Bald Cypress

Bald Cypress Overview -- 18 September 2014

Joe Day brought his long years of bonsai experience to us on the topic of how to develop cypress trees as new material.

Thanks to Lee, Rosemarie and Ed H, we all have cypress trees we have been growing on for several years.  Now it is time to get serious about deciding on the future direction for these trees.

The trees were found in a nursery which had let the trees grow out of their pots and into the ground.  Don’t know about anyone else, but ours had some pretty weird roots to deal with.  Some people repotted their trees into another container, some left the tree where it was and some of us took the heavy tools to them and worked them into a bonsai pot.  So far, they are all still alive.

Some of the trees were placed in water.  Joe says if you are growing bald cypress in for freezes.  Pull out of the water for winter.

Bald Cypress that are grown in bonsai soil will have roots that run round and round the inside of the pot.  Each repotting episode will require these roots to be cut back to fit into the pot again.  There is some evidence that, if grown in water, cuts on the tree will close better and the roots will be finer.

Joe addressed the question of why we (in the land of cypress) should grow them.  We live in a prime bald cypress area and have great specimens all around us. With the advent of bonsai shows which are attracting trees from across the nation, bald cypress stands out as a signature tree in the south.

A tree that conforms to the traditional upright style can be achieved within a fairly short time.  If you are interested in the flat top style of tree, you must plan that tree well.  

Give a lot of thought to the placement of the relatively few branches this style will have.  All branch movement is upward.  This is not a style to introduce snow-weighted branches that bend to the ground. 

If using deadwood in the styling, be sure it makes sense and supports the chosen style.  Dead wood positions are still branch positions.  Consider their placement well.  Work to have the top of tree balance the mass of the lower trunk.

Cutting tips of branches and fronds will encourage the cypress to set a branch.  Any stem that has only fronds on it which do not branch will fall from the tree in the winter.  A good place to cut a frond is where that frond has already produced a small side frond.  Cut just above the small frond but  leave it attached to the twig. 

By August 1st, trees begin to settle into a state that will determine how they will develop for the next year. You have to make your decisions very soon now.  Better to do the work in early August.  Here in mid to late fall you can work on cypress to do branch selection.  When in doubt, leave a branch on the tree in case the one you want to leave next spring decides it is tired of being a branch.

Wait until just before bud pop in spring to wire and bend; branches will take the bend and harden off more successfully at that time.  You can make nub cuts now but wait until spring to cut back to trunk.

One way to enhance a tree with dead wood where no branch exists is to create the effect with Tunuki branches.  Choose another piece of dead cypress wood and carefully inserting that piece into the trunk to appear as a branch that has died and been jinned.  That is a subject for another workshop.

If your tree has a large or thick trunk, you can create taper by cutting into the trunk and leaving a 'scar' stump.  Handled well, this can be very effective on cypress.

We can’t all go into the swamps to retrieve a world class tree.  We can, however, make the ones we have access to specimens of which we can be proud.

© Fort Walton Beach Bonsai Society (FWBBS) ELF 2020