I picked up this crepe myrtle specimen from Underhill Bonsai in Folsom, LA. (If you’re in the neighborhood, give them a look; they’ve got a small but excellent selection, and they might be the nicest folks on the planet.)
I picked this material for two reasons: (1) it strongly reflects my experience of the urban tree landscape in Baton Rouge, LA, where I’ve been living for the last three years and from which I expect soon to depart for Austin, TX, and (2) it has just incredible feminine movement, especially for such a large tree and for a collected deciduous tree.
At first, the owner didn’t want to let the tree go; it’s just getting over some aphid issues, and it’s only a few years out of the ground (and only one season in its current pot). After we talked for an hour and a promise that I was buying “eyes open,” he let me take it home.
The tree and I just barely fit in the passenger seat of my Prius. I held it in my lap with my neck bent around it for an hour. (The tree is something like 18-24" tall and 12-16" wide from its lengthiest points.)
Here it is at home on the bench on its first afternoon:
Bark Cleanup 5/19/19
The only work I’m doing this season is cleaning up the bark. I mixed up a solution of dish soap and water, got a soft toothbrush, covered the substrate with saran wrap, and got to work.
Here’s how it looked before, all moldy and lichen-y:
And here’s how it looks after an hour of soft brushing (and rain) (and several rinses):
(1) Once I see some real vigor, I’m going to trim back to keep the buds well distributed;
(2) Figure out whether and when to lime sulphur the deadwood.
Hey there, my name is Mike. Great looking tree!!! Lots of potential. I see your moving to the Austin area. We would love to have you come checkout our club when you get here. Lots of great friendly people. We meet the second Wednesday of the month. If you want more info check out our site www.austinbonsaisociety.com
Thank you so much for reaching out! Getting in contact with the local bonsai club was #1 on my list the moment I get the job offer I’m expecting. I’m mentally filing away your card and I’ll drop you a DM as soon as I know!
Update 2/28/19 – Post-Aphid Treatment and Fertilizer
Two weeks ago, the crepe myrtle was treated for aphids with Bonide systemic and dosed with a bunch of inorganic fertilizer.
All the aphids are gone, and over the last couple of days, I’ve got buds on all the branches and a few on the trunk:
And, as a sign of good health, the root projections that came with the tree are flourishing. (Also pictured: iced oolong in a brand new yunomi from Bell Hill Pottery.)
Also, re: fungus: either I missed some with my first toothbrushing, or living in Louisiana means that it, like the cat, came back the very next day. I’ll monitor for spread, but I don’t want to try again and risk damaging the bark.
Flowers and Growth 6/22/19
Turns out it flowers pink!
The entire tree is covered in vigorous growth. It should be done flowering and hardening off in about a month, at which point I’ll cut back the leggy growth.
Daytime temperatures are ranging between 90-95F. I’m watering twice daily, which is enough – almost more than enough – since my yard is a partial shade microclimate with limited afternoon sun. (Almost nothing except my shohin look top-layer-dry after 24 hours without water.)
Summer Flourishing 7/27/19
Not much to report right now. Vigorous flourishing and a second flush of flowers.
Right now, my primary challenge is figuring out watering. My yard’s microclimate is pretty shady, but daytime temperatures range from 90F to 97F. Even on the hottest days, I’m only getting dryness 0.5-1 inches into the substrate, so it SEEMS like I should only be watering once a day, in the evening.
The tree seems fine with it! But I worry.
Bright green leaves from the last 3 months; dark green leaves from early spring.
My garden is full of dragonflies. They like perching on the leafless tips of my bonsai.
At some point – probably soon – I’m going to need to carve this sucker’s deadwood. If anybody in/around Louisiana is interested, drop me a line…
Structural Setting 8/24/19
Two big events for this tree:
I’ve struggled to get Mirai’s top dressing to thrive in Louisiana, so I’ve applied kiryu to several trees instead – and it’s transformed my watering practice. Thanks much to @joe_perry and this thread for the suggestion!
Per @ryan’s advice in Forum Q&A 29, I went out and did the tree’s first structural setting. This was my first time working on a larger, more expensive piece of material – and one that I feel so strongly about! – so I feel pretty good about how it went! Actions taken:
Wired out the defining branch on the far right (lowered it, gave it some motion, moved the tertiary pieces around to maximize light access); the furthest point is pointing straight up because I cracked it riiiight at the end of the living tissue, and I’m trying to keep that bit from dying off;
Significant reduced some of the unusable pieces near the base of the defining branch on the right;
Raised the apical branch ~10 degrees; it’s very stiff, so I’m nervous about giving it any more movement right now;
Thinned out the large clump of branches in the top left, mostly to balance vigor (didn’t lose any serious mass);
Didn’t touch the bottom left-hand branch; it needs to do something, but it’s not flexible enough right now for the bend I want, and I’m hoping to get some back budding that I can cut back to for a more interesting angle.
As always, I welcome feedback!
Thanks for these @hierophantic, interesting to see. I’ve been nurturing a very thirsty Myrtle (though tiny compared to yours) for the past 1,5 years and I really like the feminine feel of the tree (and species?). If you experience trees like it around you, I’d be curious to see images of some that have inspired you. We don’t get a lot of myrtles in Germany
@pcbritz Glad you’re enjoying the series! Living in Louisiana, I’m constantly surrounded by crape myrtles; they (along with bald cypresses and magnolia grandiflora) are the most frequently planted urban trees in my city.
I’ll be happy to take a few photos and send them to you. That said, they won’t give you much of an idea how crape myrtles look in the wild; I’d be hard pressed to identify where you would even find old wild crape myrtles in the US!
Awesome tree! I love the movement and deadwood. Since I’m just chillin’ here at work waiting for tests to run on my code I played around with the pic. Here are a couple of super minor tweaks I’d make. I apologize for the hacky nature of my edits. I’m using MS Paint lol. I’d flatten out the defining branch a bit with the goal of ultimately cutting it back to before it makes the 30 degree move towards the ground. Wouldn’t do that until I was able to build upon that upward motion, so flatten for now.
Second change would be to greatly reduce the lower left branch. I may have gone too far here and definitely breaking a rule in that I’d prune back to beyond where I actually want the branch to end up. It’s a crape myrtle though. It’ll grow out. If it doesn’t, oh well.
Thanks for your good feedback! I’m actually planning to make both suggested changes eventually – but I want both branches to thicken before I do, so I’m growing out to cut back!
Structural (re)-Setting and Carving 9/6/19
Another big event for this tree: I took it back to the awesome folks at Underhill Bonsai in Folsom, LA for some carving and a full structural re-setting!
(Full disclosure: the Underhill folks did most of the work – and I did most of the learning – although I made a critical aesthetic contribution; see below.)
Here’s how the tree looked after its carving and structural re-setting…
And a close-up of the carving (the peekaboo holes – they actually branch in the top deadwood into several holes – are intended to mimic the deadwood patterns in the large old crape myrtles in New Orleans)…
During the carving process, Doug at Underhill propped the tree up on a block for better access. I took one look at it and said, “This is the new angle for the tree.” Here’s how it looks blocked up. (During next year’s repot, I’m going to angle it even more sharply upward, but it wasn’t safe at that angle in its current pot and on its current bench.)
We did the work this past Saturday, and by Tuesday, there was already budding from the cut sites. Crape myrtles are indestructible! I think that’s it for work this season, though; I want a nice, long recovery time before I repot in spring.
If you have suggestions for pot shapes/sizes, I’m very open to them!
I definitely like the new angle!
After the latest prune, the primary branches look somewhat disproportionate to the trunk, so I would say next up will probably be building the branches?
I really want to see pictures of those New Orleans Myrtles now (here’s a good place to put your pix ;-)).
It’s a pretty big trunk, but despite that and even the deadwood carvings, it still feels very feminine, so I would tend to go for oval though maybe not too shallow. I could also see one of these pots that are basically rectangular with several turns in a corner. Whiteish/beige should go well with the trunk, makes the foliage pop and would give it a stark contrast for when it blooms. Or you could go for something with a bit of a copperish/pinkish tinge or pattern to complement the flowers.
What were your thoughts? Do you need to go shopping or do you already have a selection at home?
@pcbritz Funny you should mention it about NOLA! My plan is to get down there in the next couple weeks and see the old crape myrtles myself. I’ll take pictures for you, for sure!
Re: pot selection: I completely agree with you, especially that the tree – even though it’s quite large – is also essentially feminine and delicate.
My taste in pots runs to rough, hand-built, and non-traditional. My initial thought was a long, oval-ish slab with the tree off-set to the viewer’s right so that, as the tree evolves, I can emphasize the mother/daughter feel of the bottom left branch. If not a slab, then probably a long white cracked-glaze oval.
I struggle with oval pots. Do you place the tree in the middle of the oval?
Generally speaking, in the middle side-to-side, slightly back front-to-back.
Some people will offset (left or right) the tree a little to “balance” it in the pot, but it will cause you to lose some of the effects of the asymmetry of the tree.
Deep Flourishing 9/21/19
Just a little update: this is less than two weeks of growth after a hard prune - and it’s not even an apical branch! Crape myrtle are VIGOROUS!
Mine has been chomped on by aphids. :’( I just now got it under control, but all new growth was decimated. It’s sprouting now though, so I’m hopeful.
Noooo. But it SHOULD bounce back quickly. Mine had a spider mite issue right before the big work, and once that cleared up, it rebounded with huge vigor. Crape myrtles should bounce back unless you hit them with a lawnmower.