When to Repot, Trunk Chop Live Oak and Desert Willow

ThirdCoastBorn

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I picked up two trees this weekend at a giveaway and am curious when/how to best transition them for training. All of my other pre-bonsai material is still in the growing out phase, whereas these are plenty tall but lack lower branches and much girth. I'm not sure if they were field grown and recently potted or have always been in containers; I'm unfortunately unable to stick in the ground myself because of renting.

They are a TX Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) and Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). My questions are:

1. When should I chop them down? My understanding of Brent Walstons articles on growth suggests (feel free to correct, putting it out there to test myself) I want as much foliage as possible feeding the roots before winter and to do so when they're defoliated. So I'm guessing the timing should be late winter/early Spring for the Willow and a bit later in late March/early April for the Oak as the leaves fall then.

2. If that's right, should I repot in the meantime? Both are in heavy "clay-ey" soil, but don't know whether it's worth the additional stress to switch to something better draining now (on top of their location move).

Doing my best to understand the underlying "why" behind typical calendar of care suggestions, as the Central TX climate certainly doesn't match with what I read in most books...IMG_20181029_120642012.jpgIMG_20181029_120604294.jpg
 
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Hi ThirdCoastBorn,

Welcome to this great site!

Surely someone will chime in soon with good info for you.
 

ThirdCoastBorn

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I luckily got two free saplings today (Liquidambar styraciflua and Morus rubra), which came with just a bare amount of dirt so there was no question about whether to repot immediately. Removed most of the soil, teased the roots, and put into colanders.

I've gathered that my proposed timing of the trunk chops on the Oak and Desert WIllow is probably right, but still hoping for advice on whether I should repot them now to a better-draining soil or leave them be until Spring. Given how top heavy they are, I was thinking of sticking with nursery pots until then, rather than trying to use colanders.

Thanks in advance for any help!
 

milehigh_7

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Live oak is best just before bud break in spring.
 

rockm

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I picked up two trees this weekend at a giveaway and am curious when/how to best transition them for training. All of my other pre-bonsai material is still in the growing out phase, whereas these are plenty tall but lack lower branches and much girth. I'm not sure if they were field grown and recently potted or have always been in containers; I'm unfortunately unable to stick in the ground myself because of renting.

They are a TX Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) and Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). My questions are:

1. When should I chop them down? My understanding of Brent Walstons articles on growth suggests (feel free to correct, putting it out there to test myself) I want as much foliage as possible feeding the roots before winter and to do so when they're defoliated. So I'm guessing the timing should be late winter/early Spring for the Willow and a bit later in late March/early April for the Oak as the leaves fall then.

2. If that's right, should I repot in the meantime? Both are in heavy "clay-ey" soil, but don't know whether it's worth the additional stress to switch to something better draining now (on top of their location move).

Doing my best to understand the underlying "why" behind typical calendar of care suggestions, as the Central TX climate certainly doesn't match with what I read in most books...View attachment 215366View attachment 215367
I don't know why you would chop either one at this point. Both are kind of thin. I've had a quercus fusiformis bonsai for going on 25 years now. It was created from a collected tree. I can tell you that you will slow trunk development on yours considerably if you chop it anytime in the next 5-10 years. Fusiformis can be made into shohin, but it's not easy, since they are strong growers. The trunk on yours hasn't much character at this point too--a trunk with character is why oak bonsai are appealing. Without a thicker trunk with some older bark, this tree might as well be a ficus.

I would not repot. I would break it out of the container, score the root ball a few times with a sharp saw and plant it in your backyard. Leave it be for at least two years. THEN think about chopping, etc.
 

ThirdCoastBorn

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Thanks for the reply! Unfortunately, putting anything in the ground is not an option with the landlord (already asked, even if it'd be within a container too). I'm hoping to move within the year to a cheaper area, where I'd at least be able to own (if not get a few acres). Guess I should've considered better before taking them in -- having just caught the bug three months ago, I haven't yet learned to be more discerning about adding trees to my collection.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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As Brent Walston saiys in his website, you can bulk up trunks using 3 or 5 gallon nursery pots. Instead of moving into ground, move them into larger nursery pots.

RockM is correct, chopping now would slow trunk development. However, both your trunks are dead arrow straight. No movement, no character. I would consider chopping low, now, to get a radical change of direction. I personally would chop them down to no more than 4 or 6 inches from the soil. Drastic. Then let them grow out, until branches are 6 feet long or more. Then chop to just 2 inches longer than the previous chop. It will take more time, but you can force some character to develop. They were free, so be brutal with the chop.
 

ThirdCoastBorn

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Thank you Leo! I know it'll go slower in the pots now, but figure there's always an opportunity to field grow after the move. Figured that a drastic chop would be in order, so appreciate your confirming that too.

Just so I understand, the reason to chop them now (rather than waiting for late winter/early spring) is to just go ahead and start the process, even if the tree won't necessarily burst forth with branching? Or does it also provide a chance for the wound to heal before next year's growth? If the trunk was already thicker and/or they weren't obtained freely, I would probably want to be more cautious?
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Myself, I would wait with the chop until after they ''wake up'' in spring. Actually I would wait until the first couple sets of new leaves have expanded & hardened off. This actually would be a late spring or early summer chop. I would immediately seal the cuts with cut paste, or any of the many substitutes for cut paste. Key is to stop die back.

But seriously, if you chop, chop them low, I really mean 6 inches tall or shorter. Key is to get a low branch or two. The following winter, pick one to continue the trunk line. The rest will be to thicken the trunk as sacrifice branches.
 

ThirdCoastBorn

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I finally repotted this Desert Willow a few days ago and glad I did -- the original soil was very clay-heavy and think the roots would've started to suffer even more. I unfortunately moved slower than I should have, so they got more sun/air exposure than I would've liked...was planning to chop at the red (leaving the left-middle branch of the whorl), but am wondering if I need to hold off for another season so that it recovers first? Or if a chop is okay now (mainly to make the size more manageable and start movement), are there other suggestions on where to cut?

I'll be repotting the TX Live Oak in the next few days (got from the same free giveaway event, similar soil) with plans to chop it as soon as the leaves drop in ~2 months. Given their 'right price', am willing to be adventuresome on the process! :)
 

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ThirdCoastBorn

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Finally, signs of life for the Desert Willow after its trunk chop six weeks ago! Unfortunately, no signs of buds yet for the Live Oak which was done at the same time -- thinking I may have done it too early, as it still had all of its leaves? Should I have waited until they typically drop (around now), so that the tree could have been feeding roots all this time (i.e., lost photosynthesis)?
 

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Cajunrider

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Finally, signs of life for the Desert Willow after its trunk chop six weeks ago! Unfortunately, no signs of buds yet for the Live Oak which was done at the same time -- thinking I may have done it too early, as it still had all of its leaves? Should I have waited until they typically drop (around now), so that the tree could have been feeding roots all this time (i.e., lost photosynthesis)?
 

Cajunrider

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My live oaks took 10 weeks before they showed anything.
 

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