Bald Cypress advice/opinions

Hello all. I just obtained a nice Bald Cypress from a nursery in Portland. It’s about 11’ tall, trunk above flare is about 3 1/2" diameter. I acquired it because of its maturity and the fact that it was already containerized to an extent, with the intent of trunk chopping it and starting to develop it into a bonsai. However, I have no experience with this species, so looking for advice on (among other things) what time of year to do this procedure. Left to my own devices, I would think early spring as buds start to appear? Also, Ryan referred in the video on BC to ways of trunk chopping to allow healing over in a way that enhances a more natural taper, but didn’t elaborate - anyone out there know what he was talking about?
Also wondering at what height to chop. The lowest portion of the tree is fairly sparse in terms of branches (and I did some damage to those in transport). I’m thinking that will take care of itself once the apical dominance is removed, but wondered if I should do some heavy pruning off the top now to move some energy toward the lower branches this season, and trunk chop next year? I’ve also wondered if I could air-layer the upper half of this tree instead of just trunk chopping, to get two trees, but I have no experience with air layering this species. Again, just guessing, I would probably do that in early summer after new growth had hardened off, but I don’t know … If it failed, I guess it would be no harm no foul, as I could just trunk chop it anyway and retain the base as originally planned …
Also - any experience/advice on “husbandry” for this tree would also be appreciated, if people have direct experience. It was in a tray in standing water at the nursery, and I have continued that - this tree is a PROLIFIC drinker - I have to fill a tray 2" deep twice a day. That is how much water this guy sucks up. Do these trees always need to be in water, or can they be maintained in a bonsai pot with, say, 100% akadama, and be treated like any other bonsai in a container, once their roots have developed to accommodate that type of environment? Obviously, I would not have this tree in standing water during winter, either now or in the future after moving to a bonsai pot.
Thanks in advance - any and all advice appreciated!



I grew mine in water for a few years, but now grow it in bonsai soil in the Spokane, WA area. I use 3-1-1 for my deciduous species rather than solid akadama. Right now I am watering 3 times in 2 days with it growing in full sun from 8 am until about 2 pm.

I would trunk chop straight across above the desired point. If you have a branch already started for the new leader you can be about an inch (2.5 cm) above. If you don’t have a branch and are hoping for buds to break then I would go higher - 4 to 6 inches. I find that I get buds on the trunk all of the time, particularly where there used to be a branch. Once the new leader is established you can prune in a rather steep taper - I used a 6 inch long taper on a 2 inch trunk which took about 4-5 years to heal in a pot.


Thanks Marty - what time of year would you trunk chop? And what do you think of the idea of air layering first, trunk chopping later?

Trunk chop can probably be done any time before the end of August in Portland - that leaves 6 - 8 weeks for the wound to callus before the tree starts to shut down for winter.

I would probably go for an airlayer now to see if it takes. It is a little late, but you still have quite a bit of growing season left. I did one on a maple this past week and I have less growing season left than you. I would do it a bit higher than you plan to chop to insure continued growth below the layer. A tree that tall may be hard to protect over winter if the layer does not take this year, but if you have a high ceiling garage.

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If you’re going to do a trunk chop I’d do it this year about the time that Marty mentioned. The tree looks healthy enough for it. If/when it drops leaves don’t worry. The lower leaves won’t be as productive as the apical sections. Sometimes the tree will opt to grow new leaves instead of relying on what’s remaining. By doing the chop in August you give the tree time to heal the chop and set up new buds.

If you’re going to air layer then I’d say you missed the boat in terms of getting roots this year. You can start it though if you think you’ll be able to protect the tree over the winter. When I layered the top off of mine I had to rewound the callus. It took 3 months to get the first root. Judging by the size of the tree you’d need A LOT of roots if you’re going to layer the top 50% off of the tree. So much so that you’ll likely need to leave the layer on there for a couple of seasons in order to develop enough roots to sustain the tree after it has been separated. If you’re going to just do a couple of feet off of the tree then a single season will be fine. Be sure to brace the tree around the layer site. I attempted to layer off a decent portion of my BC and it snapped at the layer site. It was pretty protected from wind too.

I’ve never kept my BC in trays of water. I just don’t believe that methodology develops fine roots. Anecdotally I’ve been told it’s the only way to develop a wide base in a container. Idk, it’s just not my style, but I do have the luxury of working from home. That allows me to check on them multiple times a day, but I check like twice at most. All of my BC are currently in development though and therefore they are in a very organic soil mix which retains a decent amount of water. Even in the middle of summer I can go a couple of days without watering. It’s also very humid here though, so your mileage may vary. At the end of the day if the tree is thriving doing what you’re doing the who’s to say you’re doing it wrong? Then again; I’ve seen trees owned by someone that’s been at this for decades just up and die. They keep their trees in trays of water. :man_shrugging:t5:

In terms of healing the chop I use the “:ok_hand:t5: okay rule”. If my index finger and thumb can touch or just about touch when gripping the top of the chop then I know that I can reliably heal it over. If not then I know that I may need to carve out that top section and go with a “damaged in a hurricane” look. The section to be healed over should be a bit convex. That’s where a decent carving tool like a Dremel or :moneybag: Foredom comes in handy.

Okay, that’s about all I know from experience mixed with what I’ve learned from the dude I mentioned earlier with a splash of Mirai for good measure. Good luck! I love the size of that tree.

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Thanks Bentley,
I suspect that I’ll probably abandon the idea of trying to make 2 trees from one (i.e., air layer), and I’ll probably trunk chop now. I only want to do one thing in a given season, so I don’t plan on doing anything with the roots, or change the way it was treated in the nursery (i.e., sitting in a tray of water). But I’m curious - have you made a transition from a nursery tree kept in water to one that is in a bonsai pot and not kept in standing water? And could you elaborate on your current organic soil mix that retains water?
My plan would probably be to trunk chop now, and maybe repot next spring as buds start to swell, or would you wait another year for the tree to regain strength before addressing the roots?

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Good feedback from @Bonsai_Bentley about airlayering of bald cypress. if you see good growth after the chop (as I expect you will see as the tree pushes all of the resources into 1/3 or less of the foliage) you should be able to repot in the spring.

@mff321 why not switch to an inorganic mix as you move the tree into a bonsai pot (or an intermediate)? You already have a nice nebari and trunk size so I don’t think you need an organic mix to promote more growth. I think you will be very pleased with with amount of growth you will get in a typical deciduous bonsai mix. I am in 1-1-1 (switching to 3-1-1 next repot) and can get by with watering once a day in my climate which is hotter and dryer than Portland most of the time (watering everything 1.5X per day when over 90F (32C).

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Thanks Marty,
I actually would like to get this tree into a bonsai container with traditional soil mix and lose the whole soaking in standing water thing - I just want to be really careful not to make a radical transition that might risk losing this tree - hence the gathering of opinions/experience from the mirai community. I have had very good luck with dawn redwoods in 1:1:1 mix, and straight-up Boon’s, but they weren’t coming from a situation where they were trained to be in organic soil in standing water.
I know Ryan indicated that he keeps his BC in straight akadama. Maybe that would be the most conservative approach during repot, in terms of easing the root transition from it’s current state to a bonsai containerized environment.

On a separate note, I wish it were a more feasible option to air layer, as this tree is already edging toward forming a natural flat top - kind of a whorl of horizontal branches at the top, with a set of 5-6 equal apical leaders extending upward from there, that look like they would naturally lower down with time (or assistance) to form a classic BC flat top. It just seems a shame to waste that. I wish I could magically take away half the trunk between the nebari and the apical structure :grin:


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I am quite sure you can transition from standing in water to more traditional watering if you don’t allow the soil to dry out. That may mean watering twice a day on the really hot, windy days. The tree will adapt to not being constantly soaked. That will ease the transition to 1-1-1, 3-1-1, or solid akadama when you repot.

If the top looks really good, pursue the long game. Yes, it might take a couple of years to get some good roots, but you can develop the lower tree in the mean time with a bare section between them. All you need is a place to protect the roots from the worst frosts and that can be at a slant since it won’t need much water.

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Just remember that you can’t bare root a BC. When you transition to traditional bonsai mix you’ll still have a core of field soil. It’ll take a few years to get the field soil out completely.

Honestly, you could stop soaking it today and be fine. Just keep an eye out for water need. The tree may or may not drop some leaves. Some may turn brown. I don’t think you’ll lose the tree. That said, if you continue what you’re doing now the tree seems to be fine with that as well. Then in the spring you just don’t flood a tray. :man_shrugging:t5: BC are pretty adaptable trees which is part of what makes them fun to play with.

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