Southern Catalpa Experiment

sixemkay

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Catalpa trees sprout up everywhere in my neighborhood, to the point that I consider them invasive. They have an interesting trunk texture, nice wide canopy, and seem indestructible... so I thought "why not dig one up and see what it can do?"

To start with, I dug it up after it had leafed out for the spring. Why? Because I didn't even notice the sapling growing there for the last year or two and it completely blended in with a fence line when it was bare all winter. I didn't want someone to remove the little tree before I could get to it next winter, so I dug it up and put it in a pot. This is an experiment anyway so let's see what happens...

The tree set one bud after a few weeks...
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I let two sets of leaves just start to open and then I pinched out the first leaf set. That created back budding and within 4 days I had more leaves to pinch out.
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The tree has been healthy and growing for 6 weeks now. I stopped pinching out the new leaflets about 4 weeks ago when I noticed that Catalpa does not respond to pinching out like an Acer Palmatum so I decided to stop doing it.

I've gone back and forth a lot about this tree. Sometimes thinking I shouldn't even bother with it (as advised by many people on these forums) and other times thinking "what have you got to lose?" at the very least you have something to "love to death" that isn't special and was totally free.

Last night I decided to check on the roots and wow... they were vigorous. I just got some "bonsai training pots" in the mail so I really wanted to do something...so I decided to do an ill-timed repot. It's an experiment right? At the worst I will learn a lesson: Don't do that again.

Please don't judge the canopy shape or branching....that part has a long, long way to go (and maybe it won't even be possible with this species?). I wanted to get a thread started on this tree because I have seen scattered questions out there about Catalpa and wanted to start providing documentation of my experience. Here are some pictures from last night, immediately after the repot...

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And a pic I took this morning to show how small I was able to get some of the leaves. Wine cork for scale.

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Thanks for reading!
 

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Palmer67

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I say go for it. I have trees in buckets that may never be bonsai, but I like growing them. Then again, I have hundreds of houseplants and I've never met any plant or tree I didn't like. Keep us posted on the progress! :)
 

sixemkay

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I have trees in buckets that may never be bonsai, but I like growing them. Then again, I have hundreds of houseplants and I've never met any plant or tree I didn't like.
I'm the same way! Cheers 🍻

My friend, who also has the fascination, calls it being a plant hoarder...I like to think of it more like I'm the mother of my own little forest.
 

sixemkay

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Are you sure that is a Catalpa tree?
No I'm not sure. If I go take a picture of the parent tree and post, would you be able to look and see what you think?

The leaves on this tree are not shaped like the ones on the parent....or even the leaves it had before I uprooted...I think all my pinching-out resulted in deformed leaves. Lots of the leaves stopped growing after pinching then eventually turned yellow and fell off.
 

Obscure_shadow

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I wish I had a catalpa tree, there is one down the street they recently butchered pretty bad, if it makes seeds this year I will go investigate. Such beautiful trees :)
 

sixemkay

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if it makes seeds this year
They probably cut the seed pods off :(
In my experience, saplings pop up in miserably hot little patches like between a sidewalk and fence or wall. You can get a head start if you find one of those somewhere...depending on where you’re located I might be able to help?
 

Obscure_shadow

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I appreciate it, I'm in Nashville, I think when the time is right one will come my way :)
 

sorce

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This thread has had eye balling some Catalpas around me...the big ones.

I love them. Easily one of my favorite trees to look at.

I believe they can make a good Bonsai, but you have to be realistic about the size requirements, and what it will take to get there.

I think having a tree in a pot a couple years in the beginning of it's life is good practice, since that initial torture lives on in the looks.

But I would like to see you get it back in the ground and trunked up to a thigh sized base at least.

The most important thing IMO, is having a canopy high enough to not drag the long fruits on the pot or table. Preferably allowing them enough space to be artistically more correct. Say, a canopy that starts more than 3 times a fruit length from the pot lip.

This way the fruit is less than a 3rd the distance between the pot lip and the canopy bottom, making it more acceptable to the human eye.

Dig More!

Mine is on an island in a river.

Sorce
 

rockm

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I don't think this is a "Southern Catalpa" (Catalpa bignonioides) and I doubt the species is common in your neighborhood. It is native to the mid-south U.S. and is naturalized in the eastern U.S. to the Southern Plains.

The leaves on the tree in your picture look like hackberry to me. Additionally, catalpas have distinct BIG orchid like blooms and long, beanlike seedpods. Those pods typically collect under the trees...
Southern Catalpa leaf from Louisiana State University tree guide:
southern catalpa LSU.jpg
 

sixemkay

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Say, a canopy that starts more than 3 times a fruit length from the pot lip.

This way the fruit is less than a 3rd the distance between the pot lip and the canopy bottom, making it more acceptable to the human eye.
That is an excellent point! It completely hadn't occurred to me, but that will probably be my biggest issue. Thank you.

But I would like to see you get it back in the ground and trunked up to a thigh sized base at least.
I really wish that was an option :( The best I can do is containers.

This tree I dug up was not my first choice. The one I wanted is much larger, a few years older at least, but is wedged in really tightly between a fence and a sidewalk. It is only arm-width at best. See pics attached.
 

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sixemkay

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catalpas have distinct BIG orchid like blooms and long, beanlike seedpods. Those pods typically collect under the trees...
That sounds like the tree I have.

I googled hackberry, it is definitely not that.
 

rockm

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That is an excellent point! It completely hadn't occurred to me, but that will probably be my biggest issue. Thank you.


I really wish that was an option :( The best I can do is containers.

This tree I dug up was not my first choice. The one I wanted is much larger, a few years older at least, but is wedged in really tightly between a fence and a sidewalk. It is only arm-width at best. See pics attached.
I still doubt very much it is a southern catalpa. Search Pawlonia--empress tree. Much better possibility it is that.

 

sixemkay

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But I would like to see you get it back in the ground and trunked up to a thigh sized base at least.
Now you have me thinking..... should I try to air-layer a chunk off of this guy?
 

sorce

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Now you have me thinking

Nice! Mission Accomplished!
We are totally here for that, not direct answers!

I don't see anything worth layering there except fer practice.

But then, that would be MY material until I could fetch better.
It's always about Stack Ranking for me.

For instance, that Catalpa of mine on that island. It's just the best one I know I could obtain. If I come across something better, easier to get,etc...that'll be the one.

I own about 50 trees and only ...maybe 5 are in a state where I know I won't find a better one. Certain keepers. The rest are practice and/or highly susceptible to stack ranking.

I think if we keep this real idea in our heads, of our collections, we can faster move forward the entire Bonsai scene.

Over and over people spend $ on stuff that should have been burned!
That's the same $ that doesn't get spent on "better material".

Better material can't exist in this cycle of greed.

Sorry just ranting. Can't unbold that.

But both these things are true of the same material, it should be thrown out and it should be worked with the utmost seriousness.

It's like AJ Peirzinski said of hitting, "Every pitch is mine until it is not".

Every tree is mine until it is not.

Sorce
 

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