to learn what works, and what doesn't, with this particular species.

So, right now, I'm only thinking about the trunk. And, without thinking about it too much, I see three options: (1) just let the tree grow; (2) don't chop the trunk but keep cutting off each season's new growth once a year; or (3) chop lower down on the trunk (in an attempt to introduce taper and *possibly* movement now).

Normally, you are right, being concerned with putting on a lot girth, I should just let the tree grow undisturbed for some time (the first option). But, with this species, I'm really hesitant to do that. The longer the tree grows the more lower branches it sheds and gives up on (if that makes sense). So if I just leave it to grow to 6 feet tall, for example, I fear I risk losing all the lower branches that I could turn into new leaders in an attempt to create taper. (This is probably one of the many reasons this species makes crappy bonsai.) I don't want to end up with a tree where my first branch is higher than how tall I want the tree to be! No offense to the owner (not me!) of the tree in the first image attached below, but I do not want to end up with a tree that has no taper and no lower branches at the end of my "letting it just grow" period... [I found this image posted to a thread on reddit. The original poster wrote that the tree is/was a 16-year-old SG.] Although, maybe, if I treated it like a pine and continually thinned out the canopy as it grew the tree would not give up on lower branches?

As I see it now though, option #1 isn't really an option. That leaves (2) or (3). For sure, if I go with option #3, I think I need to have some sense of whether I want the tree to be styled as a formal upright or something else. I think because I've kept this tree relatively short, I still have budding and branching lower down on the trunk that could be used to create a new leader should I choose this option. The second attached picture is a closer up view of the lower half of my tree.

I'm hoping that even with option #2 the tree can put on some sort of girth (because, as mentioned, for the first time I do not plan on root pruning next year and it is in a much bigger training pot.) The last three pictures attached here represent demonstrate how significantly I have root pruned this SG every year. The first picture in this series is the root mass after pruning, the next two are one year later before pruning again back to the same size root mass.
 

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rockm

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"So if I just leave it to grow to 6 feet tall, for example, I fear I risk losing all the lower branches that I could turn into new leaders in an attempt to create taper."

Not true.
 

hemmy

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represent demonstrate how significantly I have root pruned this SG every year.
Wow! Every year! That hard of prune is contrary to what I’ve read about their roots. Good to know and glad it survived!
 

Emanon

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Wow! Every year! That hard of prune is contrary to what I’ve read about their roots. Good to know and glad it survived!
Yeah, I don't know. I've been reading that same advice for years and just been doing my own thing anyway. I know... usually not the smart thing to do! With both my SG's doing well, for a number of years, it's been hard to change things up. Hearing the same set of admonishments from people much more knowledgable than I, has slowly taken its toll though I think. Subconsciously it's led me to be more conservative. Feeling guilty (or worried) I basically just "up-potted" the tree this year into its larger training pot. I pruned the roots, but only slightly (I reduced by 1/3rd to 1/2). I did still bare root the tree of course. We'll see...
 

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Emanon

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In case anyone else was looking for giant sequoia inspiration, I've spent a lot of time recently on this amazing site: http://famousredwoods.com/washington_snp/

[The link is to a particular tree, but if you toggle down under the heading "Choose a Giant Redwood" (near the top of the page) there is an extensive list of some of the most impressive SG trees!]
 

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I think it would be instructive if there was one finished tree published here which could be referred to as "to get this, do these things". I've seen a lot of nice Dawn Redwoods, but never a Giant...
 

hemmy

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Hearing the same set of admonishments from people much more knowledgable than I, has slowly taken its toll though I think. Subconsciously it's led me to be more conservative. Feeling guilty (or worried) I basically just "up-potted" the tree this year into its larger training pot.

At this point if you have a few repots on them, YOU might be the expert! I let mine get rootbound from fear of working the roots and that combined with improper watering was the end. It was only $40, but I’m realizing that it must have been marked down because it was accidentally delivered to a coastal nursery. I’ve never seen one there again.

 

Emanon

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At this point if you have a few repots on them, YOU might be the expert! I let mine get rootbound from fear of working the roots and that combined with improper watering was the end. It was only $40, but I’m realizing that it must have been marked down because it was accidentally delivered to a coastal nursery. I’ve never seen one there again.

Ha! No chance of that... I posted this thread in the "New to Bonsai" forum for a reason :p But, thanks for reminding me of your thread! I remember reading this and it gave me more confidence to keep cutting the roots back drastically. Seeing it now gives me pause thinking ahead to next winter and my decision to leave the roots alone (in an attempt to put some size on the tree). If I do this I don't foresee that the tree will become root-bound because of the bigger pot that I have it in now. However, cutting the roots back every year does seem to rejuvenate them (and the tree?). That is to say, every year when I repot, the roots are now all a huge mass of fresh looking white (close to 100% fine feeder roots that I consider active). It's been this way for years. In those years when I've been more conservative cutting back the roots I get relatively less white, fine feeder root growth. When I first received this tree though the roots were predominately black (read: dead or dying). [Unfortunately I don't have any good pictures of the bare roots from that first year or two. There's a picture above in posting #11 though of the tree in a subsequent year where it still has some of those black roots.] It took me a few years to get rid of the black roots completely.

I have read that SG trees are "different" and "eat" these dead or dying roots and that's part of why you don't need to (or shouldn't?) root prune so drastically. I don't know. It just doesn't seem necessary in a bonsai pot (controlled environment) with limited space.
 

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For the first time this spring I didn't repot and root prune this tree. It has continued to grow well over the past year. There is a lot more green and new budding. It has grown 6"-8" taller. It has still been slow to put on trunk girth. Rather than just letting it grow for a few years to put on size, however, I'm more convinced than last year that I should be pruning the branches short and growing the trunk/apex out in stages. Due to the way that this particular tree grows, I think that I should be concerned with keeping as many of the lower branches as possible and as much of the inner growth as possible... even at this stage. The branches get leggy fast and the tendency seems to be to shed lower branches if cut back after they have gotten leggy. I don't know though!

These are definitely full sun trees! For reasons arising mostly/entirely from vanity, I've kept this tree on a south facing balcony. Due to a ceiling, only half the tree (at most) is ever directly in the sun. You can tell this year especially that it is leaning and reaching out for the sun. It will be entirely in the sun in a few weeks after I move. The first picture below is the same side shown in my original posting. The second picture is the reverse side but shows better I think how this tree right now has grown towards the sun.
 

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Emanon

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I'm still thinking about chopping the trunk just above the initial chop that I made a few years ago -- the chop that led me to post about this tree in the first place and is indicated by the arrow in my original posting. Cutting to the branch indicated in the picture below should allow the tree to straighten out without any wire. (It's a much stronger and vertical growing branch in person.) I'm thinking this cut will inspire more lower and inner growth at, obviously, the expense of thickening the trunk.
 

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