Montezuma (or bald?) Cypress root help?

Background: I am an intermediate bonsai practitioner. I have a solid knowledge base, take classes locally, and have about 50 trees. I live in Los Angeles (hot climate!).

I picked up this big cypress at a swap meet this weekend–I think due to the look of the bark that it’s a Montezuma and not a Bald. I’ve got a bunch of other Bald cypress, and this one looks different.

Its pot is a SOLID (I mean solid) ball of roots. How best to handle this? My instinct would be to saw the rootball in half and then plant it in another container with some soil around it.

I know at least with Bald Cypress you can really hack the roots back without issues, are Montezuma the same? Any timing issues with this sort of work?

Another person I talked to advised that I should take a 1/4" drill and drill holes all through the root ball, but not to do any heavy root work now because the tree is already in leaf–best to wait until next early spring to attack the roots. But the drilled holes would allow drainage and oxygen.

For all I know, the pot was sitting in standing water until the morning I got it - how else could you possibly get enough water into this root mass?? Also, there is moss on the base of the trunk, and I don’t think that would be there normally in this heat… for all I know the pot was submerged completely.

Also, clearly it was kept near some chickens, as it arrived feathered. :slight_smile:

Any help is appreciated!


Nice looking tree. @BillsBayou will be a good bet on how to help.

I don’t have personal experience with T. mucronatum. There is some who say it is very close to T. distichum and care is similar.

Wait until the leaves are set before teasing out the root ball. I wouldn’t recommend drilling holes in the root ball. Get a long handled screwdriver or a shishkabob skewer to run holes in as far as you can. For now, submerge the tree for an hour each day. If the inner soil is dry, soaking is the only way I’d be sure to get in there. Wait until the leaves are set before teasing out a little of the root ball. Look to see how vigorous the tree is this Summer before deciding to cut the root ball next January. You may decide to try teasing out all the roots. You’ll find plenty of people here recommending only bare rooting a portion of the roots.

Looks like the tree was slip-potted at one point. The roots will be interesting.

Check with a local club to see what the recommended care is for the tree in your state.


JMO, needles looks more like a dawn redwood.
So does the trunk/ base.
I’ve had cypress and DR. Also sequoia. The all respond the same. Cypress will stand more water.

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Hi keegan,

I’m with KurtP…this looks like a Dawn Redwood, and he’s also right when he says that all these trees (cypress and DR) respond pretty much the same way. I would do what Bill says and use an icepick, narrow screwdriver, etc. to make some holes down into the soil for water and air penetration. I wouldn’t mess with the roots beyond that. And it definitely looks like it was slipped into a larger pot. If it grows well this season, you could tease out the roots, do some cleaning, and repot next season right before the buds swell. Good luck and keep us posted!


Confirmed that it’s a Montezuma Cypress. I took it to my local expert and he said it wouldn’t be a problem to do some root pruning this time of year. So I took a few inches off the bottom of the root ball and a couple around the circumference, repotted it into the same container, shallower.

Then on to the styling question. I had envisioned a formal upright to mimic a towering giant (incense cedars are gorgeous around here). And there is a decent front that gives a nice, mostly straight line. I toyed with using the bend a third of the way up the trunk, but it threw off my scale for the tree I want to create. All the exiting branches are also quite out of proportion with this idea. I toyed with stripping ALL the existing branches, trusting that it would bud back readily and I could spend a couple years building tight little branches. My teacher Roy Nogatoshi said he thought I should use the existing branches, so I’m going to try that first. Pictured is Roy doing a cut on the top of the branch and bending it so it can be wired down.

These trees are very apically dominant, hence the mess of branches near the top, and if left unchecked I’m sure there would be some nasty inverse taper. I will likely end up jinning the top.

We’ll see how it goes! Thank you for the responses–I love hearing other people’s opinions.